silent-mistreatmentThe poor get ripped off, mistreated and underserved by their government, and yet they rarely complain, according to Marcelo Giugale in a recent article in the Daily Nation. Why is it so? In the past, conventional wisdom blamed the passivity of the poor on lack of political freedom. Current conventional wisdom blames it on lack of information. However, tests show that the poor remain mostly passive even when they are well informed about the poor quality of the services they are receiving.

In rural Kenya, there has been no significant increase in parental involvement with the local school after parents were shown how their children’s results in standardised tests were appallingly low. Information alone is not sufficient for people to be moved to action. Other factors inhibit concerted action, including:

  • Culture: It may not be acceptable within the culture to confront the provider of services over poor performance;
  • Leadership and organisation: People have to be organised to take concerted action, and someone has to be willing to show leadership;
  • Patronage: People may be unwilling to confront an authority who has been generous in other ways;
  • Preoccupation: When finding food for today is your primary concern, the poor quality of services provided by the government is a secondary concern which you do not have the energy to address.

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