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How Raila Odinga’s victory could have checked excesses of capitalism

By XN Iraki
Updated Sunday, August 20th 2017 at 00:00 GMT +3
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Raila Odinga Photo:Courtesy

The greatest fear over Raila victory was economic. There was a morbid fear that his regime would dismantle the economic systems that have been gelling in the last 122 years, since 1895 when Kenya became a British protectorate.

In that period, economic classes have crystallised, and it seemed Raila would have spent no time dismantling them. The social economic classes are becoming so solid and distinct that they are unlikely to start melting any time; we are entering the economic ice age. The socio-economic classes reflect the excesses of capitalism.

Think a bit. Since the end of the cold war, there has been nothing to moderate the excesses of capitalism. The extremes of capitalism are there for all to see. We have gyms to lose weight when others are malnourished. Some take drugs like cocaine and alcohol because they have made lots of money and are bored.

Others take the same because they are desperate and hopeless. Some build stone walls around their houses; others can't afford those stones to build the house. The pay is very unequal, some take home millions per month, others are jobless, the prices of the basic commodities like water, milk and foods are the same.

Who do you blame for the extreme inequality, the onset of ice age? The elites say the poor do not work hard enough and are lazy. Economists will say they can't spot opportunities or are information deficient. In extreme cases, some say it is in the genes. We can get an excuse for anything.

Even data from respected institutions like World Bank show inequality is real. It was expected after the Washington Consensus, when developing countries liberalised their economies after a nudge from IMF, World Bank and USA. We did not expect Kenyans who were used to government provision or subsidies for education, health and other services to change overnight.

Those who knew the basics of modern capitalism thrived. The vast majority were left behind; are still behind. The liberalised Kenyan market after 1990s disadvantaged the locals in another way; it sucked in outsiders who had better knowledge of liberalised economic systems. We were no match. We still beg them to come and make money. We call them foreign investors.

It is not the first time capitalism needed moderation. Communism was a reaction to the excesses of capitalism ushered in by industrial revolution and monarchies. Many people felt excluded from the "eating table" giving communism its appeal. In old Russia, it's the monarchy and the nobles who owned property, power and privilege. In Kenya today, we may have no monarchy, but we have near monarchies in families who control power, wealth and privileges.

But before we drift too far, let me ask a curious question. Why did Karl Marx and Frederick Engels not start the communist revolution in UK? Were they not writing in London? The answer might surprise you; colonialism! Britons starting creating breathing spaces in 1607 when they settled in Jamestown, in Virginia, USA.

Britons excluded from the eating table could make their way to the colonies and restart their lives. In Kenya, they would start as farm managers before finally owning their own farms. To Australia, prisoners and prostitutes were shipped to start a new life. Other Britons went to South Africa, Canada, Central America, Middle East, Africa and India. Their footprints remain in English language and religion.

Marx and Engels idea found a fertile ground in Russia. Ever wondered why there are no Russian colonies? In Kenya, we are not that lucky, there is no breathing space for those excluded from the eating table. That raises the spectre of violence. Suppose Kenya had colonies to ship prisoners and prostitutes? Let not discount the fact that migrations from some parts of central Kenya to Rift Valley relieved pressure for land in the last century.

Not any more. The immigration of Kenyans to UK, USA and other countries could be interpreted as a search for breathing space. Interestingly, lots of poor Kenyans have made it to those countries to start a new economic life, like some colonialists. The affluent rarely immigrate; holidays are enough.

With the end of communism, it means there is no other countervailing force to capitalism. Taxation and welfare transfers are not enough to stop inequality. It needs the political will because the market by its structure and religion makes inequality worse. "To those who have more will be given."

In the advanced economies, innovations have been a double edged sword in confronting the excesses of capitalism. It creates new classes of wealthy, but rarely destroys the old ones. Further, rarely do innovations come from the small underfunded universities, where the hoi polloi patronise. Where were Google or Facebook spawned?

Raila from his pronunciations might have been the force to confront the excesses of capitalism. The capitalists in Kenya and beyond probably knew that and fought hard to preserve their economic power and privilege thereof.

Kenya's current socio-economic system does not benefit Kenyans only; there are lots of other beneficiaries scattered in world capitals. Who owns Kenya's blue chip firms and choicest estates? Unfortunately, we may never know how Raila would have reacted once in power. For now we think he was the closest politician with boldness and will to moderate the excesses of Kenyan capitalism.

With Raila's victory uncertain for now, Kenya may have entered a long and deep economic ice age with socio-economic classes fully solidified. The affluent will enjoy their wealth as the poor watch or work for them. You will hear of trickle-down effect and other fancy academic terms to describe how the poor can benefit from the hard work of the capitalists. It will not be the first time.

By the time Kenya celebrates 100 years of uhuru in 2063, we shall be closer to developed countries, in terms of inequality and unhappiness. We forgot to celebrate, the other 100 years in 1995, since we became a semblance of a nation, a protectorate in 1895.

The excesses of capitalism are felt more deeply in Kenya because of "African socialism" which was anti-capitalist. Think of vast land communally owned by pastoralists and "our sharing." We buy each other beer, contribute in harambees, educate our relatives and do other things that defy capitalism.

Interestingly, after accumulating wealth we still feel the excesses of capitalism after failing to realise it is the small things that matter in life; a genuine smile or handshake, holding a baby, laughing over an old joke, helping the needy with no strings attached, a good sleep, falling genuinely in love, admiring nature and doing all other things that do not discriminate the poor and the rich.

One hopes that UhuRuto will use their newly acquired political capital (if the status quo is maintained) in terms of majority in both houses to do what Raila could probably have done, stop the onset of Kenya's economic ice age. That might one of their lasting legacies because of socio-economic stability that would result.

 

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