Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Come now, let US reason together

In my last post I attempted to answer some fundamental questions that ought to be addressed by all of us and more so those of us who believe in the beauty of multi-ethnicity. I proposed that we cannot afford to sweep our differences under the carpet or entrust our destiny to anybody else but us. Several questions still remain unanswered. Isn’t leadership a public and a sacred trust? What happens if that trust is betrayed? What future do we have as a multi-ethnic Republic? Does the Christian Church have a role to play in this future? I will try to answer some of these questions at a later time. For now I want draw attention to dialogue as a tool that is yet to be tried in the Kenyan socio-ethnic scene. But before I can offer some of my thoughts in regard to dialogue, let me first do a reality check on our progress as a nation.

In the last few weeks, we have witnessed politicians in a rare show of unity crisscrossing the country in an attempt to rally communities to embrace tolerance and forgiveness. Ironically, these same politicians now championing for peace and good neighborliness spent most of the past five years traversing the country fanning unnecessary ethnic tension and hatred for political expediency. Curiously none among the political elite appears to be willing to face the tougher choice of addressing causes of the recent ethnic mayhem. Considering all that is happening in Kenya, politicians want us to believe that our problems evaporated into thin air the moment a coalition government was formed. It is scandalous to assume that Kenyans have miraculously learned the art of living together as brothers and sisters with the formation of a “grand coalition”. Recent experiences should serve as a clarion call. Kenyans cannot afford to continue disregarding problems that arise out of our ethnic diversity. We must as well acknowledge that ethnicity is here to stay and no amount of denial or self-negation will erase this reality.

While the politicians continue to misread and misrepresent this diversity, Church leaders as well seem to have abdicated their responsibility as the moral voice and conscience of the nation. Rather than become actively engaged in the process of finding a lasting solution, we hear them plead (or should I say beg?) with the politicians to hasten the healing and reconciliation process. To sooth our disappointment and helplessness the Church anesthetizes our wounded souls with the “shauri ya mungu” doctrine. We rationalize that God must be working through our pain and suffering in order to do something greater and eternal. In some other circles the blame is squarely laid at the feet of the devil. But must we always blame God or the devil for our self-inflicted predicaments? I have found myself wondering if the Kenyan Church has in any one time in history involved itself in seeking long-term solution(s) to the problem of ethnicity. The Church is called to the world as a prophetic voice that awakens the moral conscience of a nation. When the church fails in its prophetic role, then it loses its moral voice. The Church in Kenya seems to have lost its moral voice.

We know that the Church down history lane has not always lived up to this prophetic call. In the Medieval period, a slight deviation from the given dogmas was reason enough to send one to the gallows or to the furnace. Great men of the cloth such as Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Knox and others are known to have at one time or another sided with the ruling class in order to crush and silence religious dissenters. It is no secret also that Western Christendom sanctioned colonialism and imperialism as divinely instituted establishments for the benefit of the “uncivilized” other. Closer home, Christians supported and even financed genocide in Rwanda. Ministers of religion and priests are known to have harbored perpetrators of one of the most heinous acts of genocide in modern Africa. We recently also witnessed in Kenya men of the cloth coming out in public to endorse their preferred presidential candidates based not on reason or policy but purely on ethnicity. Religious leaders are known to have taken side with their “own” and never quick to condemn politicians who are known to have preached hatred and warmongering. In my opinion, the church, having lost its moral and prophetic voices can only watch from the periphery as politicians take charge. Can the Church redeem itself? Absolutely! What the Church in Kenya needs is to be more intentional and be a little imaginative in order to construct conducive environment that promotes dialogue and constructive engagement.

I wish now to suggest some concrete ways in which the Church may adopt in order to address issues affecting us as a multi-ethnic republic. In the first place, our diversity and the complexities thereof, demand that we begin putting in place a system that values openness and dialogue in a country where opinions are diverse. Practice of dialogue is foundational in quest for a meaningful existence as a diverse community. As a matter of fact, the importance of dialogue in meaning making cannot be underestimated when we bear in mind that as humans we respond dialogically to our environment. Yes, dialogue is an art that is learned and nurtured. Psychologists tell us that the family into which we are born is the rudimentary learning center where we learn to practice dialogue. Through body communication mostly between mother and the baby, the child picks up initial dialogical response to the other. Over time this response evolves into actual conversation. A child who grows in an environment where genuine love is expressed tends to respond positively to every other human being who comes into her life. More so, if the child experience lively conversations around the fire place or at the dinner table where people speak passionately but without animosity about differing opinions, the child is definitely going to develop the art of differentiating between arguing and discussing. On the other hand, a child who thrives in a violent environment, particularly where the father is always absent and when at home never speaks to anybody, most likely that child will never learn to hold conflict well or talk things out. Apart from psychologists, we may as well learn a lesson from our ancestors. Whenever, the Africans of old held a baraza, it was a general rule that whoever took the floor to argue a point was not to suffer any interruption. Even when he stopped speaking, the “muthamaki” would say to him “Have you finished speaking?” Only after this question would the “muthamaki” give the floor to the next speaker.

