If Kenyan leaders learnt to eat last, we would have a happier, healthier society

Thursday December 06 2018

A police officer monitors as pupils at a primary school in Mombasa, Kenya. Our country is not concerned about corruption, but we are concerned about cheating in examinations. FILE PHOTO | NMG


Officers eat last, the troops eat first. Sometimes there is no food left, but it comes with the title.

When I joined the Marines, I was 21 years old, so I find it hard to believe that in Kenya, a 35-year-old, is still considered a youth.

In my time, 35 was old." These words were said to me by an ex-US marine who came to Kenya in 1981 and has been living here ever since.

When do "elders" eat last? In some cultures, we see the women eating last, especially during large feasts, making sure all the men are served, especially the elders, then the children.

A few days ago, a video went viral of teenage boys, between the ages of 16 and 17 burning books and shouting all sorts of obscenities, insulting Cabinet Secretaries and in the process claiming to have cheated in their final examinations.

There was such an uproar that President Uhuru Kenyatta himself said the should be punished for their behaviour. In a matter of hours, most of them were found and reprimanded. Their case was heard in a court of law, and as of now they are in remand.


Is leadership learnt or can one be born with leadership skills? This country can make it really difficult for youth to learn leadership or integrity given the example of their leaders.

All this pressure to act different from their parents is delusional. An apple doesn't fall far from the tree, but somehow we expect our apple trees to produce oranges.

It is madness. Leadership is learnt, but our leaders are not teaching us a thing. We have watched them call us names, call each other names, throw punches at one another, fight over a receipt… The list goes on.

We have seen the governor of Nairobi roll on public roads, climb fences like a goon and destroy property. But nothing happens to such people, indeed they rise politically. But dare to say you cheated on an examination and it is jail time for you. Key word here, is claim – we are still awaiting proof.

Questioning has never been our strength. Burning schoolbooks is not a new phenomenon, nor is hurling insults, but oh, these foolish youth.

The same way we get angry over young ladies having sponsors, or wanting to become socialites but do not even talk about the men who financially support that lifestyle. These are married old men, but the stain of sin remains on the young lady, who is considered a shame to society.

So what young people are learning is that integrity does not pay. One can do the right thing and look foolish. Such as starting an organisation because you have tried to look for a job, but for years nothing has opened up. Only to be told at the office of registration, you need to make payments to the listed offices, “It will take a long time if you go to the bank, but if you pay me… it will take a few days, but you have to pay extra.”

Our country is not concerned about corruption, but we are concerned about cheating in examinations. It has nothing to do with the actual learning, or placement after learning, aka employment, and raising good moral citizens.

If our leaders ate last, they would be able to understand matters from a different perspective. If they had ill relatives and sent them to public hospitals, we would have different hospitals.

The same goes for public transport, jails and schools. Walk a mile in their shoes and serve rather than point fingers from a distance with detestation. It has nothing to do with what we say, or how we look, it has everything to do with how we act.

So when we see our leaders behaving badly, and wonder just whom young people got their behaviour from, the answer is: It is learnt.

Nerima Wako-Ojiwa is executive director of Siasa Place. Twitter: @NerimaW