The padlock is a sign of mistrust

The padlock originated from Egypt and Babylon before spreading to the rest of the world. It is used to restrict access to buildings, personal property like suitcases, and many other places. The padlock is a sign of access denial; remember “under lock and key?”

The padlock is not just an innovation; it is a sign of death of trust. Growing up in the countryside, we had no padlocks. We just latched the doors and that was enough. I used my first padlock when I came to school in the city.

Despite no padlocks, crime was unheard of. I do not recall anyone getting into a house to steal anything. We trusted each other, and scarcity was rare. There was enough food and shelter for everyone.

In Nairobi, I found that everything is scarce; from food to shelter to trust itself. I soon realised that crime is not natural.

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It results from scarcity. One way to protect your assets from those who do not have it or the coveters is to use a padlock.

Today we have gone beyond padlocks to burglar proof doors and razor wire.

We even have electronic padlocks accessed using cards. But a vast majority still use the padlock to deny others acces

Every padlock needs a key; it’s this idea we borrowed in using passwords to limit access to our electronic documents. 

Whether the padlock is physical or electronic, it remains a sign of power to deny others access to what we value. Others see the padlock as the best sign that despite all advances we have made; trust is in short supply. If we trusted each other, there would be no need of padlocks. I was surprised to see a toilet cistern secured by a padlock in a building on Kenyatta Avenue. 

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The number of padlocks per square metre could be a good indicator of the level of trust. Instead of buying more padlocks and inventing better ones, why can’t we focus on the root cause of mistrust and propensity to steal? 

One cause of mistrust is inequality; which is more prevalent in urban areas than rural areas. We still talk of hustlers, sonkos and sufferers.

Scarcity of resources is another driver to padlock ownership. Economists have taught us that economic progress should lead to abundance. But the reality on the ground seems to suggest that economic progress leads to inequality and more padlocks.

With the dream of communism gone, inequality and resulting social vices needing padlocks will be our constant companion. Even religion seems not to have helped us enough to become more equal. Padlocks will be with us for a long time until we learn how to progress without increasing inequality.

[XN Iraki - [email protected]]     

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