On the ‘Moral Vacuum’ … and the power of FORGIVENESS

My column for this week in the Continent Observer spoke about the ‘ideological vacuum’. As I explained in the column, I heard that phrase together with ‘moral vacuum’ from a lecture given by Fr. Dr. Kitima of St. Augustine University of Tanzania. So in the column I expressed my initial thoughts on the ‘ideological vacuum’ and here I will talk about my reflection on the ‘moral vacuum’.

On Sunday I flew from Kilimanjaro Airport to Addis Ababa on my way to Burkina Faso. The flight was delayed in Kilimanjaro and when I arrived at Bole Airport, my scheduled flight to Ouagadougou had left.  As I was trying to get the attention of the busy Ethiopian Airlines staff in a very chaotic environment at Airport, I got very tired, annoyed, and almost irrational about the inattention of these staff to my case. There were hundreds of people who had missed their flights to different destinations. Everyone was tired as it was in the morning and they had travelled overnight. I myself had left the house at 1am in the morning. There was no order/line and everyone was fighting to talk to the airline staff. It was survival for the fittest.  I finally was told that the next flight to Ouagadougou is in two days, so I will have to stay in Addis for two good days. They promised to issue me with a transit visa and put me in a hotel. I could not accept that. I started crying considering the fact that there seemed to be no possibility of getting to Ouagadougou on the same day. I asked them to look for alternatives and if they can’t find, to put me in the flight back to Tanzania. The thinking was to get back home and take either Kenya Airways or KLM so I can get to Ouagadougou the earliest time possible. I kept thinking of how everything is messed up, how I will miss the lecturers from a Professor that I cited his work on my PhD Thesis, and so many other things.

My ungrateful and impatient mind that was pressuring tears on my eyes and irrational thinking was shattered when I saw a man coming trying to push his way ahead. I politely asked him to stand behind me because I was there before him, he responded

 ‘I can’t wait anymore’.

 I decided to keep quiet. Then he started shouting to the airline staff,

 ‘please be human’.

 I got curious. I looked behind, he was with his young looking wife and a very cute but unsettled toddler. He kept saying,

 ‘my daughter has not been able to sleep for two days, how can you do this to me? Please help’.

 I looked at that baby again, and she was unsettled, her beautiful eyes looked bigger and wondered everywhere. There was every sign of restlessness in that daughter and her parents were not only tired but also worried. So the man kept complaining and finally he got the attention of the staff. I was listening careful. The staff explained

 ‘I am sorry this is not our fault, it’s about government’s regulations, as a Pakistan you cannot allowed to get into the country and we cant issue you a transit visa, you will have to stay in the airport lounge until we find the next possible flight for you’

My mind then got back to its senses, and I whispered to my self ‘Ooh my God’!!! Just because of their citizenship they suffer that much. I looked at the baby and she was very innocent, I kept thinking she is suffering so much just because of where she was born. I cried even further while praying for the baby in my heart. I tried to put myself into that woman’s shoes, thinking if it was my baby. It is was painful…

 This was a manifestation of the moral vacuum in our world. Our 21st Century world is not ashamed. Morality is not a vocabulary anymore. That is why when somebody is moral he/she is considered unique or strange.

 Let’s think!! Why is Nelson Mandela admired all over the world? Simple answer, because he is moral. He is a rare global citizen. He forgave. The fact that he could forgive people who tortured him and his people for decades gave him a moral authority that became a force to reckon with in the 21st century world.

 The world is full of hypocrisy. Theories that try to explain international affairs are efforts to explain the contradictions and double standards in the conduct of international politics. These double standards are reflections of hypocrisy. No one is ready to forgive. Actions by individual citizens affect the citizens of the entire country. I kept wondering why would a few months Pakistan toddler be treated different from say, a USA toddler? It is just because they were born in a different place…but both of them are innocent. Such immoral policies create grievances that result into even more immoral acts. Foreign policies are partly based on revenge and they find allies to help them implement the revenge.  I kept thinking, is Ethiopia threatened by Pakistan? With my little knowledge, I couldn’t think of the reason why this family couldn’t get a transit visa that would help them get out and stay in a hotel for a few days before their next flight.

Treatment based on citizenship is a painful fact in the world. I have travelled to many countries in different parts of the world and you can easily observed different treatment of people based on the passport they hold. My lovely green Tanzanian passport is often looked at with a suspicion. I can always tell when that happens. I was once asked by an immigration personnel  ‘as a Tanzanian how can you afford to come here (I reserve the name of the country) for three days only’? When the officer noted that I had flown from the UK, he uttered ‘ooh you live in the UK?’… So I guessed he had figured his own answer ‘she could do that because she lives in the UK’…#lol #sad… In 2009 I went to Slovenia for a two-weeks training workshop on research methodology. So I flew from the UK to Slovenia, the flight was full and some of the passengers were going to the same workshop as I.  (I don’t want to mention this, but I have to so as we can understand this dynamics, we were only 2 black people in the plane). When I arrived at the airport, everyone was passing through the immigration easily. When my turn came, the officer took my passport, looked at it for a few minutes. He then asked me for my purpose of coming to Slovenia, I explained to him. He then asked me for documentation including returning ticket, accommodation, workshop letter, etc. I handed all of those to him. He looked through them, and he then uttered

  ‘I cannot let you into the country’.

