The Robin Hood complex in Kenya’s presidential race

It seems that, contrary to popular opinion, Kenya’s politics is not devoid of ideology and we must than the current season of political visions for this revelation. The irony on this revelation is that with the unveiling of each vision Kenyans have to contend with the apparent poverty of ideas because they all seem to be pages of the same book of ideology namely a plebeian kind of Robin Hood socialism.

The key words in all the visions are sharing, equitable distribution, fair taxation of the unidentified class of the super rich and equality in sharing public jobs and state resources. Certainly there will be no medals for the individual districts, communities that will produce more wealth or bake a larger portion of the national cake. The unstated consensus amongst the vision writers is that some people have a duty to produce wealth as much as “all of us” have a right to equitable sharing of the national cake. In other words the refrain, as the old Marxists used to say, “each shall give to the extent of the ability and each shall receive to the satisfaction of their need”.

I have a soft for socialism and if a critical mass of Kenyans says this can work, then let us give it a good shot. What I can’t come to terms with is scenario where presidential candidates preach capitalism in order to look good in the eyes of the IMF and New York whilst promising to rob rich Kenyans to give to poor Kenyans. No presidential candidate should try to implement primitive socialism based on Robin Hood economics without summoning the courage and decency to order for nationalization of private property and state ownership of the means of production.

In a capitalist society politicians lack and cannot obtain a political mandate to promise freebies in the manner that presidential candidates have assumed in their visions. The tragic flaws in the visions of sharing and equal opportunities are three.

First is the grave assumption that people are poor or miserable because of someone else’s fault. The trouble with this assumption is that the poor are cast as victims of whoever your favourite presidential candidates might elect to label as the villain. This could be the incumbent president, government, super-rich, IMF, the weather and most probably the Kikuyu.

A fortnight ago, one of the TV stations featured the comments of a gentleman from Vihiga on factors that influence how he will vote later in the year. This man said he is jobless since he completed his secondary school education in 1989. Yet in his condition our man said he is the father of eight (yes eight!) children who he readily confessed he lacks the means to provide for as he would wish.

Any Kenya presidential candidate and his vision writer watching such lamentations would quickly jump to the conclusion that our man is a victim of social inequality and so he needs free primary and secondary education in addition to “social security”. You can bet your monthly income that none of them has the integrity to tell our man that at bottom he is the victim of his own making. To my mind, it is rather dumb to marry without a job or income but it is outright dim to sire eight children in addition.

The second flaw of Robin Hood socialism is the inherent immorality it accepts as natural in the sense that it assumes that misery and poverty is the lot of some people. Thus some people are presumed to be permanent burdens to society and so the state should provide for them and their families as opposed to enabling them to do so themselves.

Last Monday, the Daily Nation featured a story in which Gordon Brown, Britain’s leader-in-waiting-, told about his vision of a “home-owning, asset-owning, wealth-owning democracy is what would be in the interests of our country because everybody would have a stake in the country”. On the same day The Standard featured a commentary by ODM-K presidential aspirant Kalonzo Musyoka in which he pledged to tax the super rich and protect the very poor basically by giving virtually every populous social group a free-ride when it comes to taxation.

Kalonzo rightly argues that “every citizen is entitled to equitable distribution of social benefits and burdens” but the thrust of his vision places no burden or responsibility on the so called under-privileged who, he says, the state has a duty to favour.

Ironically, the entire ODM-K brigade conspired to defeat the reintroduction of capital gains tax which largely targets the very super rich Kalonzo promises will foot his bill for the comfort of the underprivileged. Of course now that we are Kenyans-given to dreaming of wealth through pyramid schemes-Kalonzo has no burden to explain exactly how his vision will work. This brings us to the final point.

The economic ABCD of any presidential aspirant is the boring lamentation about how Kenya’s GDP was the same as South Korea in 1963 and now we are seas apart economically. Of course that was bound to occur. In Sothe Korea independence was a responsibility to work and produce wealth whilst for us it was an opportunity to nyakua matunda ya uhuru, the same thing those given to recall the South Korea example were doing this week.

In South Korea bearing eight children among the jobless was not fashionable same as loitering in rural trading centres in the middle ofthousand acres of uncultivated land. I can even bet that the home village of their permanent secretaries was not personal and communal tragedy for ordinary Koreans when their country was overtaking us. In short those who cannot take responsibility of achieving greatness should not even dream about it even in a vision they are reading for the first time before a bemused audience more interested in kitu kidogo than superhighways and free ports!

Lawyer Kibe Mungai

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