Monday, September 19, 2011

Why periodic famine is responsible for inequality

By LUKOYE ATWOLI Sunday Nation 18 September 2011 A healthy mind dwells in a healthy body, or so the aphorism goes. Science has long established the link between mental health and physical health. Malnourished children perform poorly at physical and cognitive tasks compared to their well-nourished counterparts. This is because food provides the energy needed by both the body and the brain for peak performance. In the absence of this energy, the body’s systems slow down and only distribute resources to those functions that are essential for the maintenance of life. Higher brain functions are secondary to more vegetative functions when it comes to maintaining life and they are, therefore, likely to be sacrificed when an individual is starving. The result is sluggish thinking processes, lethargy and apathy to the surroundings. In school, this will manifest as poor performance in class, giving the impression that the individual is “dull” or less intelligent than others. A recent survey carried out by the National Cohesion and Integration Commission indicated that top government posts in this country are occupied mainly by people from the most populous tribes, especially the ones whose members ruled the country at some point. “Smaller” communities are poorly represented in government, and the main assumption has been that their “sons” have not been president, and so their “time to eat” had not come. However, the truth is more nuanced than that. It is clear that the so-called “marginalised” peoples are also the most prone to famines and food deprivation. Most of their time is spent looking for food and water, and they have little time to pursue “higher” needs in the hierarchy described by American professor of psychology, Abraham Maslow. They are, therefore, less likely to be found in colleges and universities, further diminishing their prospects of serving in government. More fundamentally, however, even when they get the opportunity to attend school alongside other Kenyans, their performance is often poorer due to malnutrition and their struggles in pursuit of food and water. The few who excel are often idolised, masking the broader impact of malnutrition on most of their siblings. The truth is that for every brilliant child from these famine-stricken peoples, there are hundreds who will never achieve much in school, the primary reason being that starvation has significantly reduced their intellectual capabilities. In my view it follows, therefore, that anyone interested in redressing the ethnic imbalance in employment and intellectual achievement will invest in improving the food availability in the arid and semi-arid regions. Focus on reducing child malnutrition alone will ensure that those that go to school will compete on an equal footing with their colleagues from other parts of the country. Obviously, then, affirmative action is not sustainable. The horizon for solving the problem must be long-term, focusing 20 or 30 years from now, where the ideal should be that no region in this country should suffer the rates of malnutrition that are being seen in Turkana and contiguous areas. I would encourage public-spirited Kenyans to take the government to task on this issue. Allowing some regions to continue enduring starvation in this day and age is not only inhuman, but also amounts to a culpable dereliction of duty that ranks up there with genocide and other crimes against humanity. Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer at Moi University’s school of medicine

No comments:

Post a Comment

Say something about this post!