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Decisions are easy when you don’t suffer the consequences

Oct 07, 2012 Leadership, Sunday Nation

It must be easy to starve the education sector of funds, if your own children are not affected by the decision. If your offspring invariably go to private educational institutions, here or abroad, I imagine it is not difficult to wield the axe and say, “We can’t pay, won’t pay.” Your kids will be just fine.

It must be easy to sack doctors if you don’t have to be treated by them. If your own treatment is conveniently in the hand of other doctors in other countries, you don’t have to carry the consequences of there being no professionals available for you. It must be easy to send doctors home when you and yours won’t feel their loss.

It must be easy to incite violence using hate speech when the consequences of your utterances will not be visited upon you. There will be no terrifying knocks on your door in the middle of the night; your sisters and daughters will not have to cower in fear, just because you ordered people to be ‘removed’ owing to their ethnicity. When you sleep securely yourself, it’s not that difficult to plunge everyone else into fear.

It must be easy to fail to see traffic congestion and serial breaching of the highway code as a serious problem, when you yourself are seated ‘back left’ in an air-conditioned car, and working busily on your iPad. It must be even easier when a motorcade clears your path, and your driver uses his number plate or flag to break all road rules. Traffic and loss of valuable time then become problems for others, not for you. You’ll think about it someday, when you have a spare moment.

It must be easy to fail to see long queues in your premises as a problem when you don’t personally have to stand in them. It must be easy to dismiss call-centre waiting times as a serious issue when you don’t have to call in order to get service. It must be easy then to focus on the costs associated with supplying more tellers or agents, rather than the benefits to your customers. In your blinkered world, you are acutely aware of the costs and only dimly conscious of the benefits of shorter queues.

It must be easy to see the point of today’s column. If you don’t bear the consequences of your decisions, personally and pointedly, it is easy to make the wrong ones. It is easy to tell yourself that you are being ‘objective’ and unemotional’ when all you are being is conveniently detached from the problem.

As I have written on this page before: “When the Big People suffer alongside the Little People, they fix problems. Otherwise they ignore them. In Kenya today we offer exemptions from ordinary pain to all our Big People. They can dodge the traffic, evade the law, be exempted from taxes, hire private security, get free health treatment abroad. Therefore they have no incentive to fix any of our entrenched problems, since they never suffer their consequences.”

Enlightened societies know this, from bitter experience. If you allow the Big People to escape and evade the problems of the common folk, you encourage a dangerous elitism that results in all the wrong decisions being made; decisions that serve the few and not the many. History tells us such systems implode, often violently.

If decision-makers don’t face the consequences of their decisions, they will design policies to suit themselves. This is writ large in Kenya today. We must not just blame the elite for this; if the common folk are too docile, too divided or too self-absorbed to care about the collective, the leaders face no consequences at all from bad decisions. If you want better decisions made on your behalf, you must demand them.

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