How the economic crisis has broken our social fabric

Hawkers sale their wares in Nyeri Town on February 14, 2023. [Kibata Kihu, Standard]

Among the many tragedies reported recently is shocking murder of two children in Kilifi County who were starved to death by their parents, allegedly on the order of a cult leader.

Some 14 adults are being investigated for belonging to the radical cult. The loss of the two children is a vivid reminder of the rapidity with which with our social fabric is fraying.

Unfortunately for us all, the deepening economic crisis means the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better.

Desperation in the face of uncontrollable precarity will force ever more people to resort to bizarre means to make sense of the world.

Academic research suggests that hard economic times are not just associated with "normal" crime, but also religious crimes like the one that led to the murder of the two children.

We are likely to see leaders search for scapegoats among marginalised groups.

All this to say that effectively addressing the cost-of-living crisis is not just a matter of protecting livelihoods and providing material welfare improvements.

It is also about securing our national social fabric and jealously guarding our shared humanity.

Once one realises the social cost of economic decline, it is hard to not wonder about the lack of urgency from our religious leaders.

What are they doing to help believers and non-believers weather the current economic shock?

In what ways are they repairing our frayed social fabric?

How are they mobilising their congregations to put pressure on policymakers to make sure we design and implement a people-centered recovery?

These are important questions that must be asked of our non-political leaders. Even as we focus on political leaders who ultimately make policy, other leaders must not be let off the hook.

Instead of collecting and spending tithe from the poor or being watercarriers for power-hungry politicians, they should be tasked with providing direct aid to the needy and helping mobilise the public in support of specific policies.

Just like it is impossible to ignore the non-material impacts of economic decline, it is also worth noting that religious observance that does not pay attention to material wants can be dangerous.

This takes us back to the murder of two children in Kilifi. While the perpetrators must be investigated and prosecuted, we should also see this crime as evidence of a wider social problem.

The writer is an Assistant Professor at Georgetown University

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