Monday, January 13, 2014

Enough of blaming others for our mistakes

By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 12 January 2014

Observing social discourse in Kenya, one notices a subtle shift in explaining the distribution of poverty and under-development in certain areas and among individuals. In the past, within relatively homogenous groups of Kenyans, the discussion invariably veered towards “marginalisation” by the dominant tribe(s) in government.

One community, or coalition of communities, would be labelled as oppressors of the majority, and all members of this group would be accused of all sorts of ills that resulted in most others sinking into poverty and want.

Among the so-called “oppressors,” however, the explanation for the opulence in their midst would be put down to hard work and innovative entrepreneurship. They would argue that they worked as individuals to build their wealth, and that those who enjoyed any favours from the State were in the minority and often transcended the tribe barrier.

They would cite examples of people from other tribes who have been engaged in large-scale looting of State resources, and were extremely wealthy, while their own communities remained largely dirt-poor. 


This group was also more likely to explain the high poverty levels in the rest of the country as being a product of laziness, excessive politicking, or lack of the entrepreneurial spirit.

Both these groups exemplify how insulating operating in an echo chamber can be. Repetition of these obviously incomplete narratives turned them into some sort of fact, gradually growing into self-fulfilling prophecies. Many otherwise able-bodied youth would resort to begging or extortion, or other more serious criminality, arguing that due to “marginalisation”, they were unlikely to make it legitimately in this country.

Almost all members of the “marginalised” group would be astounded whenever one expressed a contrary opinion placing the larger share of the blame on the complainers themselves. On the other hand, the wealthy “oppressors” would be shocked to learn that there are genuinely hard-working Kenyans who had been shafted by the system, whose property had been looted, and whose opportunities had been shrunk by operation of the largely ethnic-based system of cronyism.

The long and short of this piece is to demonstrate how things have changed today. A new coalition of “complainers” is emerging, and it has succeeded in resurrecting an old ghost to aid its cause. Today, the colonialist and his neo-colonialist ally are the main cause of our problems, and any indigene who thinks otherwise is dismissed as their lackey simply doing the bidding of his “foreign masters”.

Growing up in the 80s and 90s at the peak of Nyayo’s power, one was made acutely aware of the actual meaning of such terms. Being called a subversive under the influence of foreign powers always meant the withdrawal of the privileges of citizenship, and existence at “president’s pleasure”.

Critically examining the re-emergence of this phenomenon leads one to only one conclusion: We are constantly looking around us for scapegoats that can explain our failures in life, and we are averse to taking responsibility for the negative consequences of our actions.

In 2014, one can only hope that we shall discard this time-wasting habit, examine our own actions and resolve to make better decisions and accept the concomitant results. In order to develop this lovely country of ours, we must leave the West (or the “other” tribe) out of it!

We determine our own destiny!

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

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