Friday, November 8, 2013

We must take responsibility for our actions

By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 03 November 2013

Last week I came across something on social media that really illustrated the Kenyan thought process with such clarity that it blew my mind. After a road crash involving a public service bus and a train, someone, presumably associated with the ownership of the bus company, posted what passed as an attempt at exonerating the driver and company from any blame.

This individual wrote that the “bus was not driven carelessly” but only “got stuck” on the railway line. In his view, it was wrong to place blame on the bus driver or management of the bus company, and he ended up insinuating that the police and others in authority had slept on the job for not stopping the bus before it got to the railway line.

I got very angry when I read the response but, after some contemplation, I gained an insight into where the writer of the “explanation” was coming from. In Kenya, as in many parts of Africa I have had the privilege of visiting, we seem to have developed a culture in which taking personal responsibility is alien. A psychologist would describe us as individuals with external loci of control whenever it comes to most events.

In our world, events always have an external causation or just happen on their own. For instance, when a small child plays with some chinaware and happens to drop the item and break it, she will explain that the “plate fell down and broke”, rather than looking at her own role in the whole affair. This is replicated throughout our public interactions.

Today, we are almost unanimous that the 2007/2008 post-election violence just happened, and we should just bury our heads in the sand and forget about that nasty period in our history. The frequent road crashes (not accidents!) that happen on our roads have no causative agency. They just happen and, unfortunately, result in massive loss of lives annually. 


Poor leadership in this country also seems to be imposed upon us by forces beyond our control, which is why we keep lamenting about it but doing nothing active about it. Periodic famines that predictably follow food gluts are obviously also beyond our capacity to deal with, and a few prayers should do the trick.

It is not unheard of to hear a senior government official in this country blaming “the government” for one thing or other, even for shortcomings in his own docket. This attitude explains our regular “naomba serikali itusaidie” (begging the government to help) attitude, even when the solution is staring us straight in the face.

A combination of this helpless attitude, and the supplication to our respective deities in the face of adversity, has resulted in a society that can never get anything right. Nobody has the motivation to set things right if they don’t feel responsible for them.

However, the moment everyone recognises that they are responsible for events in their environment, and that nothing truly happens by accident or by supernatural agency, they become more proactive in dealing with potential threats.

Unless we change how we explain events for which we are responsible, we are doomed to continue suffering under what we think are forces of nature when, in fact, we have the power and ability to deal with them. 

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and senior lecturer at Moi University’s School of Medicine.

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