Monday, December 3, 2012

PEV a result of our individual votes

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.

The 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.

Doctors, 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.

It 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; twitter @LukoyeAtwoli

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