Social Re-engineering

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How recent events reflect our values

By Allan Kilavuka

The Coffee Stain Theory is a good illustration of why things are not always what they seem to be or maybe on the flip side, explains why you have the coffee stain in the first place. Basically, the coffee stain theory suggests that if you find coffee stains on the tray table of an airplane, it calls into question how well the engines are inspected and maintained no matter how seamless every other service looks like. If you extend this theory one could say the culture of the company does not emphasize or reward diligence and possibly hard work. If you stretch it even further your safety risk is significantly higher in such a plane.

As a country we need to stress back the telltale signs of the culture we have nurtured. Illustrations in this country are much clearer than coffee stains. In our case we need to clean our stains leave alone follow up on the root causes so we ensure we have clean trays.

It is inconceivable that we have had no less than 8 devastating fires in Gikomba market in the last 7 years. This is in addition to various others around the city mainly in informal settlements. Many of these have fatalities. Every time this happens government officials will rush to the area, struggle to put up the fires, run out of water and then promise that this will be investigated and that it will never happen again. The Kenya Red Cross will do their duty, rescue people, provide support and then, keep quiet until the next disaster… Big ash stain.

The uproar about the ‘mass failure’ that followed the release of the 2017 KCSE raises interesting questions that reflect where the Kenyan society is at today. We are more interested in seeing more ‘As’ than the ability of our leaners to read, write and think. We have therefore introduced a new objective to our education system which I will called Marks based learning (as opposed to Knowledge or skills)…Big ink stain on our text books.

What about the spate of fatal accidents on our highways. We have responded to these by erecting bumps, prayers by our bishops, statements of intent by the authorities, condemnation of NTSA and banning of PSV night travel. We have done everything else but address the real problem in this sector and indeed in the rest of society… Blood stain on our tarmacs.

Last event- collapsing buildings. How many have collapsed to date around the country? What is the root cause of these fatal ‘accidents?’ Have any of these death traps been brought down to avoid the inevitable? What about the ones built on riparian zones blocking the river courses and partly responsible for flooding? Another stain.

These stains are all there for us to see and they have a clear relationship with each other. They all relate to our ‘modern’ culture of impunity, corruption and indiscipline. Next time someone tells you to stick to your culture ask them if this is what they mean.

Hopefully so far, I have not said anything that any Kenyan would disagree with. We have national values that counter this culture in the constitution, Article 10 (2) which among other values, espouses dignity, equity, social justice good governance, integrity, transparency and accountability. If we know what to do and we have even documented it in the constitution why are we not doing it? Well because the problem is skin deep in the culture. We do not need more policing or more laws or statements of intent. There are several ways of driving a cultural change. Changing culture is one of the most difficult leadership challenges. That’s because culture comprises an interlocking set of goals, roles, processes, values, communications practices, attitudes and assumptions.

Cultural transformation in this context will need a complete social re-engineering and requires three key levers; commitment, controls and cohesion, the Big three Cs if you like. Leadership commitment is the most critical and the faster way to deliver change. This leadership is at national, regional and more important personal level. We need to create a shared vision and be committed to it. It is important that someone provides leadership here. For change to be manageable and sustainable there should be control of information that reinforces the values we are gravitating to. We need to watch the kind of messages we are passing to the citizenry, our employees and our families. The last C is really just a power tool that uses punishment for non-conformity. The last one is the least effective but is the only one we have been using today. Let us identify all the stains in our society, our organisations and our families and not simply clean them up but identify the cracks in our engine; otherwise this plane will crash!


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