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Covid-19 has given us a chance to culturally shift our country
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|Covid-19 has given us a chance to culturally shift our country by Kenyans247(1): Sat 14, November, 2020 07:34am|
What you need to know:
Political rallies held by various leaders have been super spreaders of the coronavirus.
This new political culture that Kenya urgently needs resists uncritical and blind loyalty to politicians.
Covid-19 is challenging political, economic, social and cultural practices globally. It has determined voting patterns in the USA in a substantial way.
In Kenya, under this hugely disruptive pandemic, the worst in political behaviour is emerging as the elite realign themselves to keep a grasp on power or acquire it for self-aggrandisement, notwithstanding the suffering of their constituents.
One would have thought that personal ambitions to acquire power would be suspended, even if temporarily, to address the devastations being wrought on communities by the pandemic. But the hunger for power appears unrelenting as basic protocols for protection against the virus are put aside by leaders. Political rallies held by various leaders have been super spreaders of the coronavirus.
Throughout the country, there are cries of frustration as citizens seek to come to terms with the runaway corruption across all sectors of society. In some quarters, divine intervention to deal with the legendary and insatiable greed is being sought not only by religious leaders but also leaders in government.
But the sense of hopelessness is not ignited by corruption alone. It is also about the socio-economic inequalities, the collapse of values and a general sense of loss of national direction.
Is there a possibility that deliberate work in cultural and political engineering at the family, community, county and national levels can bring back the optimism and sense of self-worth that is slowly waning?
Historically, actors in the creative and cultural sectors in Kenya have worked hard to reignite a cultural ethos that could drive our political, economic and social lives. They were core to the struggles for freedom from Portuguese, Arab and British domination.
They composed stories, songs, poetry, dramas and parodies to challenge colonial narratives about power relations, build interethnic solidarities and give confidence to communities that they can liberate themselves.
Since independence in 1963, progressive artists in Kenya have questioned state narratives, challenged the unequal distribution of public resources and exposed the betrayal of the ordinary citizens by the political elite. Other artists have, unfortunately, sung praises to oppressive leaders and ceased being the conscience of their communities.
Generally speaking, socially conscious artists can help the country craft another destiny defined by a philosophy of inclusion, caring and empathy. Through their music, films, spoken word poetry, painting, games and other creative products, they can demand accountability and integrity.
They can serve as the true conscience of their communities and articulate a vision that challenges uncritical support for leaders on the basis of ethnic identity, wealth or gender. But this liberating role being asked of artists does not just happen. It calls for investment in education for critical consciousness and the minimisation of the current obsession with glamour and ‘celebratory’ pose.
It also requires cultural engineering at many layers. At the political level, we need to develop a political culture in which leaders do not seek office to loot from the public but rather to serve selflessly. In this new political culture, voters ask their leaders tough questions about their convictions, wealth, integrity and accountability.
They seek answers on how the leaders will protect public resources and ensure fairness, free expression, media freedom, protection of human rights and access to basic needs such as health, water and sanitation, security and decent shelter.
Driven by core values and virtues that enhance the human condition in all its forms, questioning leaders is not an idle endeavour.
It is a genuine search for answers because citizens see the link between their lives and the behaviour of their leaders. This new political culture that Kenya urgently needs resists uncritical and blind loyalty to politicians. It looks for leaders who are committed to selfless service.
This political culture is not impressed by wealth earned through corruption and criminal activities. Instead, it detests and punishes it.
The progressive utilisation of art, culture and media can also be a foundation for a new economics in Kenya. Countries that are able to adapt and integrate Western technology and business to their particular egalitarian cultural ethos are successfully building inclusive economies.
Kenya should not be seen to be struggling to ‘catch up’ with the so-called ‘developed nations’, but rather to ‘get economic activities right’ through industrial upgrading, discipline, increased productivity, social investment in education and health and building cultural confidence among their citizens.
The 2020 USA presidential elections have shown us the sharp internal contradictions in that divided country. On the one extreme end of the spectrum we have a population driven by a philosophy of American exceptionalism, individualism and entitlement and on the other a genuine urge for inclusion and fairness. ‘Catching up’ with such a fragmented and unequal nation would be illusory and ill-advised.
We ought to chart our own development path inspired by our communities. By improving the living conditions of its citizens, entrenching accountability and transparency in governance of public resources and punishing corruption, we can build a value system in which technology and business can be aligned.
The arts and media can begin modelling this path earnestly.
One of the pillars for this path ought to be inclusion and equity. The informal sector and small agricultural producers would be seen, not as enemies of modernisation as is currently the case, but allies in a humanising economics that carries everyone along with it.
The frustration with public officers who use their offices for self-aggrandisement would start waning and a new culture of ‘undugu’ would start emerging. Infrastructural development would be properly aligned to community benefits and contribute to poverty eradication and wealth creation in households. With this new economic culture, agricultural activities would flourish and Kenyans would feel food-secure.
At the core of this new economic culture would be an entrenched framework of social justice and ecological sustainability. This framework would require the expansion of the policy space so that as many Kenyans as possible participate effectively in the transformation of their lives.
The continued conflation of culture with tradition and heritage in the psyche of certain leaders denies citizens the benefits of the dynamism in the practice of life.
Fundamentally, culture is an expression of the human condition in all its complexity. Consequently, urban culture, creativity and the adaptation of technology to suit our needs become part of who we are and are integrated into our national value system.
Covid-19 has given us the opportunity to look inside ourselves and determine which things and relations really matter. Let us not lose sight of this chance.
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