Monday, November 30, 2009

'Religiosity' and Levels of Social Capital

The work continues with Ribbon of Hope Self Help Group, Nakuru, in Kenya's Rift Valley. We have ongoing projects producing basic foods such as vegetables and staples, dairy cattle and hens, etc. And we are still hoping to spread the word about ways of saving money by using solar cookers and home made fuel briquettes for cooking and various other techniques. Any project that costs very little or nothing will be considered as long as it is appropriate for people in this area and as long as it is sustainable and not destructive or damaging in any way.

As usual, some people are cooperative and hard working, otherwise, there would be no point in an organisation such as Ribbon of Hope. But sometimes it seems as if there are as many obstructive people as there are constructive people and it can be hard not to dwell on them. Especially when they so often win out and destroy projects that would have worked well without their interference. Today, we had the experience of trying to find out why some people abandoned their basic accounting and record keeping several months ago and now seem both unable and unwilling to say how they have been running their organisation.

It would be unreasonable to expect everyone to be equally successful in their endeavours and it is natural for some people to get involved initially, only to step back later and contribute less than before. But, much though I'd like to think that there are more cooperative than destructive people here, the evidence suggests that this is not true. I'm sure there are all sorts of possible explanations and I would be the first to admit that the people we work with live under all sorts of stresses and pressures that can make them a bit desperate. But I'm not going to make excuses for some of the things I've seen and heard about. I'll just hope that in the long run there are more positives than negatives and that Ribbon of Hope manages to attract serious contributors rather than time and resource wasting people.

There is a very interesting 'index' called The Legatum Prosperity Index, which aims to look at prosperity beyond the one dimensional Gross Domestic Product (GDP) favoured by so many economic analyses. The index looks at various economic figures, politics and governance, education, health, security, personal freedom and social capital. The whole index seems skewed by what are almost exclusively Western values but it's still an interesting exercise and their report is well worth the read.

Kenya doesn't come out very well, scoring 95 overall out of 104 countries for which there was adequate data available. This is not to say that Kenya's data is particularly reliable but let's give it the benefit of the doubt. The country receives a pretty low score for almost all the various indexes and rankings available. Economically, the country is weak in many ways and is particularly dependent on raw materials. Education, health, governance, personal freedom and security rankings are very poor. Surprisingly, the country is said to have well developed democratic institutions.

But the real shocker for me is that the country is ranked 25th for its level of social capital; 'most Kenyans find others to be reliable and some actively volunteer or help strangers'. Sadly, some people who 'volunteer' only do so for what they can get out of it. Apparently Kenya's social capital score is 'boosted by exceptionally high levels of religiosity'. Well, that's certainly no surprise. But many of the people who profess the loudest to be Christian, Saved, Born Again or whatever else are the ones who never miss an opportunity to get something by deceit.

I think this element of the Prosperity Index begs the question about whether high levels of religiosity is an indication that Kenya is strong on social capital. The police and other officials who require a standard bribe in order to do what is just their job are often as ostentatiously religious as anyone else. An official who tried to get a 50 dollar bribe out of me asked me to pray for him when he found I wasn't going to pay. The people who dress up for church on Sundays overlap with the mob that crowded around a young homeless boy to beat him for some offence, real or imagined. This sort of mob rule, usually aimed at very vulnerable people, such as elderly people branded as 'witches' or homeless people branded as thieves, is very common. Some of the 'volunteers' I have met never miss an opportunity to mention their love for Jesus but nor do they miss an opportunity to get something that is intended for sick and dying people.

This is not an attempt to bash the 'religious' people of Kenya or of any other country, just a question about what kind of connection there is between 'high levels of religiosity' and high levels of social capital. Reluctant as I am to come to this conclusion, I would say that social capital is one of the things that Kenya is most sorely lacking in. And this lack of social capital has had, and continues to have, a profound influence on high levels of HIV, sexually transmitted infections (STI), unplanned pregnancies, stigma, discrimination and probably many other problems.



Christina said...

Hey Simon,
thank you very much for your blog! I'm also working with people living with HIV/Aids in Nakuru and so I'm really into what you're writing. I'm wondering if it is possible to visit you at the Ribbon of Hope Project one time to see what you're doing there.
Best wishes, Christina

Simon said...

Hi Christina
Sure, it would be great to meet up, we don't have an office but you can email me on collery [at sign] and we can arrange a meetup. I'd be very interested in hearing about the work that you do too.