When travelling throughout sub-Saharan Africa, many travellers become transfixed with Nairobi. Disbursed within platitudes about our prolific humour and wit often come comments about our optimism and our commensurate rush to achieve our goals with statements such as “everyone seems busy”, “people hustle everywhere” and “Kenyans have a personal sense of vision”.
While we take these qualities for granted in Nairobi, observers argue that other major cities in Africa hold lower self-efficacy.
Psychologist Albert Bandura developed the concept of self-efficacy as an individual’s belief in their ability to act in ways necessary to produce and achieve specific dreams and results.
Historians attribute part of the success in the United States’ miracle of economic development in the 1800s and early 20th century to a unique sense of individualism and a belief that each citizen or recent immigrant could achieve their dreams.
Self-efficacy and the concept of the American dream permeated generations with a strong work ethic that through solid, consistent and ethical work, one could improve one’s lot in life and set up their children for even greater success. This spirit attracted millions of immigrants from around the world, but mostly from Europe, who lacked social or political structures to advance out of their fatalistic stations in life.
Sadly though, the American reality is changing in line with rapidly growing income inequality, stagnant wages among the middle class, and all while the rich get fantastically richer.
A new phenomenon now creeps into the American existence: Fatalism. Christopher Whelan defines fatalism as a strict system of beliefs that everything and everyone has an appointed outcome and role and people within the culture resign themselves to tolerating the reality of their difficulty life-situation.
Ironically, the fatalism that persisted in much of Europe before World War II led to many of the migration waves to America.
The Chinese subsisted in economic fatalism for centuries, first under emperors, then inefficient administrators, and then communism until capitalist economic reforms in the late 1970s took root in the 1980s that grew prosperity among the majority ethnic group. Chinese citizens now report some of the greatest levels of optimism in the world.
However, minority groups in China hold much lower self-efficacy as a result of aggressive marginalisation.
In East and Central Africa, Kenya serves as a beacon of hope for our neighbours.
The Kenyan dream revolves around education, land ownership, networking, hard work and boosting our children to greater heights.
Self-efficacy versus fatalism must become part of our national dialogue so we avoid the pitfalls of other nations.
Researchers Tanguy Bernard, Stefan Dercon, and Alemayehu Taffesse highlight that our neighbour to the north, Ethiopia, suffers from chronic fatalism in rural communities that hinders national economic growth.
How can we make the Kenyan dream real for all our inhabitants not just a few homogenous communities or select elites? How can we avoid wage stagnation in real terms against inflation and avoid fatalism among urban inhabitants? Do rural Kenyans feel the same sense of self-efficacy as urban dwellers in Nairobi? Do pastoralists feel the same sense of acceptance to explore their dreams? In our churches, restaurants and social gatherings, let us explore the Kenyan spirit, its consistency across the country, and whether it is changing and how do we want it to evolve.