“I don’t think he[Putin]ordered it, but he is responsible for it, as it is his vision of Russia that has produced the intolerance, suspicion and hatred that nurtured Nemtsov’s killer” – Andrei Nekrasov.


In the final stages of ‘In search of Putin’s Russia”, a documentary by Nekrasov and broadcast on Al Jazeera, footage is shown of large crowds of people on the streets on the day that Russia buried one of its most vocal opposition critics. Nemtsov was shot near the Kremlin, and there were rumuors that the killing was state-sanctioned, what with the killers brave enough to commit his murder so close to the residence of Russia’s President.


I thought of the events that led up to the murder and how seemingly little things that are ignored over time flare up and the results are loss of life and/or anarchy. Reminded me about The broken windows theory, a theory of the norm-setting and signaling effect of urban disorder and vandalism on additional crime and anti-social behaviour. The theory states that maintaining and monitoring urban environments to prevent small crimes such as vandalism, public drinking, and toll-jumping helps to create an atmosphere of order and lawfulness, thereby preventing more serious crimes from happening. That if a window is broken by vandals or even accidentally, and it is neglected, chances are high that graffiti will appear shortly, that a mugging will take place and the security and condition of the area will degenerate. Fixing the window is therefore, both a physical and psychological statement that anarchy and indecency don’t belong there. Basically, chances are that Nemtsov would still be alive, if the countrys leadership was seen to be upholding the rights of even those citizens that are its harshest critics.


Going home yesterday, the matatu I was in broke down and I had to alight and take another one to get home. While we froze in the cold that comes with the light rain showers, a man passed by selling eggs. They were steaming hot, and those who wanted and could afford it, bought some. The vendor then proceeded to throw the egg shells on to the road. I dislike littering with every fibre in my body, it’s so crude and selfish, like you can throw away your trash because you know you won’t have to deal with the picking up. I was so angry that I almost asked him who he expected to clean up after him, but then I saw that there was a lot of other rubbish on the road. Bottles, plastic bags, banana peelings, and he’d probably have asked me if I expected him to pick those up too, when he isn’t the one who littered. I kept quiet and waited for my transport home.


On a group that I like on facebook, ‘Nostalgic East Africa’, members post images and sometimes videos of what the major towns of East Africa looked like back in the day, and a whole lot of other things. A lot of the pictures of pre-1980 Nairobi are unbelievable in how clean and orderly the city was. Buses run like clockwork, streets were clean and well marked, estates had social amenities that functioned and it was generally unrecognizable from the chaos and filth that characterizes the city today. It is challenges like those that have seen a crowded race for the seat of Nairobi governor, most of the aspirants promising to restore Nairobi to its lost glory, and some more interested in the budget allocated to the country’s capital than anything else.


Going back to The Broken Windows Theory, it is clear that the number of windows that are broken in Nairobi, both literal and figurative are numerous, and need urgent fixing. Abandoned family planning programs meant that Nairobi’s residents gave birth to children they could ill afford, that meant they stretched the school and other social services and led to poor education standards, that meant the job market couldn’t absorb all of them, and it in turn led to a higher crime rate and other social ills. Neglected hospitals lead to more casualties from treatable and preventable diseases, while a broken and abused insurance system means expensive premiums, out of reach for majority of the residents and which in turn leads to more fund raising to cover costs, which keeps the rat race alive and very well.


The vendor who was selling eggs would have found it harder to dump his trash on the road, if his egg shells were the only thing that would have littered it. Unfortunately, nobody stopped the guy that threw banana peels and sweet wrappers and that created a free-for-all environment. A decades-old tradition of neglect has led to vices that people have accepted, lived with and perfected. From politics, where ballot-stuffing during elections and coffer-emptying during the mandate are the norm, to families, where children grow up witnessing the very things they are warned against, like lying, cheating, violence and intolerance, have led to a wide-scale rot in societal values.


The Nairobi governor’s race will most probably go down to the wire, and the candidate with the most of his community registered as voters will emerge victorious. That is unfortunate because the candidate will then have no obligation to the residents of Nairobi but to pleasing a select group that seems to represent the interests of those that put him/her in office. The incoming governor, if he cannot fix an issue as simple as littering, or improving service delivery by ensuring council workers are not truant, cannot be trusted with the responsibility of building roads and creating favourable working conditions for local and foreign investors, which would go a long way to solve the perennial issue of unemployment. Closer home, a  family unit that cannot solve an issue as basic as having the discipline to have a number children they can afford, cannot be trusted to teach their kids the principle of delayed gratification, which, at least for me,  is the most basic tenet of discipline.


What that leads to is mass production of future and current citizens who care very little, if they do at all, for the rule of law and common decency. It’s a chicken and egg situation deciding who is to blame, whether it’s the system that leads to such vices proliferating the population, or the family unit abandoning responsibilities due to how the said system is set up. A citizen, juvenile or adult, who cannot have the decency to look for a litter bin to avoid littering, cannot be then asked to do more responsible things like pay taxes in totality, or elect leaders on merit alone. From a simple issue of planning a family and inculcating in them values that will ensure they turn out to be responsible citizens, a bigger issue of a tax-evading tribally-inclined voter comes up. From a simple choice of choosing between candidates, a bigger problem of electing into office a thief and saboteur ensures the cycle of poverty, backwardness and disorder and crime thrives.


‘ So numerous are these mourners,  and so united in their disbelief, and their outrage, that  it could be that Boris hasn’t died in vain”, at the very end of the documentary, Andrei Nekrasov keeps a sense of optimism and hope, that things will get better for Russia, with or without Putin’s involvement. Nairobi’s resident’s have a choice today, starting from home, and next year, electing an honest, development-oriented leader, and to reclaim their society by fixing one broken window at a time.


Categories: Opinion

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