Public life is barren of morality and shame because of Kenya’s political culture. Leaders, many of whom were born dirt-poor, have become our worst nightmare.
They have joined those who were born with a silver spoon in their mouths to loot our coffers and plunder our resources with utter abandon.
They speak and act as though they own us. Nothing – and no one – gives them pause. They smile broadly when arraigned in courts of law on corruption charges.
They believe they own the courts and those who investigate their criminality.
States and the institutions within them do not run themselves. They aren’t on autopilot. It’s human beings – living, breathing men and women – who run the state. That is why the best and most ethical constitution and laws aren’t a substitute for the human mind and touch. It’s people who must submit to, and internalise, the state’s and society’s norms in order to carry them out with fidelity. The failure of either the elite or Musangi to conform their minds and conduct to agreed norms is usually the undoing of society. In my view, no social norm is more important than public shame. Public shame – not law – is the difference between the rule of law and the rule of man.
In societies of yore, public shame had a mythical spell. The curse of death, or damnation, loomed large if public shame befell you. To avoid the worst, you would be cast adrift to the hills like a pariah to be cleansed of the evil within you. The banishment from society and civilisation would last until your wrongs had been purged. In others, trial by ordeal – typically a form of torture – would be imposed as a judicial verdict to atone for public shame, or criminal liability. In modern society, however, the notion of public shame has vanished in virtually all but a miniscule of societies. Where public shame was a mandatory sanction, today it’s nothing but a mere moral suggestion.
Real public shame isn’t imposed by society, or any of its institutions. It’s an act of personal jihad, an individual struggle within self to atone for the dishonour he, or she, has brought upon society. Historically, the Japanese harakiri was the starkest form of self-punishment out of public shame. Harakiri or seppuku literally refers to the cutting of the belly or the abdomen as a form of ritual suicide through disembowelment. Although harakiri was typically reserved for the military nobility or officer corps in the Japanese medieval society, it evolved into a practice by common people to restore dignity and honour to their families after disgracing themselves. The individual would take a sword and plunge it into their belly, fatally cutting it open.