Safety in letters

The continuance of a society depends heavily on its people commonly committing to certain laws or rules, written or not, to govern how they will live together.

As a businessman, you receive a cheque from a client or customer assuming that they are not lying about having money in the bank. if they are lying then there is something you can do about it, because the land has laws. As a driver, you assume that I, the Toyota in front of you, will obey the same traffic laws. If I’m driving roughshod then I will answer to somebody. As a woman, you assume that touts won’t undress you at a matatu terminal. They might be stronger than you, that you can’t fight back, but the law, a system with retribution and punishment, can fight for you. It already fights for you because they fear it.

As a citizen, you assume that the policeman will not use his gun to rob you of your car, or phone. What keeps him from it? An oath he has to keep, and a law he has to obey. There is a healthy fear of the community, a people who mutually acknowledge and uphold this system of right and wrong. This fear deters such evil1. You don’t expect a tout to beat you up for not boarding the matatu they’re touting for. It’s preposterous. At least it should be. You don’t expect to report this to authority, the official enforcers and defenders of our laws, only for them to side with and protect your assaulter!

Common adherence to the rule of law makes and maintains a society. No business, no transport, no education, no walking in the park, no giving money at a restaurant and expecting change, no use of internet on your phone, no media to report to you events you can’t otherwise have known about, is possible without the rule of law. It is so natural, so according to the order of things, that we affirm it every day, without thinking about it. Imagine a society without the rule of law, where these crimes actually happen, and nothing is or can be done about it. Nobody can be safe in such a society.

In a tribalistic environment like ours, we think it is not too bad because it is not happening to our side. How myopic. If the system is broken, it affects all in it, who depend on it. The word to add after ‘side’, in that first sentence, is ‘yet’. A law-less system supports no community. Pun intended.

It will be a society where your client, richer than you, refuses to pay or gives a dubious cheque, and you can’t do anything about because there is no court you can take them to. The same with the stronger man or policeman who assaults you or your wife or mother on the road or at the matatu terminal. Sadly, many Kenyans don’t need to imagine such a society. They live in it. Even worse, it is a society where the bodies trusted to keep the law going are the same ones disregarding it.

None of us will prosper in a country that doesn’t have the rule of law. A broken system is broken for everyone. Despite our tribal and party affiliation. Perpetrators of evil never care who they are doing it to. They cannot despise and assault your enemy but love and protect you. They will break into hostels and assault all, if provoked. Can both fresh water and bitter water flow from the same spring?

I am not fanatical about any political faction. Regardless of the details, what has happened to Miguna these last 3 days needs to worry us all. We might not know everything, but we know enough to acknowledge the political workings. This coupled (more importantly to me, here) with the failure by our leaders to respect court orders. I find this quite worrisome. The judicial system might be broken, but it has to be, if the society will be. No law = no rules. And no rules = very ugly playing from both sides (playing with Kenyan lives, of course). No rules at the top = no rules at the bottom. Hence the high crime rate, I think. I am pleased to read Kenyans from across the board condemning what has happened. It’s high time we thought about what is right, rather than who is right.


  1. As Christians, we know that these laws find their source in the image of God in us. The fear (a healthy natural aversion to) of doing evil is the fear of God. That’s what our leaders don’t have, despite their appearing in churches.