A brief conversation I had this morning has me thinking about one of the things that is wrong with a significant number of the people who belong to our upper classes and our political elites. A decent number of the folks who rule us and their relatives and friends seem to believe that nothing exists but their experiences and perspectives. So, to them, the fact that there is plenty of misery in Kenya at this precise moment is something that can be elided over, dismissed as a minor inconvenience. It's not them who have been experiencing the misery, so they don't want to talk about it. Some of these folks actually seem to think that Kenyans have been enjoying five golden years, if we are to believe their words. And when they encounter criticism of the regime or their favorite politicians, they experience a meltdown.
They remind me of all those people who come out guns blazing when people criticize a recently deceased politician who caused untold misery to thousands or millions when he lived. They say, "Think about his relatives. Imagine how they would feel if they read these words." And that's a valid point, of course. Their relatives and friends are human beings whose experiences and feelings matter in the scheme of things. They have lost a parent, a sibling, a child, a friend. They are experiencing grief. I respect that and their right to mourn. But, having said that, don't the feelings of the relatives and friends of their victims matter too? If your father was illegally gunned down by a shooting squad because he was an inconvenience to the regime, don't you have a right to express anger about the man/woman who okayed that execution or the man/woman who helped cover it up and protect the killers after the fact? Don't you have a right to be angry when people describe that man or woman as some saintly figure who brought prosperity to the nation?
Now, by the same token, if you are living in a country where injustice prevails and brutalizing poverty hobbles the majority of the population, do you not have a right to be angry about the status quo? Do you not have a right to criticize the men and women responsible for that, whether or not they are good fathers/mothers, donate to the church, or cry when they're sad?
Do people really understand that power is a huge responsibility and that when you gain political power and/or economic power, your capacity to influence society negatively or positively increases exponentially? Do they understand that the actions or words of a man or woman with power can make the difference between life and death for a miserably poor man or woman who has never met him/her? Do they understand that when you pay someone a salary to serve you as an elected leader or as a government employee, he/she is actually accountable to you? If you paid a mechanic to fix your car, you wouldn't make excuses for him if he brought it back to you with the original problem unfixed. If your children's school hired an alcoholic with a suspended license to drive the school bus, you wouldn't calmly accept it. So why is it that people expect others to be accommodating of those who do the equivalent to thousands or millions of citizens?
These are the questions that I ask of my Kenyan brothers and sisters who think that their comfort in their tribal cocoons and upper class haunts absolves them of the responsibility to acknowledge that other people exist and their voices matter.