In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus Christ tells his followers the parable of the Good Samaritan. A man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho is attacked by robbers who strip him and beat him. Both a priest and a Levite (respected members of society from whom a higher moral standard is expected) pass him by without helping. However, a Samaritan (Samaritans were thought of as scum by the Jews, whose worldview the story is intended to challenge) stops and cares for him, taking him to an inn where the Samaritan pays for his care.
This is a tale of unexpected compassionate behaviour from quarters of society that we would not traditionally expect it from; a hope inducing narrative that offers an alternative to the predominant narrative at the time (of Samaritans as outcasts/savages); a narrative where life wins over death at a time when the loss of human life was not considered as tragic as it is now; a tale of people power. For me, however, this parable got me thinking of how we could do better for each other as Kenyans to identify and solve our problems ourselves as opposed to counting on our ruling class to do it and getting disappointed time and time again. How we can look past the several artificial barriers we have erected to keep us apart to uphold our humanity. How we can stop languishing in poverty and suffering from/dying because of problems that we can easily solve.
Our crime rate, for example is something that we seem unable to sustainably reduce, seeing as it is subject to the almost cosmic forces of poverty, youth unemployment, peer pressure, substance abuse, among others. Many theses can be written about how we can begin to end poverty, I have written one on this site and my thoughts mostly remain the same. I have also written about youth unemployment, so I’m curious about how substance abuse remains a war item for the Uhuru Kenyatta government, perhaps borrowing from the American war on drugs.
Johann Hari, author of “Chasing The Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs”, comes to a breathtakingly obvious solution to the war on drugs: to win it, we have to change ourselves. He cites an experiment known as “Rat Park”, in which rats in cages all alone, provided with cocaine dosed water have nothing else to do other than take drugs. However, the rats at Rat Park, a nice cage where they could live and play together, eat nice food and have a choice between cocaine dosed water and regular water, mostly shunned the drugged water, consuming less than a quarter of the drugs the miserable rats did. This explains why 95% of the heroin addicted soldiers returning to the USA from the Vietnam war were able to simply stop taking the drug; their lives improved drastically and they no longer needed it to cope. The opposite of addiction is human connection, he posits, not sobriety.
Compassion as a solution to our crime rate seems rather simplistic, yet it is possibly the best one yet. Exercising compassion would lead to people not greedily hoarding wealth, in Kenya much of it being illegally acquired, thus not increasing the income inequality gap (which leads more people into poverty and a life of crime, in which the hopeless are lost to drug abuse, and in which children lose hope, drop out of school/are unable to continue with their education and become victims of a culture that accepts that they can live on the street and become criminals because it’s either cool, or the only way to survive). Other (simple) solutions of course include street lighting, which has been found to reduce crime rates in various cities across the world by 30% to 40%. This seems simple enough, yet street lighting interventions in Kenyan towns and cities are never really carried out to completion, or at all, leading us to wonder if there is any political will to reduce crime in the first place.
The dropout/attrition rate of Kenyan primary schools remains a huge concern. Even though primary education is essentially free (this is debatable), children continue to drop out before sitting their KCPE examinations. Efforts that have been suggested to reduce this include the “one laptop per child (OLPC)” programme, which seems to have stalled, while a much easier solution lies in front of us. School based deworming has been found to reduce school absenteeism by 25%, and to be cheaper than other methods of increasing school participation. Yet, instead of increasing funding to this initiative, which is currently being done in phases, the focus has largely been on technology based interventions such as the OLPC programme which is far more expensive and seems like it may never take off.
Infant mortality is a problem that plagues the developing world that has a relatively simple solution. Newborn deaths account for 40% of the deaths in children under five, most of these occurring in developing countries. 75% occur within the first week of life, while 25% – 45% occur on the first day. Up to two thirds of these deaths can be prevented through the provision of skilled healthcare at home. This brings to mind Margaret Kenyatta’s Beyond Zero campaign, which aims to provide each county with a mobile clinic with the aim of controlling the spread of HIV, and the promotion of maternal, new born and child health in Kenya. This will bring healthcare closer to homes, and is one of the best healthcare interventions in the past decade. It is surprising, therefore, that such an important intervention is being carried out by the First Lady (albeit in partnership with the government), as opposed to being an official intervention by the Ministry of Health. The money for this campaign is given by well-wishers as opposed to government, which is another travesty.
These are but a few of the problems we have as a country that have well researched, straightforward solutions. The simplicity of some of these solutions and the availability of the research backing them up leads me to conclude that our political/rich class simply do not care to assist us, much like the poor Jew by the roadside; they can’t not be aware of the existence of this information. It is up to us to find a way to make these interventions and assist each other across the barriers we create (such as tribe, race, colour, religion, gender, sexuality and so on) much like the Samaritan did for the Jew. Indeed, we seem to have begun, what with businesspeople in Eastleigh deciding to boycott county levies because of failure to provide basic services, or Mandera Muslims standing up for their non-Muslim counterparts against terrorists as Kenya continues to fight its war on terror. We, the people, are powerful, and we must never forget that.