National ethos can drive change and repair moral fabric

By Derrick Makhandia

A few months ago, I visited Rwanda for the first time on an exchange programme.

What struck me first was the cleanliness which extends beyond the capital Kigali to estates, markets and far flung rural areas. The country is almost litter free. It is a rare African find.

Yet I did not see an army of cleaners constantly cleaning the streets. I asked my Rwandese colleagues how they manage to maintain such cleanliness.

The response was simple. Rwandese don’t litter and they respect the law on the same.

I was still skeptical. Every society has people who don’t conform to norms and foreigners who are not cultured.

The response I got to this concern was, “Everyone in Rwanda is a police officer. Whoever sees you will either report you or confront you.”

What they essentially meant is that there is more to policing than being a police officer.

The spotlessness of Rwanda has more to do with the people than the authorities. Cleanliness, patriotism and order is coded into the Rwandese ethic fabric.

The law only serves to add a little push. This is what is referred to as a national ethos—a widespread belief and adherence to certain principles which are not inculcated by the law but by the moral.

This is what Kenya lacks and reflects even beyond our obvious littering problem.

While the government’s failure to properly manage garbage has contributed to the menace, what to we—as citizens— do? Litter with reckless abandon.

We are stuck in a vicious cycle of dirt and no matter how much garbage leaves our towns and estates in the morning; an almost equal amount fills up during the day.

You see, we are the root cause. And we do little to correct, report or intervene to stop littering, partly because we are equally guilty.

This of course extends beyond littering. We have a culture of breaking laws and a bigger one of not reporting or confronting law breakers.

We have left policing entirely to police officers especially on matters whose impacts we cannot draw a straight line to our individual self.

That is why corruption is almost unmanageable. Corruption can almost never occur in total secrecy. Unfortunately, few people report or intervene because it has almost become an acceptable norm.

We lack that overwhelming nagging intuition that it is wrong. We lack a national ethos on many fronts.

We must focus more energy in developing a national ethos. We must learn from Rwanda and Japan, whose spectators stayed behind to pick litter from stadiums after games during the 2018 Russia World Cup.

A national ethos will do more than just rid our streets of garbage. It will bind us as a nation and enhance order better than laws can ever do.

It will make us focus more on the collective and communal welfare than on our individual interests.

It will make it harder for ethnic mobilisation, negative politics and corruption. It will be the cog that turns our transformational wheel.

While we are at it, we need to target our children and inculcate in them the principles of patriotism, leadership, selflessness, objectivity, cleanliness and responsibility at a tender age.

It’s no secret that the older generation has already steered this country to the rocks.

The youth have seen people benefit from impunity and corruption and are increasingly skeptical on the benefits of hard work.

There is, however, hope for us, but the most genuine transformation will come from the young children. May 2020 be our year of ethos!

 

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