The Chinese built the 6,400 kilometers Great Wall to prevent attacks by marauding armies of the Mongolian kingdom.
The Wall- one of the seven wonders of the medieval world - was effective until the raiders figured an easy way to get in – by simply bribing the guards!
A similar problem faced Malaysia where local people would get juicy government contracts and then sell them to foreigners. Malaysia had enacted laws that would reserve a certain number of opportunities- jobs and contracts – for the local people as a way of uplifting their lives.
But the Malays would bid for contracts, get them and sell them to Chinese contractors.
The lesson is that morality and honesty are inside out functions of the human heart. Unless people believe in integrity they will always look over their shoulders, and take or pass on a bribe.
When people don’t believe corruption is bad they cover it with nice names “eating” “facilitation” and so on. Enacting anti-corruption laws should go hand in hand with mass education if people are to change their attitude towards corruption and embrace integrity.
A visitor to East Africa remarked how rare it is to hear people using the magic words – “please, sorry and thank you”. I don’t believe that citizens of foreign countries necessarily exhibit better manners than we do.
But there is a point here. Africa was traditionally a place of hospitality and decorum, which we have swiftly lost as we rush to embrace modernity. Does it mean that being modern gives us the license to be brash with an ‘I don’t care manner’? Not really.
Kenya is currently polarized into yes and no camps as leaders take positions on the proposed constitution ahead of the referendum on August 4th. Several people have wondered whether what we really need are new laws or better values.
Will a new constitution, for example, reduce Kenya’s poisonous tribalism – a cancer that has simply refused to leave Kenya? How will such negative values from each of our countries affect the functioning of the East Africa Community? I strongly feel that we are at a point where we can transform our region but there is something lacking.
Our various development plans are like good computer hardware. What is lacking is the software, the operating system of values, ethics and the right attitudes. Should we invest some resources in training our people on the need to embrace positive values of integrity? Will it work- can you teach an old dog new tricks?
The authorities may want to consider forming a Department of Decorum and Decency whose mission would be fighting bad manners, tribalism, and corruption and encouraging decorum in our public interaction. Does this sound far-fetched and unrealistic?
If it does, it’s because we have resigned ourselves to low standards and expect no better from ourselves. How then do we ensure that the guards at our Great Wall do not let in the enemy?
Edwin Maina is a social commentator