Saturday, December 11, 2010

A psychoanalyst’s view of Kenya at 47

Sunday Nation 12 December 2010

According to the celebrated psychoanalyst Erik Erikson, a human being goes through eight ‘‘ages’’ before finally confronting the grave.

Characterised as stages of psychosocial development, Erikson described key dilemmas and tasks that an individual must navigate at each stage in order to successfully move to the next stage of development.

He described issues ranging from an infant’s struggle between trust and mistrust to the older person’s musings on ego integrity versus anguish and despair.

What applies to individuals may at times also apply to communities and nations. Within this model, Kenya would be an individual in middle adulthood, between the ages of 41 and 65.

The pre-requisite for a healthy transition into this stage is the successful navigation of the challenges of early adulthood (ages 21 to 40), including forming lasting relationships and ‘‘settling down’’ on the home front, establishing oneself in an occupation and initiating some process of giving back to society.

At this point, one may wonder if Kenya has really ‘‘settled down’’, or is still grappling with challenges she should have resolved several years ago. Are we really ready for middle adulthood?

In middle adulthood, the key task is referred to as generativity, a process by which persons guide the oncoming generation, or make efforts to improve society in one way or another.

Failure to achieve generativity results in a state of rudderless stagnation. Many individuals who have difficulties in this stage of development end up with what is popularly referred to as a ‘‘mid-life crisis’’, a period of intense emotional turmoil due to perceived and real failures in an individual’s life.

As Kenya celebrates her 47th birthday, what diagnosis would the psychoanalyst give her? Would our psychoanalyst be satisfied that Kenya is fulfilling her role in generativity, or would the final diagnosis be one of hopeless stagnation or an even more destructive ‘‘mid-life crisis’’?

Has Kenya raised her children well, sheltering them from the vagaries of this world while allowing them to pick up useful lessons for their own journey in life?

An honest appraisal of our country’s development would lead to only one answer: A resounding No! Kenya has failed to successfully deal with most of the developmental tasks Erikson set for an individual of her age.

At 47, she is still emotionally immature, throwing violent tantrums whenever her childish demands are not met.

Her latest tantrum resulted in the death of over 1,000 of her own children, and the intervention of her neighbours to try and minimise the damage was received with singular equivocation.

At 47, Kenya has not been able to develop a cogent set of values for her children, many of whom are now starting their own families with little guidance.

In fact, as she contemplates her past, one would forgive her if she fell into a period of prolonged ‘‘mid-life crisis’’.
However, all is not lost. Our neighbours’ intervention after the latest tantrum resulted in stricter rules of conduct, complete with a set of enforcers called Moreno-Ocampo and Kofi Annan.

They have helped us to craft a set of internal rules that are based on the consensus that certain human rights are universal and inalienable.

Hopefully, our mother can be compelled to live by those rules, for the sake of future generations. Happy birthday, Kenya.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer, Moi University School of Medicine.

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