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Tragedy of blame transference syndrome


Ghana's President John Dramani Mahama

Ghana’s President John Dramani Mahama

The word “blame” is as old as the creation of humanity. The story of the fall of Adam and Eve in the third chapter of Genesis captures blame as a syndrome of the human person. The Serpent (Genesis 3:1) tempted Eve but did not force her to eat the forbidden fruit. It was her free choice. She also gave to her husband who freely accepted the offer. Their eyes opened and they realised that they were naked (Genesis 3: 6-7).Then followed the blame transference syndrome (BTS) when God called the man: “Where are you?”He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”The man said, “The woman you put here with me gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (Genesis 3:8-13)

Why did God not ask the Serpent any question? The interpretation could be that it was the human person (Adam and Eve) that God gave the command and the gift of dialogue. God did not raise the dignity of the serpent to the level of Imago Dei (Image of God). When the Serpent came around, Eve had the capacity to say, away from me Satan or get behind me Satan! Today, the many cunny and crafty sycophants that surround some leaders at various levels to distract them from their God-given mission of leading the people to grace and happiness are the modern-day Serpents. These leaders become competently incompetent because they listen to their “Serpents” just as Eve listened to the serpent of her time. Consequently, these leaders put the blame of their incompetence elsewhere.

The tragedy of “blame transference syndrome” runs across some of the drama of William Shakespeare. For instance, “Who is to blame for the tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice”? It is easy to blame Iago for his lies and conspiracy while Desdemona could be blamed because the way and manner she complains could have been exploited by Iago. Othello could have saved himself if he was in control of his unguided emotions of anger and his blind love for Desdemona. Othello throughout the play was not able to handle ugly situations hence he is a “good example of the ‘tragic hero’ as defined by Aristotle; he is a good man of great and simple virtues but with the fatal floor of believing that men are what they seem” (Shakespeare, the Complete Works, Edited by G.B Harrison, Harcourt, Brace and Company; New York, Page 1057). Another reason for the tragedy of Othello in Venice was that he surrounded himself with sycophants who made him blind and deaf to wise counsel. Consequently, he lacked the capacity to take responsibility for what was happening around him. He kept blaming innocent people until his sycophants kept him in prison and perpetual banishment. “He was ultimately slain by the kinsfolk of Desdemona.”

Another example in Shakespearean drama is, “Who is to blame for the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet”? Here one could easily say that they caused their own tragedy by disobeying their parents. Paris who was too eager to marry Juliet could also be blamed (Act III scene 1) but after the testimony of Friar Laurence and the ugly site of the Capulet tomb, Prince Escalus took responsibility and blamed himself for the tragedy of the children. The acceptance of blame brought peace and reconciliation to the families of Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet who had been enemies for many generations. The inherited hate of the parents of Romeo and Juliet that was an obstacle to their proposed marriage is to blame for their tragedy. If we are aware of who we are, we would come to a realisation that even “The gods are not to blame” (Ola Rotimi) for our failures. We are gifted with freedom and dignity.

The concession speech of the Ghanaian President John Dramani Mahama published by various media on December 9, 2016 exposes the syndrome of blame transference. He says: “I will urge my party members to stop the “blamestorming” that has started so that we brainstorm on how to get ourselves out of the mess we have put ourselves in.” “Another important lesson I have learnt from this defeat is that the success or failure of leaders depends on the kind of people they surround themselves with.” “A lot of the people who have called me to comfort me have maintained that I have been let down by my ministers and the people I trusted so much. I wish to take the blame for everything that happened to me. It is said that a man may fail many times but he is not a failure until he blames others for his failures.” He added,“I have brought this upon myself and I will carry it alone.” (

According to Don Shula, “The superior man blames himself. The inferior man blames others ( The superior person does not accept any responsibility just because he wants to occupy an office. He is a person of vision whose mission is to transform a system, institution or organisation. Before accepting a responsibility, he or she must be prepared for any eventuality that would demand his intelligence, diligence and wisdom in ensuring that he engages the right people who are competent. His appointments of people in various positions of responsibility would follow the rules of professionalism. A leader who compensates hiswell-wishers and supporters with appointments of professionals and technocrats is likely to end up like Othello the Moor of Venice.

A good leader knows how to make water flow in the desert by respecting professional boundaries. A good leader has a very clear strategy and action plan. He takes cognisance of the strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats of the institution. In the past, professionals and technicians were proud of their jobs. Today, everybody wants to be a politician for easy access to wealth without sweat to satisfy the desire of the eyes, desire of flesh and pride of possessions (1 John 2:16). Greed and corruption are products of the fall of human nature hence only the values and principles of Jesus Christ can adequately heal the tragedy of blame transference syndrome that is afflicting many leaders today.
Fr. Omonokhua is the Director of Mission and Dialogue of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria and a Consultor in the Commission for Religious Relations with Muslims (CRRM), Vatican City.

Jesus faced more terrible temptations than Adam and Eve (Matthew 4).The devil used human appetite as temptation in the Garden of Eden and the temptation of Jesus. Satan wanted Jesus to turn stones to bread (Matthew 4:3) just as he asked Eve to eat the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3:4). Satan appealed to the human quest for power and today some people want power by all means even if it means killing the people they wish to govern. Eve yielded to the delusion that she would be like God (Genesis 3:4). On the contrary, Jesus did not yield to the allurement of power and prosperity. “The devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour.“All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me” (Matthew 4:8-10).This is why only Jesus can save those who are worshipping the devil today to possess the glamour of the world. Otherwise, these people like Eve would continue to inflict untold hardship on innocent people as long as they want to be drowned in whatever is delightful to the eyes (Genesis 3:6), Competent leaders know when to tell their “Serpents” and “Satan”. “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Jesus took the blame of humanity upon himself. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). This is why the antidote to the tragedy of blame transference syndrome is the imitation of Jesus Christ.

Fr. Omonokhua is the Director of Mission and Dialogue of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria and a Consultor in the Commission for Religious Relations with Muslims (CRRM), Vatican City.

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