President’s speech reminds us of the forgotten role of social values

By Richard Kiplagat


The key takeout from President Uhuru Kenyatta’s State of the Nation Address was not the Big Four Agenda, despite the centrality of this theme in his speech. Instead, what captured the hearts and minds of Kenyans was his personal appeal for forgiveness for anything he might have done that undermined the unity of the country during this past election.


By apologizing and reaffirming his commitment to personally work for peace, President Kenyatta has set a powerful precedent. Hopefully, this will not be interpreted politically, but on the contrary, challenge us to reset our social values as a people.


We have a culture of enumerating our problems without acknowledging our individual roles in creating these problems. Because we rarely see ourselves as part of the problem, we also seldom see ourselves as part of the solution.


This is eroding our sense of personal responsibility, despite the fact that accountability is a defining element in the DNA of all successful nations in both ancient and contemporary political history. History bears witness to the fact that successful nations are built by men and women who first ask themselves what they have done for their country before asking what their country has done for them.


In contrast, history also demonstrates that civilizations decline and falter when people have an exaggerated notion of their rights but conveniently forget about their duties. We saw this in Mobutu’s Democratic Republic of Congo, where the military dictator turned kleptocrat was preoccupied with the trappings of power, such as Concorde-flown shopping trips to Paris, but neglected his duties to his people. His example entrenched a regrettable culture among a section of the population in the DRC that still exists to this day and continues to be a strain on progress.


As Kenyans, we have for far too long focused on the economic and political pillars of development but overlooked the fact that economic and political policies are ultimately implemented by people. The social pillar of development cannot be overlooked, as the character, mindset and values of people are potentially the biggest determinant of a nation’s success and welfare.


Virtue should be promoted and vice shunned, starting with the youth, who comprise an overwhelming 80 per cent of the country’s population, according to the Kenya Youth Survey Report.


Older generations are often accused of setting a bad example for the youth. This is not always true. The Late Kenneth Matiba is a towering example of how character, dedication to service and principle can positively shape the history of a nation. Besides, young Kenyans have the freedom to chart out a new, better path for Kenya and, by their bold example, reawaken in our hearts to the beauty of virtue. But are they doing this? Some are. The 13000 young volunteers of G-United are an example. However, others are pulling us behind.


Material success at any cost is increasingly becoming the creed of many young Kenyans, with the Kenya Youth Survey Report indicating that 50 per cent of surveyed youth agree with the statement: “it doesn’t matter how you make your money, as long as you don’t go to jail.”


The irony is that the young Kenyans who agree with this statement are arguably the most educated generation in this country’s history, underlining the danger of intellectualism without wisdom. We are at a tipping point and urgently need to give the other fifty per cent of youth who believe in principle a louder voice in this social discourse.


Countries like Rwanda show that the power to change lies in the heart of every person. The driving force behind Rwanda’s renaissance is “agaciro”, which is a Rwandan word meaning self-dignity. This philosophy calls on Rwandans to have a mindset of self-reliance and aim for social and economic independence by taking personal responsibility. Kigali is the cleanest city in Africa not because every Rwandan participates in a cleanup exercise on the last Saturday of the month but because this exercise ingrained in every citizen their personal responsibility to keep the city clean every day.


The Japanese people, whose reputation as hard workers precedes them, are another compelling example of the role of character and values in building a nation’s competitiveness. Japan today is a global economic power, despite being the only nation in the world to have ever suffered the devastating effects of an atomic bomb. Its people’s work ethic, the centrality of dignity and belief in a better tomorrow enabled it to rise above the limitations that fate imposed on it after World War II.


We cannot exclusively rely on formal education to teach us social values. Culture is the best educator of values and the most effective tool for social change. Kenya therefore needs a well-resourced standalone Ministry of Culture as a key driver of double-digit economic growth and to promote the entrenchment of the right values, mindsets and character among the people. Our way of life needs to change and the power to change is in the man or woman in the mirror.



Mr. Kiplagat is the COO and MD East Africa at africapractice

President’s speech reminds us of the forgotten role of social values

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