Power and morality are no kin

I was brought up on a strict moral code informed by Christian teaching brought to this land by men (women arrived much later and even then played a subsidiary role) on a mission to turn people away from themselves.

I was brought up on a strict moral code informed by Christian teaching brought to this land by men (women arrived much later and even then played a subsidiary role) on a mission to turn people away from themselves.

The code was imprinted on my mind by lessons on such subjects as fairness, recognition that we are all imperfect and that therefore no one had the exclusive right to judge others, and that we should all look out for one another.

Like all good teachers, the men who taught us  had wonderful, memorable illustrations to make the point clear. The illustrations were from authoritative sources, so they could not be questioned.

Some of them were like this: You see the speck in your brother’s eye but fail to see the log in your own. Judge not so that you shall not be judged. You are your brother’s keeper.

I, and many others, took these lessons to heart and thought they were absolute moral injunctions meant to make it possible for us to live in an imperfect world, among imperfect people.

The real world, while certainly imperfect, it turns out, is very different from the moral certitudes and idealism of my upbringing. Nothing is certain. Nothing is absolute. What is acceptable in one place is forbidden in another.

Rules will apply in some circumstances in a given place,  but will be inapplicable in similar circumstances elsewhere.
Let me illustrate, like my good teachers.

An African country, intent on improving the lives of its people, borrows money to build schools,so that its population is enlightened,  hospitals to ensure that they are healthy and roads to link them up and bring their produce to market.

In the process, it runs a huge deficit and is soon in fiscal trouble. What do you think will happen to that country? (This is another habit I learnt from my teachers – asking questions instead of answering them.)

Two things, is the likely answer. One, it will never be allowed to do that in the first place. The financial institutions that control most of the world’s capital, whether they are commercial banks or multilateral lending agencies will not give credit for ambitious plans to provide first rate social services or massive expansion of the infrastructure network. To be fair to them they will finance some aspects of the plans.

Two, in the event that the country somehow got money to implement its ambitious plans and run into trouble, it would be allowed to suffer for its folly.

No one would fall over themselves to pick up a fallen brother, massage his bruises, dress his cuts (even if it hurts) and nurse him back to health. They would probably say: “What audacity! Serves him right.”  They would probably let the country lie there, see its wounds fester and only act to put it on a life support machine, all the while muttering, “I cannot be expected to be my brother’s keeper”.

Greece is suffering from what fellow Europeans call fiscal irresponsibility and is seriously ill. Europe is concerned about the health of Greece (and other countries they fear are at an early stage of the Greek disease).

They have made frantic efforts to save Greece. Admittedly they are not enthusiastic about saving the Greeks as they are worried about the effects of the crisis on their own economies. Some of them are not ovrely eager to help.

But they will. Which would not happen to an African country accused of fiscal irresponsibility. Blood is thicker than water, they say, or as we would say in Kinyarwanda, “the hyena from your neighbourhood will eat youn sparingly”.

Take another example. Soon we will have a presidential election. The country will soon be swarming with observers sent to ascertain whether we have learnt mastered electoral practice. They will probably be doing more than that.

They will want to confirm whether we behave to type – whether there are rowdy scenes of dangerous confrontation, ugly incidents of violence ( several deaths would make it more exciting) and massive rigging. Then they will certify the election as typically African and issue the usual condemnation.Their report would not be complete without this.

If they find, as indeed they will, that there is no violence, unusual excitement, or rigging, that people will cast their votes and, instead of hanging around to cause trouble, return home and go abouit their usual business of daily living, they will still have something nasty to say about the election.

On May 6, 2010, Britain had a general election. There were Commonwealth election observers. As is usual practice they issued a report on the conduct of the election. This was their verdict as reported by Kenya’s Daily Nation of May, 10, 2010.

They said the, “system was corruptible, lacked checks and therefore its legitimacy was in doubt.” This was in addition to voters who had lined up to vote  being turned away from polling stations after the 10.00 p.m deadline for the closure of the polls.

And the shortage of ballot papers at some polling stations. The observers said there were questions about the electoral roll which was said to have “ghost” voters.
This is the standard accusation against African elections.

This time, however, it did not generate any hysterical response from the traditional quarters. Well, you did not expect it, did you?” Britain is not a donor-recipient country, you know.

The morality I was brought up on, I now realise, is not absolute but circumscribed by such considerations as kin, power and influence.


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