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Sunday, 3 August 2014

THE KENYAN PSYCHE: A COMPARISON WITH SOUTH KOREA AND JAPAN




Arthur Golden said, “Adversity is like a strong wind. It tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that we see ourselves as we really are”.

After the Second World War Japan’s prestige was in shambles, all its cities bore severe marks of war. Nagasaki and Hiroshima were utterly devastated. More than 3 million people had died, and a further 10 million faced eminent death by starvation.
 But the Japanese, a resilient, focused and hardworking people enameled by the Samurai honor code where the ultimate price was offering ones life in Harikiri (ritual suicide by disembowelment) stood firm.  

The Korean War of 1950 -1953 was considered a ‘gift from the gods’ by the Japanese and allowed them to implement a well-coordinated plan of industrialization. By the 1964 Summer Olympics held in Tokyo, the world was sufficiently shocked by the level of development that Japan had just gone through in less than 20 years.

Another nation that sent its delegation to the Olympics was South Korea. At that point in time South Korea was poorer than Kenya. See pictures.



Poverty in South Korea














But what they had was a visionary dictator in Park Chung-Hee, a man who would orchestrate the “miracle on the Han River”, and in 20 years transform South Korea into an economic powerhouse. 

The trauma that the Japanese and South Koreans had to go through experiencing war first hand, losing loved ones, homelessness, starvation and disease were enough to equip them with a desire to become better, they had sufficiently hit rock bottom.
Hiroshima after the bombing 1946

American soldiers in Japan
In contrast Kenyans have known peace all their lives, despite most of our neighbors being at war at one point or another and losing civilian and military lives, Kenya has been a bedrock of peace and tranquility since independence. 

Kenyan Matatu Madness

Then again war cannot be the primary source of adversity that drives a population towards industrialization and development. The contrary is evident across Africa. There has to be something more rooted in the psyche of a people.

The Japanese come from a stock of people, who believe that they are the best in all they set to do and history has proved them right countlessly. Read piece mentioning them.

The Samurai honor code cascades across society to a point that when they went into ship-building to rebuild their economy in the 1950s and were pitted against the world’s best, a project manager was willing to commit Harikiri (suicide) if the project failed. Due to this seriousness, every person in the project was intimately involved and driven to ensure that they were successful.  
 
Further more the Japanese were trained and educated to be highly coordinated, disciplined and loyal. They glorified the group more than the individual.
They were taught that they needed to be frugal with what they had because they were no longer an empire with abundant colonies to mine resources.  They had to innovate on their feet.


Kenyans have lived in relative tranquility under the equatorial sun. Our first two presidents were not pressured by any personal proclivity to jolt the nation out of a long siesta.  When sense of direction and visionary leadership was lacking Kenyans who innately crave for these two things looked for inspiration and affirmation from the only ‘parents’ we knew, our colonial masters and the western world.  

Kenyans like their leaders became individualistic, driven to achieve personal goals, and aspirations, in a jungle of other like-minded people. Group speak was subconsciously shunned and looked upon as a weakness. It did not help that Ujamaa and communism failed.

Kenyans want to compete and be wildly successful; to the detriment of all and sundry.  Common good is only touted and supported when there is short-term personal gain to be obtained.  While this is the truth it doesn't apply to all situations. 

Kenyans are non-confrontational as a people. Lessons inculcated by the ‘Moi era’ where there was an all-seeing, all-knowing intelligence apparatus functioning. This is why today we experiment with the ‘anonymity’ of social media to voice our previously unsolicited and well-guarded thoughts.

Used to this docile nature Kenyans corporately will wait until they are on the precipice of death before they clean a septic festering wound. This is why bad governance, is only talked about openly but no counter-action is taken. Unavoidably, due to this peaceable attitude Kenya has witnessed ‘atrocities’ done to its resources and people by the political class, Kenyans themselves and terrorists, because “Kenyans are sufferable”. It does not help that Kenyans have a pandemic ability to forget past injustices and forge ahead undeterred. To counter this peaceable and docile nature Kenyans' coping mechanism is a self-preserving culture of short-term focus, greed and corruption, ready to make a quick buck from every ‘investment’ idea, presented at their doorsteps.

