Sunday, June 26, 2011

Collapsing old order will result in a better Kenya

Sunday Nation 26 June 2011

Two buildings collapsed in Nairobi in the past two weeks, killing several people and injuring many more.

Although this was not the first time such a tragedy was happening in our ill-planned capital city, government officials dutifully trudged to the sites of the misadventures and promised to do all in their power to help prevent similar problems in future.

Nairobi’s Town Clerk had particularly choice words for judges, accusing them of issuing quick injunctions without examining the merits of the cases or the threats posed to human life.

Subsequently, the Local Government ministry indicated that it would move to demolish all city buildings over five stories that did not have an elevator, as required by the law. Of course one wonders how this will remedy the subsisting poor planning and workmanship that result in buildings collapsing even before they are completely built!

The police promised to offer security to council officials inspecting building sites for compliance with established codes.

Other senior government officials offered their condolences and prayers to those affected by the tragedies, and hoped that they would find peace in these trying times.

After this show of government concern and commiseration, we were all supposed to crawl back into our miserable holes and forget about this whole unfortunate incident.

We were expected to go back to cheering our favourite ODM or PNU politicians, and planning the annihilation of our political enemies in 2012.

The odds are that this ruse succeeded. Our political class comprises some of the shrewdest people in this part of the world.

They know how to play with our love for drama and entertainment. It is, therefore, quite conceivable that most Kenyans have already forgotten about the victims and survivors of the collapsed buildings, and have moved on to more entertaining things.

In many ways, events such as these are signs of what is wrong with our country as a whole – the culture of carelessness and a shauri ya Mungu (leaving it to God) attitude on the part of citizens, and the well-developed leadership culture best exemplified by the Sheng phrase, uta-do (what will you do)?

Our carelessness is manifested in the habit of ignoring details in all aspects of our lives.

Unless one is carefully supervised by the eventual service user, the quality of much of our work is way below expectations.

Our use of language is another spectacular example, as are our manners on the road and in public places. And, of course, whenever anything goes wrong, God is always available as an explanation of last resort!

It is also pointless to give the numerous examples of the behaviour of our ‘‘leaders’’, including the exaggerated sense of entitlement in all spheres of life, leading some of them to even threaten the country with dire consequences should they be required to pay tax like ‘‘ordinary’’ citizens. Even in the face of overwhelming evidence of wrongdoing, they take to public platforms and declare “I would rather die than resign!” In other words, mta-do?

Unless there are significant changes in these Kenyan attitudes, the clamour for change and the resultant promulgation of a new Constitution will have been in vain.

Hopefully, the collapse of the old order, symbolised by the unfortunate events in Nairobi, will result in a better Kenya for posterity.

Lukoye Atwoli is a Consultant Psychiatrist and Lecturer at Moi University School of Medicine.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Get this clear; paedophiles are not necessarily gay

By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 19 June 2011

“Clerics seek harsher laws for gays”, screamed a headline on the online edition of the Daily Nation last Tuesday evening. The story went on to document the troubles that certain Muslim clerics had caused children attending madrassa at the coast- defiling them while pretending to be offering religious education. One muslim leader even claimed that “the rising cost of living and drought are due to the behaviour of these Kenyans (read homosexuals) who are not ready to change”.

Throughout the story, one could not find a single indication that the clerics accused of defiling madrassa pupils were homosexuals. It seemed that the article actually contained two stories- the on child sexual abuse and on homosexuality.

The conclusions made by the religious leaders were even more bewildering, considering the issue they were purportedly addressing. Sample this: Sharia or harsher laws should be enacted to punish homosexuals; Christians and Muslims should shun religious leaders and businesspeople who abetted homosexuality; there should be a “crackdown on institutions that spearhead the rights of gays and lesbians in the country” and so on and so forth.

Not once in the article was it indicated that the clerics wanted harsher penalties for child sexual offenders of whatever sexual orientation, leading to the inevitable conclusion that they may be comfortable with a heterosexual cleric sexually assaulting young children of the opposite sex!

Mainstream Kenya will probably identify with the clerics’ call, that all homosexuals should be hunted down like dogs, and probably put to death!

Homosexuality, as we have pointed out before in this column, has several meanings. One, it may refer to a sexual orientation whereby one is sexually attracted to members of the same sex. Secondly, it may indicate a personal or social identity, whereby one chooses to be identified as a homosexual. Thirdly, it may describe sexual behaviour or contact between two individuals of the same sex.

The importance of this distinction is that one may have homosexual orientation and be ‘happily’ married to another person of the opposite sex. Such a person may never (at least publicly) demonstrate homosexual behaviour, and one wonders where the clerics would find them to mete out their punishment.

Secondly, a person who is heterosexual may engage in homosexual behaviour at some point in their life, and still remain firmly heterosexual with no subsequent attraction to members of the same sex.

One concept in psychology holds that among the most vehement critics of a certain behavioural impulse or trait, many often have the exact same impulse or trait. It is explained that the extreme revulsion for those possessing the hated trait or impulse constitutes the ego defence mechanism known as reaction formation. In order to defeat the trait in themselves, they (unconsciously) choose to fight it in others!

Our homophobic fellow-citizens, who often irrationally equate homosexuality to criminal behaviour such as child sexual abuse, rape, murder or theft, must therefore examine the root cause of their own prejudices.

They may just discover a more appropriate outlet for their energies- fighting sexual abuse, whether perpetrated by heterosexuals or homosexuals!

