Pleasure and pain: Who will gain and lose in boycott of goods and services?

Friday November 10 2017

National Resistance Movement

Siaya Senator James Orengo, during a media briefing in Nairobi on November 4, 2017, holds up an airtime scratch card from Airtel that he acquired in support of the National Resistance Movement's call to boycott Safaricom. The consequences from this movement will be painful. PHOTO | FRANCIS NDERITU | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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Imagine you are walking down the street and you witness your opponent, or ‘enemy’, being ambushed by a group of people you know.

Do you (a) persuade them to stop and save your opponent from the violence, or (b) walk on and let your enemy have it?

Or, imagine you are the border officer inspecting imports coming into your country.

A woman in a pick-up approaches you, intending to smuggle chicks, which are banned in the country.

Do you (a) burn the chicks alive to comply with the rule or ( b) fine the importer and send the chicks back?

Which decisions would produce the best overall outcome?

We face ethical subjective dilemmas frequently in our everyday lives.

Some of the scenarios are so complex that the Good Samaritan story does not give an obvious answer.

We are also human, making the ‘What would Jesus do?’ slogan impractical.

If you were a doctor and could only save the baby or the mother, who would you choose?

The Son of Man would not have this problem since he could heal the sick and raise the dead.

Perhaps our compass should be the audience watching how the scenario plays out and the impact our actions will have on them.

In the first scenario, you might be oblivious to the fact that other people are watching who may be privy to the fact that the attackers are known to you.

Possibly, your young children also happen to be passing by.

Is there reason to act and help your opponent?

More than any other time, this is the ideal opportunity to set a good practical example for the children by saving your opponent.


It will teach them that we are not called upon to only help those we like; we can also come to the aid of those who we are indifferent to.

After saving your opponent, you could became good friends and they could later donate a kidney to save your life.

What goes around comes around.

But, should we do good to avoid bad things happening to us in turn or because it is the right thing to do?

According to the great philosopher Jeremy Bentham, we are governed by pain and pleasure.

The two point us to what we do and determine what we shall do.


They also gauge our standard of right and wrong while we consider the chain of causes and effects.

Happiness, according to Bentham, is experiencing pleasure and lack of pain.

Notably, the subjective nature of this concept does not give us the precise answer on how to tackle our ethical dilemmas.

Your pleasure may result from someone else’s pain, while your right could be someone else’s wrong.

Back to our opponent scenario. If you walked away, you would have had the pleasure of watching your ‘enemy’ suffer.

However, is this right because you experienced pleasure?

Can we then really equate the resulting pleasure from another’s pain to happiness?

Let us apply this ethical theory to the National Resistance Movement.

The extent of the movement is predicted to adversely affect a lot of people.

The intensity with which the resistance is taking effect in some areas will indiscriminately affect the income of those working for Bidco, Safaricom and Brookside.

The duration of the movement, unknown to us, will gradually take away salaries and possibly lead to job losses for employees and suppliers of these companies.


Eventually, there will be little to no food on the table of those affected.

This will not only affect the electorate but also their children who did not play any role in the electoral process.

It appears certain that the consequences from this movement will be immediate, and they will be painful.

The sought benefits of restoring democracy and electoral justice appear remote and are not guaranteed.

More importantly, who is the beneficiary of pleasure and happiness from this movement?


The pioneers of the movement are public representatives with a paramount duty to have the best interests of their people at the heart of their decision making.

With this duty, they were elected and entrusted to seek equitable benefits for their people.

For now, these leaders have not sought to resign from their elective positions and forego their salaries in par with the resistance.

What is the direct loss and pain from the movement the pioneers are undergoing in tandem with the boycotters?

And so, will this movement produce the best overall outcome being sought?

The writer works with international businesses on commercial litigation. [email protected]