The social conflict theory has been the root cause of most of the crime incidences in Kenya. This is further fuelled by the fact that the poverty gap is very high in Kenya. The higher social class is the smallest yet controlling the most wealth. This leaves the middle and lower classes in charge and in possession of the least amount of wealth that cannot have any meaningful impact in the making of the society. An attempt by the people in lower classes to cross over to the higher social class is often impossible due to the fact that the members of the higher social classes do not accept the transitions. It is important to have this theory in mind when looking at the reasons for crime in Kenya. 

There is also the social learning theory which is credited with increasing the rate of crime in Kenya. Criminals learn from fellow criminals. This happens when people living in poverty suddenly rise to riches and when the source of their wealth is found to be crime, more people are motivated to become criminals. The level of crime an individual perpetrates depends on the kind of exposure one already has (Walsh & Ellis Lee, 2015). For instance; fraudsters cannot engage in robbery with violence because they lack the skill and mentors in the line of crime. The essay will thus focus on the social leaning and the social conflict theories to explain criminal behaviour in Kenya. 

Social conflict theory

The social conflict theory is a crucial part of the sociological explanation of the events occurring in the society. For instance, the different social classes in the society breed an avenue for conflict. This is because people in the society want to prevent the other social classes from oppressing them, this only applies to the lower and middle class, while the upper class fights to prevent the lower classes from harming them (Williams & Arrigo, 2007). This mentality in the Kenyan people has created an avenue for crime to thrive because, the rich do not relate to the problems of the lower classes who sometimes go without food. This means that when making policies, they do not see the problem in taxing food because they can still afford it at whatever price. This breeds hatred from the lower classes and they will be pushed to rob, vandalize the property of the rich in order to get the bare minimum necessities for survival. This means that crime in Kenya has been fuelled by the difference in social classes.

The social conflict theory is more focused on issues like the poverty gap and generally, the lack of equality in the society. According to sociological theories, the social conflict is unavoidable because a Utopian society cannot exist. This is especially more difficult for the third world countries like Kenya where crime is also treated with regards to the difference in the social status of the criminal. For instance, petty crimes in Kenya are convicted more harshly than the bigger crimes. A thief having stolen twenty thousand shillings is likely to be sentenced to ten years in prison while another individual stealing over one million shillings is likely to be released on bond and the case stalls for years and is eventually forgotten. This breeds a criminal behaviour that makes criminals become more daring and ruthless. 

The treatment of criminals in Kenya largely dictates the type of crimes that are being encouraged by the justice system. For instance, as it stands, the rates of rape crimes is on the rise but as we have witnessed through the media, the justice system is flawed. The male perpetrators are released on flimsy reasons even when the case is clear that a minor was defiled yet one woman was sentenced out rightly for the same crime. This makes the male perpetrators more daring because they know the justice system will vindicate them and the victims live with stigma thereafter. This is also a case of social conflict where the men and women are seen differently with regards to crime (Williams & Arrigo, 2007). Crimes of sexual nature in Kenya will not reduce until such a time when the social conflict between the men and women will be solved. The justice system needs to be made fair and allow people to get fair trials and maybe then, the criminal behaviour in the society will change. 

The social conflict theory also explains crime where people engage in crime out of resentment for people in the other social classes. The lower class is more affected by this instance. This is because, they are more likely to want to steal money to afford themselves a better life. They may steal to afford the basic commodities that they feel the rich people have prevented them from having. It is important that the society is well aware of the possibility of social conflict being responsible for the increase of crime. The social conflict theory can explain crime with regards to the fact that the higher social classes can also push the lower classes to commit crime. This they can do by displacing the lower classes from their job areas by grabbing market areas and developing hotels that would only benefit a few people. This kind of capitalist behaviour gives rise to crime. 

