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Pan-African Postcard

A world without conscience

Ochieng M. Khairallah

2008-10-09, Issue 401

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Lamenting the persistence of widespread social and economic inequalities, Ochieng M. Khairallah asks whether the continued experiences of marginalisation and disenfranchisement suffered by the global poor belie a world without conscience. In light of sustained human rights abuses and marked power imbalances both nationally and internationally, the author highlights a resulting culture of impunity in which politics and representation become a mere question of protecting one’s interests.

A careful look at the world today reveals worrying trends and confounding tendencies in so far as matters of global interest are concerned. Thematic issues such as human rights, education, leadership, justice, religion, environment and a formidable array of other equally important subjects are witnessing systematic loss of both public interest and confidence. The growing levels of global atrocities and harrowing impunity hold these assertions in the affirmative. Under the circumstances, one is therefore tempted to question the conscience of the modern day world.

For instance, wherein lies the conscience of the world amidst the emergent culture of human rights without respect for the rights of the individual person? When there is a growing disrespect for people’s rights. This is evident the world over. Despite many conventions affirming individual rights and a plethora of human rights organisations apparently in the name of human rights advocacy and education, violations of human rights continue unabated. The world is continually being treated to an opera of wars and conflicts with harrowing scenes of injuries of varying dimensions; corpses, limps, dismemberment of body parts, etc.

Debilitating hunger, starvation, disasters and related tragedies are exacerbating already fluid situations. It is simply a case of injuries and more deaths yesterday, today and likely tomorrow. It is a dangerous trend especially taking into account the fact that when society gets used to seeing deaths and violations of human rights on a continuous basis, the logical consequence is a dangerous loss of respect for human rights. People begin to treat human rights issues with little interest.

This slowly matures into a dangerous culture of impunity in which people trample on each other with reckless abandon. It assumes tragic proportions particularly when the defenders of human rights themselves begin to violate the rights of others. Without batting an eyelid people begin to preach what they do not practice. Before long, people begin to feel insecure and for fear of being trampled upon by others as neighbours turn against each other with bestial force, hurt others and even expose others to life threatening risks without looking back. Simply a case of each against the other. And what does the world do? Does it proceed as if though nothing happened? Or is it business as usual?

There is justice without respect for the rule of law, especially when the law operates like a cobweb only tailored for small animals while big ones go through it with reckless abandon. Does the world raise an eyebrow when legal systems are susceptible to the vagaries of raw capital, where money talks even if the language of money is reckless and destructive? Where human rights and justice are exclusively for a select few. Where the poor are deprived further and are even penalised for being poor while the rich are enriched beyond imagination. Where you are rewarded for being corrupt and even for manipulating the stock market or authoring misfortune for others, especially the poor and the so-called ‘Wretched of the Earth.’ What does the world do? Does it reprimand or encourage impropriety, impunity and other acts of injustice?

Politics without fidelity to the common good is equally destructive when we reduce the hallowed realm of politics to merely an arena for individual avarice and a game of parochialism based on partisan and selfish interests at the connivance and detriment of the common good. Where politicians seek positions specifically to advance selfish agendas devoid of collective benefit. Where politics is simply a game of mine, myself, I, and me alone. Where community and national resources are vandalised at the politicians’ pleasure. Where leadership is totally divorced from the core principles of integrity and accountability.

Education without merit is a tragedy of monumental proportions and a recipe for anarchy as it breeds a dangerous culture of professionalism without professional responsibility. Where the best effort is least rewarded or the worst efforts best rewarded due to extraneous considerations, a situation akin to the worst becoming the best and the best becoming the worst or simply where the best careers can be terminated by a computer mishap or a syntax error. When people lose confidence in fair practice and fair competition, society is reduced to a mess akin to an animal farm in which the big animals trample and even feed on smaller animals.

Religion without spirituality is catastrophic and reduces life to nothing more than a butchery of human character, advancing hopelessness and ill-will. This is where religion is merely a tool for political and resource mobilisation and competition and is thereby reduced to a mere captive of modern day avarice, malice and treachery. As a result, religion abdicates its traditional and sacred role of being the repository of hope, good will and righteousness. As a result society is deprived of spiritual nourishment and development.

In the face of wars, increased violations of human rights, increased accidents, calamities in the form of floods, earthquakes, typhoons, and the destruction of environment, wherein lies the conscience of the world? We must not allow a world where you can trample on another persons right, injure your neighbour, hurt your colleague, expose another person to imminent danger or cause serious risks and threats to another person’s life, or injure another person’s character.

Personally I am not ready for a hurting world. I need a gentle and caring world. My world must be a caring world for all irrespective of one’s colour, race, language, status, location and related prejudices and nuances! Such a world is only possible if we resist acts of injustices and human rights violations.

* Ochieng M. Khairallah is a lawyer and human rights activist.

* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at

Readers' Comments

Let your voice be heard. Comment on this article.

O.M.K is right in saying the world has no conscience and looks the other way where poverty and sffering are concerned. In India the horrible caste system had been religiously sanctioned to perpetuate slavery from ancient days. Hence Indian culture of whatever you may call is built on the assumption that we are all uneqwual. Democracy or no democracy the Brahminical system has ensured that the haves will always rule and dominate the have-nots.

Mathew Panamkat

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