 I asked why?

 He responded

 ‘Because you are an economic immigrant’

Wow…that was heavy! I didn’t know whether to cry or laugh. I then decided to help him think a little bit further. When I started talking, he said ‘let me call my boss’, so he did. I asked both of them ‘can you please look through the pages of my passport’, which they humbly did. I then asked them ‘which valid visas do I have’? They looked again and said ‘you have visas for many countries’. I further qualified their answer telling them that the valid visas include the UK where I am studying and also the USA, which is the richest country in the world. They kept quiet and I took the moment  to say a short prayer in my heart for protection and boldness. I then confidently asked them

 ‘So would I come to Slovenia as an economic immigrant, instead of staying in the UK or going to the USA?

 ‘Can I, with my right mind and only a few years before I get my PhD be an economic immigrant in any country?’

 ‘Do you know my country is the most beautiful, peaceful, and promising country in Africa?’.

They stayed silent and the boss asked me to wait. He took my passport in his office, stamped it and I was shown my way out and the bus that I should take.  Later on in the workshop, I saw the other black person who was also in the plane. I asked where he was from, and he said he is American. Thus, the issue was not racism per se but citizenship.

The moral vacuum in the world is manifested in many ways, but with my frequent travels, I see it through different treatments people get based on the place where they were born and their citizenship.

Think of what happened yesterday to the President of Bolivia? Why did some of the EU countries acted so aggressively to the point of breaching the presidential immunity? Is it because he is the president of Bolivia? Would a president of a powerful country treated that way? Well, the whole issue further highlights the moral vacuum. #Snowden suffers mostly because he revealed the truth of ‘immorality’ done by the most powerful country in the world. It is interesting how ‘showing’ the truth can make human being suffer so much!!!….

To cut the long stories short,  #Mandela is one man that has taught us all how to conquer ‘immorality’. It is through forgiveness. There is power in forgiveness. We, citizens of the poor countries, have only one effective weapon- FORGIVENESS! FORGIVENESS is powerful than intellect, passport, race, foreign policy, international laws, resources, richness, etc…

5 thoughts on “On the ‘Moral Vacuum’ … and the power of FORGIVENESS

  1. Proches Tairo

    In his article titled “Law versus Morality as Regulators of Conduct” (2002) 4 American Law and Economics Review 227, Steven Shavell writes that both law and morality dictate our behaviours. Whilst law accomplishes this through the threat of sanctions for disobeying the legal rules, morality accomplishes this in a number of ways. For example, when we do something wrong, we suffer from guilt and disapprobation. But when we do something right, we experience virtue, happiness and praise.

    However, in our society, we tend to focus more on the law. We judge our conducts based on whether are legal or illegal. This is good if the law regulated each and everything. This is good if everyone knew the law, though the law presumes everyone to know the law. But the law cannot regulate each and everything. Also, the requirement to know the law is merely a presumption which may be rebutted. Further, and perhaps more important is that if the sanctions imposed by the law are not rigorously enforced, then law becomes toothless in regulating our behaviours. People will frequently disobey the law because they are aware that its sanctions are rarely enforced.

    This is when morality kicks in. If there is a moral vacuum in the society, then there will be no right and wrong. Moral vacuum might also build a society where legal actions are given an ethical free pass. People will justify doing wrong things on the basis that their conducts are permitted by the law. It is probably why the staff at the airport said that it was not their fault not to issue the Pakistanis’ nationals with a transit visa because the government’s regulations did not allow them to get into the country, though one may technically argue that they were already in that country.

    Moral vacuum undermines tolerance, decency and fairness which are fundamental values in any given society. Some people in the society or the society as a whole will not even bother to judge their conducts based on what is it is to be human, and life and death. Of course, our behaviours being regulated by morality is not without problems. What might right to one might be wrong to another. Individuals have different ways of perceiving what is right and wrong. However, there are common understanding between individuals on what is right and wrong. For example, most would agree that it was wrong the way that child was treated at the airport.

    Thus, moral vacuum is at the very base of our societal roots and it is one we have failed to address. Change cannot come by legal rules. The people have to be willing to accept that change intellectually. Creating a solid moral foundation in our society is, therefore, the most important legacy we can leave for future generations to insure their success.

    1. Soraya

      When there is a vaccum, any value enforced is therefore a personal act. I just menyiom this in reference to our discussion on moral values vs personal values.
      Dkt Aikande ni raha kukusoma, kama kawaida.


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