The Broken Window Theory in Sudan

Mohammed Saad Kamil

Philip Zimbardo, a Stanford psychologist, reported in 1969 on some experiments testing the broken-window theory. He arranged to have an automobile without license plates parked with its hood up on the street in an area where poor people live and a comparable automobile on a street in an area where rich people live.

The car in the poor area was attacked by “vandals” within ten minutes of its “abandonment”. Within 3 days everything of value had been removed.

The car in the rich area sat untouched for more than a week. Then Zimbardo smashed part of it with a sledgehammer. Soon passersby were joining in. Within a few hours, the car had been turned upside down and utterly destroyed.

Broken windows theory was proposed by James Q. Wilson and George Kelling in 1982 that used broken windows as a metaphor for disorder within neighborhoods. Their theory links disorder and incivility within the community to subsequent occurrences of serious crime.

The theory could be summarized by that neglecting in dealing with any problem in any environment – whatever its size is – will negatively affect the stances of the people and their attitude towards the environment, a matter that might escalate the problems and vice versa. This means that resolving the minor problems will lead to a better environment and appropriate conduct.

What draws the attention is that those who intentionally damaged the vehicles and buildings were not criminals as most of them were citizens who are committed to the law.

However, the broken window theory sends an invisible message that nobody cares or says no consequences for such a deed, and accordingly neglecting minor problems will lead to bigger problems in the future.

In reality, Sudan is facing enormous political, health, environmental and social problems resulting from neglected accumulated wrong deeds, conducts, and conditions such as legalization of local administration role, the status of the tribes in general, future main infrastructure, education, governance system, identity, and other problems that emerged after the independence in 1956.

Those were minor problems at that time left by the colonizers, but those became tools to be used by opportunists and self-interested people in Sudan and abroad, so they were escalated and could not be resolved easily.

It is high time for all of us to try to fix up the broken windows to allow the upcoming generations to enjoy a better future.

Let us start with the first step, which is to fix up the broken window.

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