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What prison break speaks of Kenya’s national culture

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By TEE NGUGI

This past week, three convicted terrorists escaped from a high security prison in Nairobi.

One of the escapees was involved in the attack at Garissa University in 2015 which left 148 people dead, most of them students. No words can relay the anguish of parents being summoned to collect bodies of their dead children. But it was not just the parents who felt this deep unrelenting pain. People all over the world lit candles in memory of the slain children. The reason for this international solidarity is because nothing embodies our optimism about the future than the youth.

When the terrorists murdered the students at Garissa, they were killing our collective optimism about the future.

The attack, as well as others, violated something quintessentially human and left us, as French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre might say, in a state of existential angst. Hope, optimism, the feeling that life might after all have meaning were also casualties at Garissa.

In Kenya, we seem not to fully grasp how our traits and attitude contribute to our dysfunction as a country, and how these characteristics may yet lead to a failed state. So let me, as they say in the street, break it down. Those officials who facilitated the escape failed to understand that they were not guarding chicken thieves, bar brawlers or smokers of weed, misdemeanour’s which should not carry a custodial penalty in the first place.

They were guarding people who were involved in the killing of more than 100 children. They were guarding people who had violated something embedded deep inside of us. So the wardens, the prison commanders, the Security PS and minister, our whole national security system should have taken guarding these terrorists as a sacred duty; as a way of, not only honouring the youth slain so mercilessly, but also as a way of saying ‘our future is intact’; as a way of reaffirming our humanity. That is not all. If these escaped terrorists kill again, as they certainly will if they are not recaptured, then the blood of those who will die will be on the officials cited above, and all of us, because it is we who have elevated negligence, shortcuts, conmanship and thievery to a national culture.

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In the same week that this gross act of negligence happened, a public service vehicle overturned in Siakago killing 11 people. The vehicle had no PSV licence and had been declared unroadworthy by the National Transport and Safety Authority in 2020.

How was this deathtrap able to pass through police check points for so long? For 40 pieces of silver, someone was compromised, just as in the case of the escaped terrorists.

There have been allegations that some of the terrorists involved in earlier attacks came into the country courtesy of compromised border security.

Are all these not signs that our culture of negligence, shortcuts, thievery and conmanship is pushing us towards the abyss?

Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator

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This article was first published in TheEastAfrican newspaper on November 20, 2021.



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