In response to the first question about the provision of education for children from poor neighborhoods, the CS hinted that the children had died because the parents had chosen not to take their children to the public schools in the area. He said: “It comes to a matter of choice for parents. I am duly advised that the nearest public primary school from here is only two kilometers away. But then we are a democratic country and the role of the government must be restricted to ensuring that the... public primary schools available are safe enough.”
The ultimate message of such rhetoric is that nothing can be resolved socially or politically any more. After all, if every social challenge we face is caused by us, the people, then the response to the challenge must be to fix the behavior, the values and the soul of Kenyans. This “fix the people” approach to social problems is the essence of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) document released by the government this week.
Bridge over Troubled People
This is not the first time that the state has used a “troubled people” rhetoric. Fomer president Moi often said that he would not allow multi-party democracy in order to save Kenyans who were too ethnically minded for their own good. The theme of troubled people goes as far back as colonial rule, when British missionaries and settlers sought us to save us from ignorance, poverty, disease and backward cultures, a policy which the first president Jomo Kenyatta replicated, except that he removed culture from the formula.
What is different this time is that we are ruled by the most obviously incompetent regime to ever occupy State House. These days, Kenyans first weigh the president’s sobriety before they measure what he has to say. The incompetence of the regime has been accompanied by massive looting of public coffers, and massive privatization of public institutions and social services, the latest victim of which is Kenyatta National Hospital. For such an economic mess to be accepted by the Kenyan public, it must be matched by a corresponding rhetoric.
And so, just like Reagonomics that produced the portrait of dysfunctional black family, with the absent black father and the welfare queen mother, the politicians gone for Kenyan families and individuals as the cause of Kenya’s political problems.
This turn against the family is made necessary by the need of the political elite to turn the public’s attention away from social and public solutions to the challenges we face, and instead suggest that private fixes at the level of our families or our values. If only citizens can manage themselves and their families, the logic goes, everything else will sort itself out.
That is why the BBI, latest version of the efforts of Kenya’s political class to stem fundamental social change, is largely a declaration of war by the political class against the people of Kenya. The document accuses Kenyans of not knowing their history, of lacking ethical sensibilities, and of not knowing how to raise their children.
Based on its own, narrow diagnosis of Kenya’s social problems, the political class offers an even scarier remedy: intervene in our knowledge, our values and our family lives. BBI proposes that the state become the driver of historical memory and culture by providing a “thorough and definitive” history of Kenya supervised by a presidentially appointed “Official Historian.”
On the cultural front, the document proposes a government syllabus to be used in religious and cultural initiation ceremonies, and to ape the church marriage programs by providing its own programs to “strengthen parenting.” In education, the document seeks to partner with private sector to create a “national volunteer network” that would play the same role as Teach For America, which has been accused of undermining public education in the US.
The process of this social engineering has already started with competency-based curriculum, where the state has used children to manipulate Kenyan parents into accepting the urban, male-led, monogamous, nuclear family as the normative unit of the Kenyan state. Similarly, the control on the arts and humanities is nothing new. Using the deceptive idea of “talent,” the new education system has relegated the arts to the rubbish heap by tying the arts to commercialization and a narrow pathway. Recently, parliament reinforced this view of the arts by passing a Sessional paper that proposes to pay lecturers of the arts and humanities less than lecturers of the sciences.
All these proposals are typical of governmentality. Rather than use violence to control the people, governmentality seeks to twist our ideas, identity and emotions to the service of the state. As Stephen J. Ball puts it, governmentality now seeks not to change what we do, but our motivation for doing it. The goal is to change our soul and to change who we are. That means that the interest of the political elite is not, as it claims, to change the status quo. The goal is to change the people to accept the status quo as not just natural, but also as moral, if not godly.
And we must understand that changing the people is an act of desperation. Muigai Kenyatta is not just incompetent; he and his family have lacked legitimacy ever since he became president in 2013, and the Kenyan people are getting impatient with taking care of a family that has nothing to its name except wealth obtained through power, and power which was in turn acquired by an accident of history.
The political elite, led by Raila Odinga, are hoping to use the fictitious numeric superiority of the Kikuyu, and so they are all tip toeing around Kenyatta in hope of succeeding him by inheriting his ethnic voter base.
The political elite and their supporting intellectuals are united in trying to save a colonial model of state that is already collapsing around the world, and so they are grasping at straws to manipulate Kenyans into pledging allegiance to them.
But the ruling elite cannot stop the tide that is already building from Chile to Lebanon to Algeria to the UK and the US. Kenyan people are part of that tide, but the ruling elite are building a “blame the people” bridge to each other and their families, hoping that the tide of the Kenyan people will flow under the political elite and leave the status quo intact.
Unfortunately for them, tides don’t know bridges. Tides eventually wash bridges away.