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Somewhere, sometime, someday, somehow, you'll find them

- Danielle Steel, Bittersweet.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Examining the Gor-Mahia vs Sofapaka Shenanigans in Machakos

This past weekend, a football match was held in Kenyatta Stadium in Machakos County. The contending teams were Gor Mahia and Sofapaka.

Okay, we're not BIG on Sports at Complitly Connect Magazine, so we have no idea what the scores were. We however know that the match ended in chaos and following Gor Mahia's defeat, there was vandalism, property damage, arrests and lots of tear gas. Some of the damage is shown below:

All this was widely reported across the web.

This post is NOT about who did what, who was wrong or if the punitive measures taken after the fact were fair and just.
Given that it already happened and continues to happen elsewhere around the world,ours is to examine exactly what causes this type of uncalled for behavior and how it can be mitigated. We shall take a historical and philosophical perspective and highlight ways that may be used to forestall such hooey.

Back in 2009 and 2010 on The Walkabout, I wrote about objectivity and self righteousness, and ideology and openness to experience. Bothe these posts were inspired by Jonathan Haid't TED Talk. Here's the video:

You see, our righteous minds are such that everybody thinks he or she is right. Consider these excerpts from the video above:

...when people all share values, when people all share morals, they become a team, and once you engage the psychology of teams, it shuts down open-minded thinking.

...our righteous minds were designed by evolution to unite us into teams, to divide us against other teams and then to blind us to the truth.

It's only among humans that you find very large groups of people who are able to cooperate, join together into groups, but in this case, groups that are united to fight other groups. This probably comes from our long history of tribal living, of tribal psychology. And this tribal psychology is so deeply pleasurable that even when we don't have tribes, we go ahead and make them, because it's fun.

Here is the entire transcript

The Group Dominating the Self
Rioters display the same traits that ancient tribesmen had when they invaded other tribes or engaged in battles with opposing groups of people. Of particular note, is that a person’s approach to a situation changes according to whether that person believes that he or she is at that moment acting on behalf of a group or as an individual.

In other words, a person’s behavior changes to reflect the beliefs and aspirations of the group rather than those of the individual. This has been very well explained in The Psychology of Groups.

Following the London Riots in 2011, efforts were made to try and explain the mayhem. In this Discovery article, Jack Levin, a professor of sociology and criminology at Northeastern University explains the two phases of rioting:

Phase 1: Dropping one's personal identity and responsibility and adopting those of a group's (a behavior known as de-individuation)

Phase 2: The free-for-all bouts of looting, which happens when newcomers join with individuals they already know, pressured by one another to act destructively rather than acting to support the original grievance.

This is why otherwise law-abiding citizens get caught up in lawless acts they can never do by themselves. In a recent post about the back and forth between Scangroup CEO and RMA Kenya on Twitter, we pointed out the ganging up of tweeps against another Twitter user (corporate or individual) where people who are unaware of the goings on get an opportunity to make personal attacks post disrespectful or libelous things.

In essence, participating in riots lower people's standards for themselves, whether they have a criminal history or not. And that is why,
it has become trendy to riot over less serious events such as the victory or loss of a sports team.

The group polarization that is inherent in riots, is the reason otherwise peaceful and decent people easily turn into a vicious lynch mob. This is when it gains dominance over that of an individual’s self identity in situations of conflict, competition or war.

Barely a month into my very first semester at JKUAT in 2000, the Daily Nation published an article that  largely claimed halls of residence at the University (particularly Hall 6) were criminal dens where sex, drugs and other social ills were rife.
The folowing day, JKUAT students, led by JKUSO Chairman Adrian Ouma raided Nation Centre in Nairobi CBD.

Following day-long riots, a JKUAT student lost his life, some students were shot, others were arrested and following a 6 weeks closure of the university, some were suspended. For the rest of us, we had to endure a crash program thanks to a contracted semester. It was a net loss for the students. And as happens in almost all such cases, the juice is never worth the squeeze.

In the Gor Mahia case above, Machakos Governor Dr Alfred Mutua banned Gor Mahia from Machakos and the two clubs were fined hundreds of thousands of shillings. Additionally, Gor Mahia is been help liable for the damage to property running into millions of shillings that happened in Machakos.

All in all, a better understanding of why and how people behave in rioting crowds would be most useful in preventing such dangerous and wasteful acts of violence in the future.