It is thus not disputable to state that Kenyans are willing to sell their birthright that will transform their future for immediate gratification.

How else will you explain the current slaughter of elephants and rhinos for ivory or the high road carnage across the country?

While the truth is corruption is not unique to Kenya, we can only be blamed if we don't realize that it is disastrous and unacceptable for us to dabble in it.

Kenyans are enterprising and hardworking, one of the best crop of people to hire in any institution around the world. Despite that there is an edge that can be learned from our Asian brothers who have experienced adversity and succeeded.They understood that for a country to advance, government and business had a responsibility to fulfill; while government offered a conducive environment for rapid growth, the Zaibatsu (Japan’s conglomerates) and Chaebol (South Korea’s conglomerates) were expected to provide jobs to the locals and embrace the government agenda of industrialization as a strategic objective.   Protectionism should not be equated with isolation, offered innovatively it can push the economy of Kenya to greater heights

Kenyans also need to be weaned from their pessimistic nature, which casts doom and gloom in every action taken by a person. Politicians, socialites and individuals have suffered disdain and disrespect when they are perceived to be different or controversial. Persons in authority are expected to bring about change and make no mistakes, when they do make mistakes which everyone does eventually, people are not so forgiving and will deride them as incompetent and unworthy even before the ink settles on their appointment letters.

Despite the clamor for change, Kenyans are petrified of change, they say they want a corruption free country, yet they give bribes, they say they want good leadership, but still vote along tribal lines. ‘Better the devil you know than the angel you don’t know’ is a common statement that comes to mind. They say they want a government that is lean, but don’t support retrenchment. And the contradiction goes on an on. Politicians understand this double speech and exploit it with relish.

We talk of the ‘Kenyan tribe’ as a concept worth uplifting and then deride it as unattainable and unrealistic. We speak against tribalism and its ills eloquently in public, but privately our prejudices can be seen in our speech and actions.  

Unfortunately, to cap it all, Kenyans don’t read, research or strive to innovate away from what others have already done. This is why quail eggs, Ponzi schemes, ‘cheap’ plots and other ideas do their rounds in the country for an extended duration of time before they become unacceptable.

Kenyans rather prefer to read and digest political commentary and gossip day-in-day out. And the evidence is in the kind of news available at prime time, or the gossip websites which have the most traffic, so too the plethora of soap operas on TV. We are predisposed to think we know-it-all, and talk like we know-it-all despite the fact that we have little substance or understanding on most of what is happening around the world. We are broad on information, but thin on depth. This is why we complain insistently about problems but offer no solutions.

Few Kenyans really do world-class research, or invest to innovate we prefer to copy, let others do all the hard work, then jump in and ride the wave. A result of this is that we don’t place too much emphasis on quality that is why the service we get from both government and private entities is hogwash.  Is it not true we buy second hand cars and call them new?  But then again have we collectively witnessed what world-class quality is to demand for it?
  
The mental block that Kenyans have developed over time is the only stumbling block to any real achievement.

Having said all this, Kenya still has a bright future, but we need a common enemy that can rally the population into one solitary unit. Either manufactured or natural, I believe a concerted effort needs to come into play that will inspire Kenyans to be proud of who they are, and for them to know that they can achieve the impossible and be the best in the different sectors of our economy.


I am afraid that assertion can never be achieved on the whims of the masses; they are just too hungry, too unemployed and disillusioned to see past tomorrow for now.

What we need is a visionary, no-nonsense leader, who has the best intentions for Kenya. Who will rally Kenya to become industrialized, will utterly frown upon corruption and who has both the political and personal temerity to herd Kenyans where they need to be, forcefully or subtly, but resolutely. So that in good time all will see the light and embrace it.

NB: Let me know what you think.....

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