Ideas & Debate

The folly of Kenya’s personal entitlement, rogue culture

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Summary

  • The source of our collective sense of entitlement invariably breeds a rogue culture where we throw our toys out of the cot when we do not get what we want.
  • Sadly, we cannot legislate cultural norms as they can only develop from a shared national psyche and value system.

Many years ago, I was a law student at the University of Nairobi’s Parklands Law Campus. Situated about four kilometres north of Nairobi’s central business district, the humdrum state of the campus was removed from the cacophony of noise and sheer volume of students at its mother university home ground.

But that did not prevent the culture of entitlement and attention seeking that defined the youthful exuberance of public university students. Meal times at the dining hall, particularly at lunch time were an extreme sport as students would gather at the locked doors by 11.45 a.m. demanding to be let in by vigorously shaking the metal grills and yelling at the weary kitchen staff to open forthwith. That daily show was fondly referred to as the ‘Opening Ceremony’ or ‘OC’ for short.

For those of us who didn’t have the testosterone-charged limbs that were required to tear through the doors once opened, waiting to see what scraps were left once the student locusts had blazed through the lunch offering was invariably our destiny and often we had to walk across to a mabati kiosk on Wambugu Lane that served delicious hot meals on rickety wooden tables and benches. But that emperor’s meal was only possible when the customarily thin student pockets permitted.

In our second year of university, the school organised for a “bench marking” visit to the University of Dar es Salaam’s Law School. We arrived at the Namanga border post late afternoon and crossed the Kenyan side with no issues.

However, the Tanzanian officials found fault with some documentation and refused us entry, meaning we had to sleep on the bus the whole night while the issue was being sorted. Many of those on the bus began exchanging words with the dour-faced Tanzanians, words that were largely fuelled by a suspicious liquid — that would quite likely propel a jet engine, if required — which had been consumed in great quantities out of a large, plastic jerrican. A change of guard the next morning as well as reasonable interventions from our officials (and the fact that the loud mouths consequently blacked out into a merciful silence) eventually permitted us to enter Tanzania.

We arrived in Dar es Salaam close to midnight, exhausted and starving and were shown to the students’ dormitories which had beds and mattresses with no beddings. Now we had been informed to carry our own sheets and blankets, but quite a few colleagues had skipped that part of the memo in their haste to pack their combustible liquid snacks. So they simply cut open the mattress covers at the top and slid their weary bodies into the space between the mattress foam and the cover and promptly went to sleep.

First thing in the morning found the Kenyans at the university dining hall undertaking an ‘OC’ much to the collective horror and utter indignation of the nonplussed Tanzanian university staff. To cut a long story short, the Tanzanians were only too pleased to see the back of the blue University of Nairobi bus when we departed a few days later.

This display of roguish deportment from my colleagues stayed with me for a long time. Of course most have gone on to become respectable and responsible members of the legal fraternity. But that inherent capacity for boorish behaviour continues to be exemplified in the way we Kenyans overlap in traffic, causing massive gridlocks that beggar belief just because we view our personal entitlement to get there before everyone else as being our inalienable right.

The same entitlement drives our political class to hold rallies that make a mockery of the public health initiatives to minimise crowds because it is their inalienable right to speak to the people on the ground no matter what the cost.

We see it in some worker unions that demand to be paid a full salary even when the organisation is suffering detrimentally from the effects of reduced revenue due to the debilitating effects of the Covid pandemic because it is the inalienable right of the workers to receive full pay no matter what the circumstances.

The source of our collective sense of entitlement invariably breeds a rogue culture where we throw our toys out of the cot when we do not get what we want. Sadly, we cannot legislate cultural norms as they can only develop from a shared national psyche and value system. In the meantime, perhaps we can all meet at the ‘OC’ to get some inspiration!

[email protected] Twitter: @carolmusyoka