Collective discipline critical in taming Covid-19 spread

Tuesday, April 7th, 2020 00:00 |
Staff line up at attention as they prepare to spray disinfectant at Wuhan Railway Station in China’s Hubei province. Photo/AFP

Kingori Choto  

Ancient philosopher Aristotle said, “A nation is not built by mountains and trees … it is built by the character of its citizens.” The same applies today as it did during Aristotle time.

In the modern context, one can say a nation endowed with, among other things, hardworking people, natural resources and  favourable climate, but whose citizens lack character, is built on a shaky foundation.  

The concept of citizenship from the Aristotelian perspective is another discussion altogether.

Suffice to say that being a citizen goes beyond the mere fact of belonging to a particular country or State.

To Aristotle, the good citizen is one who upholds the Constitution and plays an active role in the governance.

It, therefore, follows that the character of the State is largely determined by the character of its citizens. 

Discipline is a core aspect of character. To Aristotle, discipline is essentially living a life of restraint in conformity with the norms of society. To him, a free society is built on a disciplined citizenry. “Through discipline, comes freedom.”

And as the coronavirus pandemic ravages the world, Kenyans had better heed the wise counsel of Aristotle.

That unless we individually and collectively embrace discipline as the cornerstone of good citizenship, especially at this time, we risk being consumed by the pandemic.  

Being a disciplined citizen is more than just obeying the law. It means rising above parochial interests and putting the country first. It means demonstrating true fidelity to our compatriots by eschewing behaviour that endangers the lives of others.

Above all, it means sacrificing short-term comforts and pleasures for long-term security and progress.

A great army can only be built out of disciplined, selfless citizens who are ready to confront any threat to their country.

Great soldiers don’t betray their country. They never show fear or panic but trudge on heroically to victory.     

Discipline in the prevailing context means being imbued with a civic duty to enlist and fight in the war against Covid-19.

It means adhering to government measures and encouraging others to do the same.

Indiscipline on the other hand is defying government directives on social distancing, disregarding quarantine, refusing to comply with curfew orders, neglecting personal hygiene and any other conduct that puts the lives of fellow citizens at risk of contracting Covid-19.

Anyone guilty of such conduct is a traitor. This also applies to those who thrive in disseminating falsehoods about the virus and those who neglect their duty to enforce public health directives as required by law or engaging in corruption or any malpractices that compromise public health and safety.   

We should emulate countries that have confronted and surmounted extremely challenging times through patriotism, tenacity and discipline of their citizens. 

A case in point is Japan. At the end of World War II, the small island nation in the Far East lay in ruins, vanquished militarily and economically, by catastrophic atomic bombing by the Americans. But within two decades, Japan had emerged out of the ashes of war as a global economic and industrial powerhouse.

his phenomenal turnaround is to a good part attributed to the hard work, innovativeness and discipline of the Japanese people.

Ironically, Japan was to endure yet another nuclear-related calamity during peace time, with the 2011 Fukushima tragedy.

The discipline ingrained in the Japanese people however prevailed in the ensuing humanitarian crisis.

With food, water and other essential commodities in short supply, people queued patiently to receive their rations thus averting chaos and violence in the affected regions.

Kenyans are no doubt an enterprising and innovative people. However, the collective discipline needed to deal with extremely challenging moments such as Covid-19 is often lacking.

A general disregard for law and authority appears to take root as basic primal instincts of self-preservation override reason.

Since the first case of Covid-19 was confirmed in Kenya, such behavior has occasionally manifested itself. We must all strive to be citizens of character and discipline. 

—The writer is a lawyer and public affairs consultant. [email protected]   


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