Capitalism breeds more social conflict because the poor people are made poorer and the rich make themselves richer. This difference makes it easier for criminals to grow in their expertise because, as the people become poorer, they no longer have anything to lose. The justice system being as biased as it is, desperate people are likely to commit big crimes because they do not have anything left to lose. Crime in Kenya for some people is for survival and not mischief due to the high levels of poverty that can be explained by the social conflict theory (Williams & Arrigo, 2007). The social conflict theory explains crime and can connect to the social learning theory depending on the perspective an individual takes.

The social learning theory relates to the reason for crime as explained by the social conflict where the circumstances lead people to crime. The social learning and social conflict theories can be jointly used to interpret criminal behaviour in Kenya. Criminal behaviour is basically determined by the society. The way criminals are handled determines the way other members of the society deal with crime. The justice system has made it difficult for the society to get rid of crime. This is because, the justice system is corrupt and people know that they will rarely ever get justice in the event that they are caught. This makes criminal behaviour difficult to get manage and predict. People are always devising methods of committing crime and in many cases, they have studied the justice system and come up with ways of going around it. This has seen to it that criminals can always get away with crime and when they get caught they are prepared for injustice. Injustice comes in various forms, they can be charged and convicted unfairly or pay their way out of jail. 

Social learning theory

Social learning theory in the society has contributed to the learning of crime in the society. This is because people will always want to elevate their lifestyles at any given point in time. Criminal behaviour is learned in Kenya just like corruption is. Initially, people are likely to shun crime but once they live through tough times, they find that crime is the only way out. This is especially common in slum areas. In these areas, crime is a way of survival because there are no jobs enough for all the slum dwellers. The slum dwellers are likely to commit crime because they do not have options for raising their basic needs. Growing up I rough neighbourhoods in Kenya leaves the young people of those areas with little choice (Walsh & Ellis Lee, 2015). This is seen in the event where they have to engage in crime so that the gang members residing in their neighbourhoods do not view them as being informants for the authorities. 

The social learning theory supports the fact that people can be influenced by their surroundings. People living in cities like Nairobi can easily be lured to crime for the desire to live the life that they desire. This is also likely to affect people who try too hard to make impressions back in the villages. People have been seen to be flashing money and lavish lifestyles on their social media platforms while in the real sense, they have to steal and fake their lives. The desire of the people to live up to the standards that the society sets for them can easily lead people to crime. The pressure by the society contributes to people learning crime. This makes the society to blame for the rate of crime rising as a result of social learning.

The lack of adequate employment and high cost of living is likely to impact the society negatively. People who have graduated with good courses are likely to engage in crime in their field. This is the case as with the robbery that occurred in KCB bank in Thika as well as the theft that KRA had to deal with in the recent past. These are brains that would be useful to the Kenyan economy if put to good use but due to the rate of unemployment and corruption, people resort to desperate measures. The government as part of the social institutions has failed to ensure that people get jobs and the cost of living is affordable (Walsh & Ellis Lee, 2015). This is the reason why people will learn how to hack institutions and make away with important information or money as in the case of KRA. The perpetrators are people who have been jobless and put their course to good use for themselves. 

Social learning theory in the Kenyan society has promoted crime in a big way. Crime does not have to be violent and fatal. There are people who have specialized in white collar crimes, they sell drugs, counterfeit goods and even steal property in form of land and cars. These kinds of crime are sophisticated, they require resources and most of the time the perpetrators are usually people the society admires. This makes it easy for people who are struggling to take part in crime. The rates of white collar crimes in Kenya are on the rise judging by the level of corruption scandals that are being report every other day. The rates of crime in the society will rise if the justice system continues to be as unjust as they are currently. 

There are many ways of explaining crime in the society using the social learning theory. There are criminals who are driven to commit crime by their desire to sustain their drug habits. Drug use is often a learned habit and is usually as a result of people being jobless, stressed and even in some cases being influenced by their peers. The habits takes root gradually and by the time the individual is aware of the extent of the damage, they can no longer control themselves. Some people lose their jobs due to addiction and when they can no longer feed their habit, they take to crime to get money for their drugs. At this point, the rate of crime cannot be regulated by the members of the society. Crime learned in this manner can be termed as being acquired by the social learning theory.

