On Kenya’s Political Economy of Inequality, Class Struggle and the Deep State By Sitati Wasilwa

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Karl Marx, branded as The Angry Oracle, writes in The Communist Manifesto that “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” This is absolutely true considering that human societies in the course of time have had distinct power relations based on socioeconomic inequality; the rich or wealthy individuals dominating the low-income individuals.

As much as Marx is vilified by the dreaded capitalists, rogue capitalists doubling up as notorious neoliberals for that matter, his contributions to understanding the economic, social and political organization of man is highly regarded. Case in point is an article about Marx’s relevance published by the mainstream The Economist magazine in 2018 while marking the bicentenary of his birth.

The eventual rise of neoliberalism in 1970s and 80s, and thereafter its spread around the world by the Bretton Woods missionaries castigated any policies hinged on Marx’s ideas. The omniscient policy missionaries of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) including the United States’ Treasury Department proclaimed a new age of prosperity by advocating policies such as austerity (cutting government spending and increasing taxes), deregulation, trade liberalization and privatization with market fundamentalism serving as the common denominator.

Kenya is just but one of the states forced to embrace the ideals of neoliberalism by the hawk-eyed and hard-nosed policy merchants shuttling globally to proclaim economic salvation on the surface but imperialistic adventures underneath.

Manufacturing people’s consent is one of the surest ways to exert an entity’s dominance. The neoliberals succeeded in promoting inequality by preaching the relevance of their policy maxim by identifying the ‘Chicago School’ as the benchmark for economics curricula around the world. The outcome was the inebriate adoption of the ‘Chicago School’ curricula in the teaching of economics that religiously emphasizes free markets, a gravely utopian notion.

And sadly that is the kind of economics taught at Kenyan and African learning institutions. Dedicated faithful gloriously teaching neoliberal economics without any mark for critical thinking intentionally avoid teaching students about the relevance of the so called heretics such as Karl Marx, Thomas Sankara, Frantz Fanon and others who would help promote the understanding of class differences and the subject matter of inequality.

Noam Chomsky in his book “Who Rules the World?” writes on inequality while making reference to the exclusion of the low-income individuals and non-political class from the political system. According to Chomsky, the tiny sector at the apex of a political system largely determines the policy choices pursued by governments. Certainly, whoever controls the political system controls the mechanisms for wealth creation, and ultimately the functioning of an economy.

If Chomsky’s account of power relations is anything to go by, then Kenya is a typical example of a country reeling on inequality. According to Oxfam International, 0.1% of Kenya’s population (approximately 8,300 people) owns more wealth than the bottom 99% (over 44 million people).

Of course Kenya’s case demonstrates that prosperity after all is not a trickle-down affair, where excesses of the tiny top in terms of wealth accumulation does not guarantee collective socioeconomic success. Doubts cast on the relevance of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a measure of prosperity by a significant number of Kenyans underline why the country’s much touted economic prosperity is more of a fairy tale on one hand and political rhetoric on the other.

Lorenzo Fioramonti, in his book “Gross Domestic Problem”, notes that GDP is more than just a number since it also serves as a powerful political tool. All states, Kenya included, often use GDP figures to paint a rosy picture of how the ruling parties or administrations (regimes) are working so hard to improve the economic well-being of the masses.

Additionally, a 2009 report by the Beyond GDP Commission indicates that GDP should be considered as a measure of market production and not as a measure of economic well-being of which governments have embraced the latter. The report cautions that interchanging the two measures in view of GDP would lead to wrong policy decisions due to distorted information about people’s economic well-being.

Recently, the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) released the 2019 Economic Survey which indicates that the country’s economy expanded by 6.3% in 2018. It is best to consider the figure as growth recorded in view of market production and not an improvement in the economic well-being of Kenyans.

Notably, a significant number of Kenyans casted doubts on the importance of the ‘6.3% expansion of the GDP’ when the cost of living is currently high, and they are right.

Prevalence of growing inequality and an intense class struggle in Kenya are hardly reflected in the ‘impressive’ GDP growth rates the country has realized in the last decade. Rampant embezzlement of the public’s resources, money laundering, the gambling and betting craze serve as indications of a country defined by class struggle and inequality.

High rates of unemployment and underemployment are pointers of an economy that only works for the few and negates the ‘beautiful’ statistical data cherished by the regime’s mandarins especially on the significance of GDP expansion.
Difficulties by the commons in accessing high quality education, better healthcare, clean water and humane sanitation, and improved food security and nutrition justify Kenya’s GDP growth as merely political rhetoric.

Various reports indicate that Kenya is a hot-bed of money laundering and illicit financial flows. A 2017 report by the African Development Bank indicates that a total of US$10.6 billion had been stashed in foreign banks as from 1970 to 2010. In 2018, one of the leading local dailies uncovered the operations of an international money laundering syndicate based in Kenya.

Another local daily also published an account of money laundering activities while primarily referring to the content of a report published by the Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs on International Narcotics Control Strategy.
Weeks ago, a leading Kenyan think-tank released a report implicating Kenya and Uganda as conduits for illicit financial flows fueling South Sudan’s war economy.

Incidences of tax evasion in Kenya by foreign entities and local entities associated with politicians and political wheeler-dealers, and tax increases by the national and county governments serve to widen the inequality gap by enriching few individuals at the expense of the commons.
Addressing inequality should be at the centre of social and economic policies pursued by the national and county governments. If not, the power of the people should fervently advocate for an all-progressive, all-inclusive economic system.

But can this happen? The voting patterns of Kenya’s electorate tell it all. Furthermore, the reality of state capture with invisible hands determining the outcome of elections and who ought to ‘benefit’ from the government would obviously derail any course dedicated to addressing inequality.

Hope cannot change the Republic’s fortunes in view of inequality, class struggle and the actions of the deep state but a resilient and focused public keen on cementing its authority as provided by the Constitution: “We, the people of Kenya…”

Sitati Wasilwa is a political economist, a partner at Savic Consultants, and a youth leader at Kenya YMCA. He blogs at The Insight and Savic Consultants Blog.
Email: sitatiwasilwa13@gmail.com Twitter: @SitatiWasilwa.

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