Once upon a time, 54 years ago to be precise, South Koreans were, on average, poorer than Kenyans. Today, they are, on average 25 times richer than Kenyans. A lot of explanations have been given in an attempt to account for this hard-to-believe difference.
Both countries underwent colonialism so that ceased being Kenya’s excuse a long time ago. But more than that, after colonialism, South Koreans endured a civil war. One that resulted in the deaths of one million people. Kenya has never endured a trauma of such magnitude to date. Still, today, South Koreans are 25 times richer than Kenyans. There must be reasons for this. And I am happy to offer just one using just one modern day example:
The year is 2009, the county is Kenya. A journalist reports that the slums in an area known as Sinai are a disaster waiting to happen. His argument is that they are too close to the pipeline. Someone in the ministry of energy responds by asking the Kenya Pipeline Company to refurbish the pipelines. Someone in the Ministry of Finance declines to finance the request. Or something…
Kenyan’s read the news and move on.
Fast forward to the year 2011, the country is Kenya. In an area known as Sinai, an explosion from a pipeline leak kills over 100. Hundreds more are injured. The ensuing statement from the minister of energy indicates that the victims will be compensated by the pipeline company. The Managing Director of the pipeline company says it’s “not responsible”. The buck is passed from one government parastatal to the next until it is finally dropped. The victims’ fate lies in the hands of lawyers. The president, the prime minister and the vice president visit the injured in hospital and condole with the victims’ families.
Kenyan’s watch and read the news, then move on.
Fast forward to the year 2014, the country is South Korea. A ferry carrying over 400 people capsizes. 300 deaths are reported. No one saw this coming. But it came.
So someone has to pay. Everyone has to pay.
Hard questions are asked by the South Korean populace: Was there laxity in safety standards? Why? Why could the government not rescue more people? Why did the crew abandon the ferry? Why did this happen in the first place?
Someone had to take responsibility.
The prime minister of South Korea is the first. He pays through his career.
“The right thing for me to do is to take responsibility and resign as a person who is in charge of the cabinet”, he says. Not as the person in-charge of the ferry business or as the person in charge of the crew on the ferry or as the person in charge of the coast guard or even as the person in charge of the ministry. Rather, as the person in charge of the cabinet. In other words, the person in charge of the people in charge of running the country.
The captain and crew members will pay with the rest of their lives. 4 have been charged with murder. Another 11 have been indicted for abandoning the ship.
The entire coast guard will have to pay with their careers, because of “the inept efforts to rescue those stranded aboard a sinking ferry”, the President vows she will make them pay.
And the list goes on…
Meanwhile in Kenya, during the Sinai explosion, we the Kenyan populace carried on with business as usual. We had a president, we had a prime minister, we had a vice president, we had 2 deputy prime ministers, we had a minister for energy, we had his assistant, we had a director in charge of the Kenya Pipeline Company… but we questioned none of them. No one resigned. No one was fired.
But one deputy prime minister who is now president of the nation offered a statement:
“As leaders we ought to feel a collective sense of responsibility.” He said.
Contrast this with: “The right thing for me to do is to take responsibility and resign as a person who is in charge of the cabinet”
Feeling responsibility versus taking responsibility, need I say more?