Time for us to stop tolerating social disorders such as graft

Why do we, as a society and as individuals, continue tolerating social disorder, for example corruption, even when its destructive impact is universally acknowledged?

This question cuts to the core of a dilemma that plagues not just Kenya but societies worldwide, casting a long shadow over our collective morals and ethics. The enduring nature of corruption, especially in contexts where opportunities are scarce and competition fierce, begs a deeper analysis beyond surface-level critiques.

The phenomenon isn't merely about the corrupt practices but the psychological underpinnings that perpetuate them. ‘Systems justification theory’, as proposed by social psychologist John Jost, offers a profound insight into this paradox. It suggests that our desire to maintain a positive self-view and societal image can lead us to justify and even defend a status quo that is fundamentally against our interests.

This theory is reflected in the daily compromises and rationalisations that allow corruption to flourish. It is seen in the acceptance of bribes for jobs that should be based on meritocracy in the quiet capitulation to a system that favours connections over qualifications. Let's delve deeper into the heart of this issue through the lens of youth—a generation brimming with ambition yet shackled by the chains of nepotism and cronyism. The stark reality is that the political will to genuinely uplift the youth, to transform rhetoric into tangible opportunities, is lacking. It's a cruel mirage of empathy, leaving countless young Kenyans disillusioned and disenfranchised.

Further, despite the high value placed on education and the aspirations of young Kenyans, the reality is a job market fraught with barriers. The lack of political will to genuinely address unemployment and underemployment among the youth is evident. Promises of support and empowerment often fall short, leaving a generation in limbo, caught between their potential and the harsh realities of a system that favours the well connected.

This crony capitalism, where business elites and political figures collude to monopolise opportunities, stifles competition and perpetuates a cycle of dependency. As a result, we see widening income gaps, social inequalities, and a deepening sense of disillusionment among those who find themselves on the outside looking in. Additionally, the poor are not just marginalised; they're excluded from the conversation on development, their voices drowned by the clamour for wealth and power that benefits a few. This exclusion is economic as well as a denial of basic dignity and the right to participate in shaping the future of our nation.

Moreover, the entrenchment of these practices into systems of governance has profound psychological effects, akin to the phenomenon of Stockholm syndrome in extreme cases. After prolonged exposure to unfair systems, people can develop a resigned acceptance, even sympathy, towards those who wield power unjustly. This is perhaps the most insidious aspect of corruption: It not only depletes resources but also erodes the collective will to seek change.

Acknowledging the depth and complexity of this issue is crucial, but so is recognising the potential for change. The belief that the fight against social disorder such as corruption is too daunting a task only perpetuates the status quo. A shift in mindset is essential, from resignation to resilience, from scepticism to action. Viewing corruption not as an immutable force but as a challenge to be overcome is the first step toward meaningful transformation.

As a people struggling with the high cost of living, burdened with taxes and educational disorder, among others, we have to go beyond the realm of policy and governance; it is a personal invitation to each of us to reevaluate our complicity and our capacity for change. It requires a critical examination of our values, our choices, and our willingness to advocate for a society that prioritises fairness, integrity, and equal opportunity.

We have the tools, the knowledge, and the collective power to dismantle the structures that sustain social disorders such as corruption. We have to work hard towards breaking free from the shackles of fatalism and embrace the possibility of a future where integrity, meritocracy, and justice are not just ideals but realities.

Dr Mokua is the Executive Director, the Loyola Centre for Media and Communication