Monday 15 June 2020

Resist the status quo bias

In Kenya and Africa at large, politics is a filter through which many, if not all, things are perceived. However, when COVID-19 took over our lives in March, politicians who claim to have all the answers, momentarily went suspiciously quiet while the media fumbled to get enough news items. At that point, COVID-19 was beyond political maneuver and beyond anybody’s control – evidence that politics is not everything. Given the magnitude of uncertainty or the looming impact of the pandemic, one would imagine that we would be rational enough to suspend selfish interests and focus on minimizing the ensuing devastation of the pandemic. Strengthening our health systems, critically working through economic recovery, revamping people’s welfare, and reducing debt, as we help flood victims, among other crises, should be the natural order of things. Instead, we are back to the politics – of reviewing the Constitution, fostering tribal unity, or ousting those threatening political party interests, etc. Just as quickly as we forgot about the locusts, we have pretty much moved on from the issue of the Coronavirus to amplify non-issues.

Kenyans must internalize one thing – that the political agenda has nothing to do with resolving critical life issues. Instead, it has everything to do with maintaining the privileges of the powerful and their beneficiaries. For that to happen, the systems of power, like the Constitution and the electoral system, have to continuously be recreated to align with these interests. The dominators also have to legitimize the process by crafting a generalized acceptance. By framing these trivial political issues (in comparison to the unaddressed issues) as urgent and life-threatening to the dominated group, they work at building a narrative that suspends logic to achieve consensus. That is why for example, the so-called ‘Luhya leaders’ have no problem defying the COVID rules or spending so much money flying across the country to meet and claim tribal solidarity (which by the way could easily have been done through zoom). The narrative portrayed is that a lack of urgent tribal harmony will lead to political decimation faster than a COVID related decimation. The narrative is crafted to make the community believe that the urgency applies to them, while all this time if the peasants truly mattered to the politicians, the resources would have been consolidated to help flood victims. The same applies to the proposal to review the Constitution in the middle of the current crisis – it is crafted to literary imply change. However, it has nothing to do with changing the fate of poor Kenyans, most of whom are economically desperate at this point. It is about entrenching political dynasties and maintaining the status quo. 

What Kenyans must understand is that the constant messaging through imagery and metaphors translates the trivial agenda into urgent beliefs and priorities for the dominated group, hence reinforcing the abnormal values, ideas, and practices as the norm. Before long, we are all (including the so-called elite) sucked into this endless but redundant game of analyzing and reanalyzing the logic of their political agenda, which is further amplified by the media. We do not realize that our engagement only gives politicians the social consensus they need to keep dominating and continuously taking us for a ride. Stephen R. Covey said, “most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.” Kenyans have to collectively decide what important and endeavor to change the priorities.

Dr. Katindi Sivi
African futurist 

No comments:

Post a Comment