By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 02 December 2012
Recently, I have had occasion to consider the meaning
of the individual vote. It has been argued in the past that one vote is
really meaningless and can only go so far in effecting change in
society. Similarly, a position is often canvassed that, in times
of crises, a single individual cannot do much to stem the hysterical
tide, and is often swept along by the masses.
Using the example of
post-election violence that rocked our country five years ago, many
have argued that despite their best intentions and clear visions of how
to react to disappointment in a civilised manner, they could not do much
to limit the effect of the violence in their immediate vicinity. Some
indicated that they got in touch with those of their friends they
thought could make a difference, but the answer they got was a uniform
one – “You will probably be spared because you are my friend. But keep
your opinions to yourself”.
This argument often wins the day, and
the discussion often ends with a shrug of the shoulders in a manner to
suggest that not more can be done.
However, this position is not
entirely accurate. Psychologists have conducted a series of
experiments whose conclusions suggest that although people tend to
conform to group norms and beliefs, even if this opinion is at variance
with their own beliefs, this spell is often easily broken by at least
one dissenting voice.
In one experiment, a group of students were
told that they would be asked an obvious question, and that they would
give a wrong answer in order to deliberately mislead one of them who was
not present at the time. Later, the student who was not present
when the instructions were given agreed with the group when they gave
the obviously wrong answer.
In a slightly different experiment, after one member of the group gave the correct answer, the “ignorant” one followed suit. Clearly,
then, when a large group agrees to do something outlandish, it may take
only one dissenting voice to stop them in their tracks.
In my view,
therefore, most of what happened in this country after 2008 was a direct
result of each of our individual votes. Everything the coalition government has done or failed to do is a result of our preferred choices at the last General Election.
failure of government to implement agreements it reached with various
parties can be traced to each and every vote that was cast in 2007. For
instance, medical students at my university were meant to have
completed their examinations and to graduate before the end of this
year, but this will not happen because lecturers went on strike and had a
dispute with the government regarding their salaries and allowances.
nurses, teachers and other government employees have recently gone on
strike as well, resulting in immense suffering for Kenyans. This
suffering and trouble can be traced to decisions made by each and every
Kenyan in the polling booth. In short, every vote has consequences, and some of these consequences are deleterious even to the voters themselves.
is, therefore, imperative that as we make our electoral decisions
nationally and in our counties, we keep in mind the very personal
results of our decision.
Dr Lukoye Atwoli is the secretary,
Kenya Psychiatric Association and a senior lecturer at Moi University’s school
of medicine firstname.lastname@example.org; twitter @LukoyeAtwoli