Social learning theory in Kenya can also be applied in the event where criminals learn how to steal, rob or vandalize property to push for their personal agendas. There are criminals who have since reformed who were engaged in crime in an attempt to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor. This was the kind of crime that John Kiriamiti was engaged in. he inspired others who later changed their intentions and turned into full on criminals with ill intentions. The social conflict theory at this point is still very relevant because it explains why people will want to engage in crime (Walsh & Ellis Lee, 2015). The fact that people realize that there is a gap in the society in terms of wealth, is reason enough to make them want to cross over to the better social classes. The Kenyan society has crimes on all levels. The magnitude of the crime lately is only as big as the media makes it out. For instance, the cases of sexual harassment are seen to be less serious while the rape crimes are magnified while in the reals sense, sexual harassment and rape are both serious crimes that leave the victims with lifelong scars.

The social conflict and social learning theories can be useful in the understanding of the crime in the Kenyan society. This is because, the leading causes of crime in Kenya is poverty, unemployment and the large poverty gap. The poverty gap in the Kenyan society has grown too wide and at this point, it cannot be bridged. People can only get rid of criminal behaviours if the morals of the society are upright. This is a far cry from the society that Kenya has today. Corruption is an enemy of morality and this means that people can no longer be trusted to report crimes. The people can report crimes and the justice system can no longer be trusted to convict criminals correctly. Collectively, the society has failed in preventing and reducing criminal behaviour in the society as per the explanations of the social learning and social conflict theories. The society has created a safety net for criminal behaviour where people look the other way when one of them is convicted of a crime.


Sociological theories are used to explain the occurrences of the society in context. For this task, the sociological theories that best fit the context are; the social learning and social conflict theories. They best explain the state of the society when looking at the causes of the criminal behaviour in the society today. The ability of the members of the society to create an environment that is less accommodating to crime is based on their determination and honesty in fighting crime. This means that people can report their immediate family for a crime as opposed to what happens today where people would rather pay the law enforcement officers as long as their family is protected. These are the types of actions that encourage criminal behaviour. People today will be aware of where a wanted criminal lives but fail to report for fear of being attacked or even termed as accomplices while in the long run, the same behaviour can easily cause harm to the people that hide criminals. This is because, one day, the criminal who is not used to working will run out of ideas and start attacking their immediate neighbours. At this point, it will be too late and that is where “mob justice” is served. 

In Kenya today, crime is no longer news. The prisons are filled with people who have committed minor crimes that would be corrected by light sentences. This the fact that petty offenders are jailed together with the hard core criminals in the Kenyan justice system encourages people to learn bigger crimes. For instance, a thief conceited to five years in jailed for stealing chicken for the first time being jailed with people who robbed a bank violently can only result in one thing, the petty offender being a worse criminal upon their release. Social learning in prisons is definitely the leading avenue for criminals to sharpen their skills. Surviving in prisons is a hard fete as it is. This means that people who go to prison in an attempt to reform them often come out having learned better criminal tactics. At this rate, the rate of crime in Kenya cannot be reduced. The criminal behaviour in Kenya gets bolder as the justice system continues to serve people in a biased way.

Criminal behaviour in Kenya is deeply rooted because the morality standards in Kenya are low and people have embraced capitalism. In capitalism, the needs of oneself come first and this leaves the rest of the society to fend for themselves the best way they know how. This means that people can resort to criminal behaviour and nobody is concerned as the crime does not affect them directly as is the case with corruption cases and other white collar crimes. People only view a crime as being big when it causes death or direct loss of property like robbery.


Walsh, A., & Ellis Lee. (2015). Social Process and Learning Theories of Crime. SAGE PUBLICATIONS, 297-357.

Williams, C. R., & Arrigo, B. A. (2007). Conflict theory and crime and delinquency. Wiley Online Library.

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