Tuesday, June 24, 2014

When you treat security casually, crime festers

By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 22 June 2014
Observing the behaviour of Kenyans and their so-called leaders, there is no doubt we have failed to learn from history. For several months now, we have unnecessarily lost many lives in events that demonstrate a lack of creativity in the running of public affairs. These events have particularly escalated in recent weeks.
One could come to several conclusions based on this observation. Firstly, one could argue that it is all a mere coincidence, and that the road crashes, chang’aa deaths, terrorist attacks, increased crime and political instability have just happened to cluster together purely by chance. That is, of
course, possible but it is highly improbable.
Secondly, one could argue that some malevolent force hell-bent on destroying our country for some obscure reason has planned at least some of these events. This is indeed the line adopted by some in and out of government, especially after the attacks at the coast when the government claimed there was a political angle to it all. 
The President laid the blame for the current troubles squarely at the feet of reckless” politicians who were inciting the people. Unfortunately, all indications are that this is also highly improbable, and that any politicians even remotely associated with these attacks are either opportunists or bystanders in the wrong place at the wrong time.
A more plausible explanation is that these events are an indication of ineptitude in the arms of government responsible for maintaining security, law and order. No matter the source of these atrocious happenings, it falls on the government to neutralise the threats before they materialise instead of waiting for people to be killed and then looking for targets to blame.
Social psychologists have long ago demonstrated a link between disorder and crime. In what is now known as the Broken Window Theory, it has been shown that neighbourhoods and property that is left in a state of disrepair soon attracts vandals and criminals of all shades. Wilson and Kelling, in a seminal paper on this topic, argued that untended behaviour leads to the breakdown of community controls and order. They demonstrated how an abandoned piece of property in a nice neighbourhood can cause changes in the behaviour of residents, and eventually lead to increased crime and general
This theory easily explains what is currently happening in the country, and could even predict what is in store for us. The security docket has not properly exerted itself in a professional manner in dealing with crime in this country. That is not in dispute, no matter where one stands politically. As a result, many “small” crimes have been going unpunished while our police officers get collectively tarred with claims of corruption and bribe taking.
Tolerance for “smallcrimes such as assault, robberies and murders has increased so much that police spokespeople routinely refer to them as “normal” crimes. Consequently the country has slid into a general state of lawlessness, and the government’s brazen assertion that we are now responsible for our own security only worsens this perception.
Because of our tolerance for “Broken Windows” in our country, terrorists and other criminals are having a field day. The sooner the government acknowledges this situation and takes firm action to deal with it the better for all of us. 
Dr Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and senior lecturer at Moi Universitys School of Medicine.


  1. Human nature on trial once more. I was perturbed by older studies that showed how humans could easily be induced into torturing others and even derive some sadistic pleasure from it. I also remember the 2011 'blackberry' riots which led to large scale looting all over England.

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