Rising crimes call for urgent repair of our social fabric

KEN OPALO |

Ken Opalo, Assistant Professor, Georgetown University. [File, Standard]

Kenya’s social fabric is in tatters. Whether it is the police casually murdering young men, cases of lynching, mysterious disappearances, or the rise of child kidnappings and defilement, we are continuously inundated with signs of a generalised breakdown of social cohesion.

In case you are wondering, this is not just because of increased media coverage. According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), between 2014 and 2019, the number of offences “against morality” (including rape, defilement, incest) increased by 32 per cent. Defilement posted the biggest gross increase, with cases rising from 3,896 to 5,397. Drug offences also increased (18.3 per cent).

The categories of assault, homicide and robbery held steady over this period. However, I suspect that the 2020 and 2021 data will reveal an uptick in these categories as well – consistent with trends in other countries equally experiencing economic and social stresses caused by Covid-19 pandemic.

Given these trends, where is the moral panic? Where are our religious and community leaders? What are they doing to repair the social fabric at the national and local levels? Reasonable people would agree that we cannot simply legislate these problems away. Strengthening the State’s ability to properly investigate cases, prosecute suspects, and win convictions would be a start. But nothing can ever repair the loss experienced by grieving families of murdered loved ones. Furthermore, research shows that harsher convictions seldom generate significant deterrence effects.

The optimal solution would be to prevent the crimes from being committed. It is the least we can do in memory of the many lives we have lost to senseless crimes. As we go about this, it is clear that we cannot rely on the government for help. It was jarring to see images of mothers mourning their murdered children alongside the most callous statements from senior government officials.

Oftentimes these days one can be forgiven for thinking that heartless cruelty is the raison d’etre of the government. 

-Assistant Professor at Georgetown University

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