Two unrelated news events caught my attention this past week. The first was a television interview on a commuter train in Nairobi, and the second one, a peaceful protest in Ndeiya, Kiambu County.
Passengers interviewed on a morning train to Nairobi’s city centre boldly and categorically stated that they did not mind the temporary discomfort of riding in the congested trains for as long as the police and the National Transport and Safety Authority crackdown on lawless public service vehicles (PSV) continues.
According to the train passengers interviewed, the result of the operation will be the restoration of sanity on our roads. They would, therefore, put up with the situation, including having to trek long distances to and from work in the full knowledge that they stand to benefit in the end.
In the second incident, a sizeable throng of the residents of the rural Ndeiya gallantly confronted a fearsome middle-aged neighbour, whom they accused of peddling the cannabis sativa that was wrecking the mental health and the future of their children.
Despite the suspect’s fierce threats, the protesters issued an ultimatum; he should either stop selling bhang in their area or consider relocating.
In normal circumstances, such a protest would have been punctuated with violence, including mob justice and attempts to torch the suspect’s home. The protesters were right at the suspect’s doorstep, after all!
That none of that happened was a major plus for law and order. Yet the agitated protesters drove their point home pithily and unambiguously.
The villagers deep in that rural neighbourhood would not allow an outlaw in their midst!
To my mind, these two quite unrelated news episodes say a lot about where this nation is headed to. In the case of the train passengers, the loud message to the PSV operators is that the majority of Kenyans are quite tired of being roughly treated by bus and matatu crews, injured, maimed or even killed on our roads and highways across the country.
They need to be treated with dignity and to travel in safety as bona fide bus fare-paying passengers.
Those with longer memories will recall that Kenyans have been consistent on this matter. When the government decided to introduce and enforce the stringent ‘Michuki Rules’, to rein in a rogue transport sector, under then Transport Minister John Michuki some years ago, the public stayed the course, even as matatu operators tried to resist the implementation of the tough safety rules by withdrawing their motor vehicles from the roads.
Multitudes walked to and from work and the young ones to and from school, giving legitimacy to the Highway Code and a huge thumbs-up to strict and consistent law enforcement. We later fell into the utopia of matatu self-regulation.
In the recent past, President Kenyatta has categorically demonstrated that his must be a government of public servants who flourish less on national television, but are substantively felt and seen in the legitimate citizens’ expectations.
The citizen has repeatedly acted in a manner that shows with unquestionable clarity that when the Constitution talks about human dignity, creating a safe environment and upholding the rule of law, it is referring to Kenyans living in the here and now.
Kenyans have also flatly rejected those who kill the future of their young people by peddling narcotic drugs in their midst.
The act of societies rejecting and ostracising those who go against the public good is not new. Even the earliest oral or written accounts of humankind living in communities reveal systems for banishing those whose choices in life became manifestly cancerous elements to others living in the same community.
In modern times, this responsibility has been delegated to the law enforcement agencies and the Judiciary, with the law as one of their key tools.
As things stand today, anybody examining commitment in these arms of governance must, rather, unfortunately, find many contradictions.
Today, the greatest challenge goes to the traffic police, the lower courts and those who supervise them. Let every public servant take the cue from the President, so that we earn legitimacy, not on account of our performance in front of media cameras, but by consistently acting to make law and order the culture on our roads and also in other places where Kenyans live and work.
Mr Kiraithe is the Government Spokesman.