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

Sunday, June 12, 2011

It will do the country good to interrogate religious edicts

Sunday Nation 12 June 2011

In the wake of the significant role religious leaders have played in the process of selection of the Judiciary nominees as well as in other key sectors of Kenyan public life, it is right and proper to question the role of religion in our society.

It has been argued that religion is the beacon of morality, the compass that we use to periodically re-orient ourselves whenever we are confused about right and wrong.

Belief in a supreme deity is thought to keep human beings from killing each other, and to maintain social order using rules and commandments contained in religious holy books.

The converse of this is also held to be true, that absence of a religious ‘‘morality’’ portends chaos for society.

We shall later in this article address the veracity of these claims. At this point, we shall assume the assertions to be true.

It then becomes important to study the practitioners of religious values in order to discern this truth.

Unfortunately, as it turns out, the staunchest advocates of any religion are often not the best examples of the observances ordained in their religions.

Examples abound, and it is not useful to rehash the historical mistakes attributed to various bodies of religion, from pogroms to crusades and jihads.

Even if we only choose to dwell on modern, local examples, evidence of misdemeanours on the part of erstwhile religious beacons is legion.

From physical and sexual abuse of children to death sentences on those holding contrary views, religious leaders often appear no worse than the barbarians they seek to hold at bay.

More recently in Kenya, they have engaged in a campaign to demonise an individual because of his mode of dress, his difficulties remaining in a marital relationship, and his choice to speak for marginalised Kenyans.

A few years back they burnt literature meant to educate children on sexuality and the attendant risks, in the mistaken belief that this ‘‘sex education’’ would encourage promiscuous sexual activity among the youth.

Coming back to whether the assertions about the goodness of religion are right or wrong, the debate continues apace.

If religion were necessary for people to be ‘‘good’’ it would follow that almost all non-religious people would be ‘‘bad’’ and almost all religious people would be ‘‘good’’.

Scientists of all shades agree that this determination can only be made on the strength of research evidence.

Some of the parameters that can be used to test this ‘‘goodness’’ would necessarily include crime rates, violence and equality.

A preliminary survey of prisons and other penal institutions reveals a predominance of religious people, and very few, if any, non-religious people or atheists.

A study comparing religious societies with non-religious societies found that non-religious (or predominantly atheist) societies were more equal, less violent, and less crime-prone.

On the face of it this should not be entirely surprising. Many wars have been started on the strength of religious differences, and a lot of modern conflict, from the Middle East to Northern Ireland, is religious in nature.

In Kenya, without religious sensibilities, the arguments about Dr Willy Mutunga’s suitability for the position of Chief Justice would not even arise!

Adherents of the various religious groups should, therefore, be questioning and measuring religious edicts on their own merits and not on the authority of whoever issues them.

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

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Celebrating 48 years of Madaraka? What Madaraka?

Sunday Nation 05 June 2011

Last Wednesday we celebrated the day Kenya attained internal self-rule some 48 years ago.

As is customary, our political leaders trotted out in style, enumerating a litany of achievements since the first Madaraka Day, and exhorting us to continue being proud citizens of this beautiful country.

To the suffering masses, populist promises were made about reductions in prices of essential commodities and improvement of the standard of living.

It is instructive that our double-headed government has perfected the art of reacting to situations with short-term fixes, which turn out to be more expensive in the long run.

Examples abound, and a few of those include the ill-fated cheap unga (maize flour) project, price controls and tax reduction on petroleum products and even the Kazi Kwa Vijana economic stimulus programme.

Often, the real technocrats are side-stepped in these programmes for the obvious reason that real expertise is slow, painstaking and focuses on long term goals.

Politicians hungering for quick fixes with an eye on the next General Election have no time to waste on long-term thinking.

As our leaders marked our 48th Madaraka Day with pomp and pageantry, they could not have failed to notice the irony of the situation on the ground.

The Hague matter

On the eve of the celebrations, the International Criminal Court (ICC) threw out a case filed by our government challenging the admissibility of two cases arising out of the 2008 post-election violence.

At the same time, the ICC chief prosecutor accused the government of fighting on the side of impunity, instead of working to protect potential witnesses and ensure that the culprits are brought to book.

The Attorney-General’s quick statement indicating that he will appeal against the ICC ruling only served to expose the depth of desperation a wing of the government is willing to go to in order to demonstrate support for the accused in its ranks.

Even to a total lay person in matters of the law, reading the way the ICC three-judge bench shredded the government’s arguments leaves one in no doubt at all that we are just wasting our hard-earned cash on this ill-advised ego trip.

The very fact that these cases are ongoing at The Hague, characterised by some as a ‘‘foreign court’’, demonstrates that we do not have real Madaraka in this country.

Indeed, for a period of time in 2008, we were practically ruled by Kofi Annan from the Serena Hotel, on behalf of the ‘‘international community’’.

Our present government exists with support and even coercion from the same international community.

Regular reports on the state of our nation are prepared and distributed, not by our president, but by a group led by our one-time vizier, Kofi Annan.

Under these circumstances, how then can we claim to be enjoying Madaraka? What Madaraka is this, when we are saddled with a government that is impervious to reason and obvious logic?

Can anyone honestly speak of Madaraka with regard to our border communities — the Somali, the Turkana and Pokot, the Burji and Borana, among others?

How can we speak of Madaraka to people whose lives are routinely lost to hunger, bullets and disease, while government officials wring their hands and talk of diplomacy and Vision 2030?

Maybe it is time Kenyans started scouting around for new faces in leadership that will usher in true Madaraka.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer at Moi University’s school of medicine