There is a piece of writing that has been on the wall in front of my computer for a decade. It is a succinct poetic depiction of the inter-connectedness of things. Every bit of life depends on every other bit. The piece of paper (or device screen) on which you’re reading these lines contains everything in life: the cloud that made the rain that grew the wheat that fed the writer who shared thoughts which came from dead poets. It’s all here.
Here’s one of those dead poets, John Donne: “No man is an island, entire of himself.” Why is this essential fact of life forgotten in our Kenya today? Here I see many who belong to the rich and elite classes imagining they are above the everyday struggles of common society, protected and cocooned from the things that afflict so many of us.
Certainly, our rich leaders have the money that makes hunger a distant memory and the motorcades that make awful public transport somebody else’s problem. They have armed guards to protect them from everyday insecurity. They can afford the schooling for their children that requires no public money, and healthcare for themselves in far-off lands that are not affected by counterfeit drugs and counterfeit doctors.
So are they just dandy, these wealthy, protected, cloistered elites who live in gated worlds? Not at all. Here’s why.
Does rampant insecurity spare them? No. Violent crime is not something that just visits less-protected homes: it can explode anywhere at any time. Like at Westgate. Even if platoons of guards protect you, they may not protect people who matter to you. If your children too remain over-protected, they will not be able to live life fully in the world, or build any bond with it. And do you really think those underpaid armed guardians operating in a system of collapsed discipline won’t turn those same guns on you when the chance comes?
If society’s values are rotten, that is the society in which your children will be socialized and influenced. If it’s all ‘me-first’ in your world, your children will also become me-first and place you last someday. And if you try to helicopter them out of this place and take them to be educated in another place, good luck in keeping them close to their culture and roots.
When you fall sick, as you must, you may look at the dearth of great doctors and medical facilities, and use your wealth to seek treatment aboard. Again, good wishes to you if you need to recuperate for long periods away from the healing effect of those who care for you and understand you, on the soil that matters to you.
If you are a wealthy business owner spared the vicissitudes of everyday penny-pinching, you too cannot rest easy. Your business only prospers if its employees have ethics and its customers grow in their own lives. A society in which employees care nothing for their workplaces and customers strain under unbearable burdens of inflation and taxation is not one in which your fortunes will rise for long.
Every Wagalla is connected to every Westgate. Every Goldenberg not punished leads to every Anglo Leasing. Every road death is linked to every fake driving test and every shoddy road built. Every assassination blows oxygen onto the fires of future revenge. We sow the seeds of future calamity with every bad deed we commit or omit to prevent.
And so none of us can look away or feel privileged. Even those whose status relieves them of daily dangers and recurrent reversals will not be spared the consequences of societal degradation. As Donne went on to say, “…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.”
Donne’s bell is tolling in Kenya, and whoever you are, it tolls for you.