When one occupies high public office—president, deputy president, minister or even an MP—they have a responsibility to an entity bigger than themselves, their parties or their ethnic communities.
They embody Kenyan national aspirations and become, by virtue of such office, a symbol of our nationhood and sovereignty. They are legally and morally obliged to do everything in their power to protect the image of the country, advance its interests and speak and behave in ways that bring honour to the office and, in so doing, strengthen our nationhood.
A high public office is so intricately intertwined with our national project and our national pride that when holders behave or speak in shameful ways, they do more than just undermine our national project. They soil our national image and undignify us, and we feel ashamed in the same way we feel personal shame about something dishonourable we have done.
An example from South Africa will illustrate this argument. When former President Jacob Zuma claimed that the way to avoid HIV infection was to dash to the shower after a sexual encounter and robustly scrub the virus away, he not only put in jeopardy South Africa’s heroic fight against AIDS, he soiled the country’s image, and South Africans, and even Africans, felt ashamed.
There are many times when Kenyan public figures have sabotaged national ambitions and dented national pride.
We could refer, for instance, to the merciless looting spree since 2013 that has seen trillions of shillings siphoned away from public projects into private pockets.
But a recent concern has been the pronouncements of Deputy President William Ruto.
Recently, some people were arrested for using his office to execute a fake arms deal. Soon after, a policeman attached to his office was found dead. Investigations into the deal and death of the security officer are ongoing.
As part of the presidency, which is both a guardian of our national ambitions and our sovereignty, Mr Ruto should have limited his pronouncements on the issue to promising the full co-operation of his office with investigating agencies.
At the funeral of the fallen soldier, he should have limited himself to comforting the family and assuring them that government agencies would bring the killers to book.
Instead, the deputy president went on a wild tantrum, claiming that investigating officers were trying to derail his presidential ambitions.
More egregiously and dangerously, Mr Ruto weaved a truly dark Machiavellian and cynical tale in which he claimed that the murder of the security officer was part of plan to assassinate him.
He insinuated that the murder was a ruse to bring a rift between him and his community.
It was a performance that undignified the office he holds and dented our pride and faith in the project called Kenya.
Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator.