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Focus on root cause of misconduct

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A deeper understanding of the dynamics of addiction is needed in order to legitimise rehabilitation.

Photo credit: Pool

A preoccupation with governance necessarily entails concern with the ways and means of promoting appropriate conduct and suppressing — while eliminating — delinquency in all its manifestations.

In turn, this brings into sharp focus a political community's ambient regime of reward and punishment. That sanctions should foster compliance with norms and standards while discouraging impropriety should, in principle, be elementary.

Yet in practice, our institutions appear to be negligent of it or recklessly indifferent to it.

Quite plausibly, this state of affairs may be underpinned by hasty reasoning, whereby the prescription of condign sanctions is deemed the most effective deterrent of a broad range of transgressions, disingenuously suggesting that the avoidance of draconian retributions is the sole basis of acquiescence.

Such rationalisation substitutes laziness for efficiency, thereby evading the tedium of attending subtle underlying incentives driving certain behaviours in order to formulate measures that take root causes into account.

Human behaviour, benign or malevolent, basically connects their prevalent needs to desired ends in order to achieve greater fulfilment and felicity, or mere relief from privation and reprieve from torment.

From time to time, it impels people to courses of action that run afoul of social institutions, especially where the capacity for sound judgment is lacking or compromised.

It follows that however zealously enforced, the chang'aa prohibition regime was never going to make much progress unless poverty and addiction were taken into account as root causes or significant drivers of both the supply of and demand for that category of intoxicants.

Addictive substances

Subsequently, it would become clear at once that vicious crackdowns, arrests, prosecution and incarceration of brewers and their customers would accomplish very little in sobering up our communities.

Rather, job-creating economic growth does a better job in occupying people and elevating their incomes to the point where they don’t seek to drink themselves into a stupor, just to pass the time, whereas those minded to have a tipple can afford safer beverages. 

Similarly, addiction as the root cause of delinquency has received scanty attention, perhaps because intoxicating self-righteousness and a sadistic impulse to torment the vulnerable has overtaken our better judgement.

It takes a colossal magnitude of sanctimonious conceit to actually believe that a grown up rises in the morning in gleeful anticipation of recklessly ingesting lethal intoxicants in dangerously unsanitary milieux, instigating the excruciating deterioration of vital body organs, stupefying themselves into frightfully dangerous stupor and blissfully welcoming its debilitating aftermath of thoroughgoing incontinence and public embarrassment.

It should be obvious that addicts are in physiological thrall of a power greater than every attempt at self-control, whilst public policies appeal to fortitude and prudence.

Equally obviously, a deeper understanding of the dynamics of addiction is needed in order to legitimise rehabilitation as a mainstream response to runaway craving for addictive substances and dangerous intoxicants.

Otherwise, illicit beverages have a captive market that is not defined by normal preference or even need, but desperate demand.

The salient dimensions of public policy indicate that root causes and underlying incentives are not as popular as the established histrionic routine of escalating condign penalties and implementing spectacular crackdowns.

Effective legislation

Legislative amendments are perpetually focused on enhancing punishments for malfeasances that are increasingly difficult to prosecute. Abraham Maslow observed that whenever your sole equipment is a hammer, you will perceive every challenge as a nail.

The primary weakness, however, is a defective appreciation of what constitutes effective legislation. The tradition is, to borrow words from the poet William Ernest Hensley, to charge every scroll of these instruments with punishments, and thereafter retire in the smug afterglow of epic achievement.

The quixotic practice persists notwithstanding obdurate evidence that disproportionate penalties do more to promote, and less to deter transgression. It drives related activity underground.

This perverse socioeconomic outcome germinates out of the underground to enlist elements of law enforcement through corruption, systematically transforming gamekeepers into poachers and converting law enforcers into dedicated accomplices to predatory misconduct.

Consider the phenomenon colloquially known as wash wash, a diabolical racket whereby chisellers entice their hapless marks to invest money in the purchase expensive chemicals for treating special paper in order to complete the production of ‘authentic’ currency notes. 

To bring the fraudulent sequence to a tidy conclusion, grifters orchestrate the disruptive entry of law enforcement after extracting maximum payment from their deluded victim who, under the threat of arrest and prosecution, frantically disavows any knowledge of the scam or its perpetrators and, at a small charge, lets bygones be bygones.

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that section 367 of the Penal Code, which prescribes a mandatory sentence of seven years in prison for possession of wash wash paraphernalia (which criminals ordinarily vouchsafe with the victim as security for colossal payments) facilitates the seamless wash wash depredation.

The writer is an Advocate of the High Court of Kenya