Whenever I travel, I like sharing experiences, lessons and ideas that can help us be better, develop faster and reach further. This time I’m traveling through Luxembourg, Brussels, Cologne and The Hague, in the company of 70 law students, who represent the diverse social and ethnic diversity of Kenya. They are Christian, Muslim and Hindu; rich, middle class and poor. They have only one thing in common: They are all extremely clever.
The students are amazed by the beauty of an organized life and the harmony of the expected, by serious social and intellectual engagement. Most of them had never travelled before. They had never been on a plane or even seen the sea. Some had never gone beyond their homestead.
In Luxembourg, our bus driver, Henk, took the wrong turn and met with a low bridge. The bus is a double decker; it could not pass under such a low bridge, and the driver had to reverse. It was a main road. Drivers got frozen all around us. They gave way, and nobody hooted in spite of the amazing jam we caused. People seemed sympathetic. If this had happened in Nairobi’s Bus Station we would still be there, trying to reverse.
In the cities we have visited, traffic flows, lights are obeyed and zebra crossings are respected. In fact, as Maliha observed, as soon as you set foot on the crossing cars automatically stop. We have seen only a minor accident. It was caused by one of us, who tried to cross the road in the Nairobi style, throwing himself on the road far from the crossing. This was a typical Valley Road crossing, where pedestrians disregard the bridge and skilfully balance their steps in between speeding cars.
The youngsters have also noted that there are no traffic policemen on the road. There is no Alcoblow. Germans drink a lot, but we haven’t yet seen any drunkard. It seems people respect the rule of law.
This was bound to arouse the attention of any clever law student. Legal education trains them to constantly think of ways of circumventing the law without facing the consequences, which translates into a subtle attitude of misuse of freedom.
TRUST AND SECURITY
Not only was the harmonious traffic flow surprising to the young students, but they were also been taken aback by the levels of trust and security. One can walk in Cologne or Luxembourg at three in the morning without fear. Shop security is scarcely attended to. Bikes are available for hire in the street but no one steals their wheels or brakes.
Certainly the first reaction of many is: ‘I want to come and live here’. But then a second more noble thought sets in: ‘I want my country to become like this’. Is it possible? Can it be done?
I wrote last year an article about Singapore, Jakarta and Nairobi. We were then looking East. But we will never get a full picture of the road ahead by looking only to one side, more so when the East developed by emulating the good things it learnt from the West.
Truth be told, Europe has a long history and they have arrived at their levels of development after many centuries of trial and error. Well, we can build on their experience. We do not need to go through the same mistakes. We should not just jump into imitation. Europe is far from perfect. They have their challenges and we have discussed some in previous pieces. But they have tried.
Africa’s beauty is unparalleled. Kenya is a jewel. Tiny Luxembourg, sea-reclaimed Netherlands and small Belgium can only envy Kenya’s natural beauty. But there is something in those countries we can emulate, a sense of honesty. Our usual response that ‘This is Africa’ is the motto of the defeated…the motto of the ‘also-rans’. We can be better. We only need to get organized. We started on the right steps a few years ago, when we focused on reforming the Judiciary. But we are losing momentum, and impunity is still rampant.
“NEVER IN A HURRY”
Henk, our bus driver, is an amazing man. At a rest stop in a Dutch petrol station he said to a shop attendant: “You know, these people are always ten minutes late and they walk slowly. They are never in a hurry!” The students have tried to explain to Henk that time in Africa is rather subjective, that ten minutes can mean plus or minus thirty or sixty minutes. In fact, they said to Henk, “when we say we meet at four, it doesn’t really mean four, but anytime at around four, whenever everyone arrives.”
Soon after, during a stopover somewhere between Brussels and Luxembourg, Paranta was left by the bus. Paranta’s classmates were joking that Paranta, being a Maasai, could walk all that distance. He was lucky to get a lift from a well-wisher who drove him all the way to Luxembourg and dropped him at the Hostel. This taught him that for Henk time is objective, and this lesson has improved our punctuality.
The fact is that we have an amazing human capacity and natural riches. We can impress any academician in the world. At the University of Cologne we had an exciting exchange of ideas with Prof Claus Krass and his team of post-doc students. They were impressed by the quality and knowledge the students exuded in the academic exchange.
Where is the problem? And where lies the solution? One of the students voiced something we all had at the back of our minds: We don’t develop because we do not want to. We do not dare to say no to corruption. We easily tolerate mediocrity.
Might a change of values be the beginning of change?
Dr Franceschi is the Dean of Strathmore Law School. [email protected] Twitter: @lgfranceschi