Widespread poverty creates a class of citizens with little or no stake in the economy, and any trigger may lead to destruction of property without a care as to the economic consequences since the individual is far removed from economic realities.
Poor social support, manifested as large urban populations living in informal settlements without the benefit of the extended family in their immediate vicinity, results in a situation in which when a person makes violent decisions there is less inhibition to act out on them. In an extended family setting there is always that relative who has seen it all and has earned the respect of most family members, and no one has the heart to act in approximately in their presence.
In most societies, young people (usually between the ages of 15 and 25) are more likely to engage in violent behaviour, and they are also the most common victims of violence.
Traditionally in many of our communities, they formed the warrior class, and today many young people are still used for the same purpose during ethnopolitical conflicts.
Young people in general are also more likely to manifest the two factors discussed above (poverty and poor social support), thus compounding their risk of violent conflict.
The final factor that often tips the balance is male gender. From a purely epidemiological perspective, men are more violent than women when exposed to the same stimuli.
This finding is borne out by evidence obtained during violent confrontations in our cities, and culprits involved in violent crime.
Whatever the explanation, therefore, a group of men is more predisposed to violent decision-making than a comparable group of women.
Three of these factors can be addressed in a clearly straightforward manner – reducing poverty, providing opportunities in rural areas to reduce rural-urban migration, and keeping young people busy (with educational and sporting opportunities) will significantly reduce the risk of violence in any society.
Countries that have carried out these interventions are reaping the fruits of peace and social development.
But how do we handle the final factor – male gender? Research has shown that diluting male influence in key decision-making bodies improves the quality of decision-making and significantly reduces the risk of violence.
We can, therefore, be optimistic that the next parliament will be an improvement on the last, thanks to the newly-elected female members!
Atwoli is Associate Professor and Dean, Moi University School of Medicine [email protected]