The examples given help us to appreciate the importance of learning and nurturing dialogue. When this lesson is rightly applied people learn to genuinely allow themselves to understand the position held by other. They learn to see and feel the world from the point of view of their “enemies”. Therefore, it is important for the Kenyan Church to develop a plan of action that can bring this to fruition. It can happen through organizing intercultural, interethnic, and interreligious conversations. The best place to begin, however, is at the school and churches. Religion, culture and appropriate education system are of utmost importance in the process of learning to practice dialogue. But the Church must be instrumental in revising pedagogical approach already in use. Most Kenyans have been schooled in a system where knowledge is mystified and learning centers including churches become galleries where pastors, teachers, tutors, politicians and administrators play superstars. As students we learn to passively receive and only expected to parrot back what has been given to us by the ever-knowing teachers and college tutors. Students are never expected to question knowledge as imparted. The cliché of our time was “if I tell you to jump, first jump and while up in the air ask how high.” We must accept that this is not a healthy way of developing individuals who would be willing to respond to others dialogically. The pedagogical approach must change and allow the student, the parishioner, the constituent or the mwananchi to play an active role in the learning process. Right pedagogical approach is fundamental in order to enhance art of sensing and responding to the concerns of the other and learning to see things through the eyes of the other. Educational system should not just train students to take up their place in the job market but must also prepare us to be citizens of the world. Education must help us appreciate the human person and the person’s unique value. This last point brings me to my next suggestion.

It is Aristotle who first described human beings as political animal designed by nature to live in an ordered community. When perfected, according to Aristotle, the human “is the best of animals, but, when separated from law and justice, he is the worst of all. Injustice is most dangerous when armed with intelligence, and without virtue man becomes the most unholy and most savage of all animals” (Politics, i. 2.) We can draw two lessons from Aristotle. The first lesson we can learn from him is that a person is not an isolated monad. We exist in multiple relationships. As humans we are called to live and work with others in the family, church, political community and other broader human social communities such as ethnic as well as multi-ethnic groups. As social beings we live in relationship with all other human beings and with everything that God has made. This social aspect of human existence is an essential part of the human reality and for our proper human development. Translated into our discussion on dialogue, this means that as human beings we are called to be open to differences of culture, language, education, and viewpoints. As Kenyans, we can no longer afford to see each other in such non-personal terms as “Kikuyu hii” or “Njaluo hii” but instead we must begin to see each other as human beings. The sacredness of the human in Kalenjin, Giriama, Kikuyu, Luo, among others is received from graciousness which God has abundantly outpoured onto us. Let me be a little dogmatic here. As Kenyans we must bear in mind that God given dignity has been given to each of us in the person of Jesus Christ and received through the Holy Spirit to renewal and redeem. Each of us whether Luhya, Kisii, Meru, Turkana or Taveta is a gift from God. If we can grasp this understanding that our human relation is a reality actualized in the world through Christ we would appreciate the deeper conception and reality of our ethnic diversity. It calls for a conversion of the individual human mind to take up “the mind of Christ” as Apostle Paul required of the Philippians. Habitual communion with Christ’s words and spirit would serve to increase our interethnic relations and service to God through fair-mindedness, goodwill and friendliness. While dialogue, fair-mindedness and friendship are important, the converted mind must also be zealous for justice. This brings us to my second lesson that the Church can learn from Aristotle.

Aristotle helps us appreciate the distinguishing characteristic of the human being from that of the animal world. By nature the human is “a political animal”, so Aristotle argued. This is to say that, human being has the capacity to develop an ordered social life, in which justice is administered and the competition of the jungle has restraint put upon it by practice of law. Violence and use of force as recently witnessed in Kenya must be substituted for the appeal to justice. Injustices done to communities from colonial days and perpetuated by succeeding governments must as well be addressed in order to avoid anarchy and ruin. The land issues and ethnic differences must not be settled by the callous pursuit of material, murder and violence but by reasoned appeal to justice and equity. Dialogue would only be functional if applied to the rule law and justice. The internally displaced must be resettled immediately and unconditionally; Murderers and arsonists must face the full force of the law; land laws must be reformed and be brought to the modern standards among other things. But most importantly, “Come, let US reason together.” There is no shortcut to bringing healing and reconciliation to our wounded nation.