• Mr President, focus on only repairing one keystone window that will create a change that will ripple through the whole Kenyan psyche.
• In my wisdom, if you choose to eliminate corruption, everything else will fall into line. And while at it, please be unorthodox
What is the correlation between broken windows and social order?
In 1969, a Stanford University psychologist Philip Zimbardo decided to conduct a social experiment. He parked a car with no licence plates on a street in the Bronx, New York City, and left its doors open, and hood up. He parked a second car with a licence plate on another street in Palo Alto, California. But unlike the first car, he locked the doors and the hood was down.
In 10 minutes, the car in the Bronx was vandalized, and after three days there was nothing of value left. In contrast, the car parked in Palo Alto sat untouched for more than a week. After a couple of weeks, Zimbardo smashed a window and soon after, someone else smashed another window. After a short while, the car went from being untouched to utterly vandalized, similar to the first one.
In psychology-speak, this is known as the broken window theory. If a window is broken and left unrepaired, all the rest of the windows will soon be broken. One unrepaired broken window is an indicator that no one cares, no authority is watching, and that one can get away with breaking more windows. Ultimately, the situation gets out of control, becomes unmanageable and too expensive to restore order.
Broken windows set a new norm of anti-social behaviour and sadly, people adjust their normal acceptable behaviour accordingly. As the level of normalcy decreases, it sets a vicious cycle that causes degeneration.
Growing up in Eastlands, examples of broken windows were never in shortage. Take, for example, the issue of garbage. You woke up one day and saw some house trash dumped in a corner. Soon other people also began dumping in the same corner until it grew to become the neighborhood’s dumping and rodent breeding site. Then when the rains came, it flooded because the accumulated litter had blocked the drainage. And the stagnant water brought with it all manner of vectors which caused diseases such as malaria. And the vicious cycle was set in motion.
The most that we did was cry serkal saidia. And as sure as death and taxes, a rescue team complete with a social media crew would be dispatched to unblock the drainage. Yet all we needed to have done, was to fix the first broken window, by preventing the first person from dumping around the corner.
The last couple of weeks has seen the nation breathe, drink and dream the Building Bridges Initiative. This culminated into a pompous launch. And like pornography, the unveiling was revealing yet distorting; exciting yet dulling; and scintillating yet uninspiring. It has debased its supporters and opponents alike through insults traded on social media, making it bad for the soul, and bad for the country. It is said the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Clearly, this could not have been truer of the BBI report that has had the complete opposite effect of its original intention.
Like the broken window theory, the nine areas of concern BBI sought to be a panacea to have been as a result of decades of neglect. Begs the question, will one single report, using one mechanism – Parliament or referendum – repair all the nine broken windows? Only wishful thinking will reverse this decay with a single masterstroke.
Mr President, you told us you don’t read newspapers. I, therefore, hope someone on your team will convert this article into a podcast that you can listen to as you take your morning jog. You have already spent Sh10 billion to enumerate the nine broken windows, which incidentally, we already knew. And now you are being further advised to spend more money in a technical committee of experts to turn the recommendations into legal, policy and administrative measures to guide implementation. Uhuru, Kenyans can tell you for free, neither the technical committee, nor Parliament, nor a referendum, nor tantrums will repair the nine broken windows.
My unsolicited advice to you, Mr President, is to learn from Paul O’Neill, the CEO of Alcoa, the aluminum manufacturing giant. In 1987, he gave his maiden speech to a group of investors who were nervous since Alcoa had experienced a series of failed product lines.
Contrary to the investors’ expectations, O’Neill did not talk about how he was going to turn around profit margins or revenue projects, or anything that would be comforting to their ears. Instead, he told them that he wanted to focus on only one thing: Worker safety.
The room went deathly silent.
He went on to tell them that each year, numerous Alcoa workers were injured so badly while working with metals that are 1500 degrees and machines that could rip a man’s arm off in a split second. Consequently, they missed days of work, which in turn affected efficiency, production and ultimately profits. It also cost the company huge sums of money in medical insurance.
The investors were bewildered and they sold off their stock immediately. But in one year after that maiden speech, Alcoa’s profits hit a record high. By focusing on that one critical metric of worker safety, by the time he retired 13 years later, Alcoa’s annual net income was five times higher than when he started.
Likewise, Mr President, focus on only repairing one keystone window that will create a change that will ripple through the whole Kenyan psyche. In my wisdom, if you choose to eliminate corruption, everything else will fall into line. And while at it, please be unorthodox like O’Neill.
Do you know why employees rarely steal money or product from drug barons? It is because the drug lords operate with rules of the underworld. The operating premise is that the proceeds gained from the stolen loot are enjoyed by the employee’s immediate and extended family, and mistresses. Hence they, too, are deemed as accomplices. Resultantly, the merciless punishment is first meted out on the culprit’s family and concubines, while he and all other employees watch. This horrendous scene dissuades any other attempts at stealing.
Undoubtedly, you will be advised and cautioned that we are a nation of law and order, and one that respects human rights. And that operating with the rules of the underworld when dealing with corruption will turn us into a failed state. But are some human rights more equal than others? Should the progeny of a corruption suspect eat a three-course meal, three times a day, from the proceeds of corruption, while that of an innocent taxpayer goes to bed hungry?
Mr. Uhuru, wacha kucatch feelings. Fix the broken window of corruption, and the rest will come to heel.
When reason fails, the devil helps - Fyodor Dostoevsky,