O.J.H. Oswago: Why are Kenyan leaders so busy courting class warfare?

AFTER REPORTING AND analysing Kenya’s post-election violence The Economist (March 15) concluded that “tribal war may one day be followed by class war”, unless widespread poverty is reduced.

The magazine reached this ominous conclusion after juxtaposing the affluence in Karen and the Dickensian squalor of Kibera, two geographically contiguous locations in Nairobi. Implicit here is that such widespread disparity is replicated throughout the country.

Is this puerile nonsense from righteous and biased Western media? Would we prefer ethnic conflagration to class warfare or the reverse given a choice?

Class warfare results from dialectical contradictions; ethnic ambitions and stereotypes are transcended and replaced by objective identification and ruthless pursuit of class interests.

Generally, the oppressive, corrupt and materially exhibitionist layers of society are targeted for elimination or re-education by the previously oppressed.

TO DATE, THE PROJECTION OF OUT-comes in class antagonism is victory for the downtrodden classes — complete destruction of the current ruling structures and classes. Such an outcome can be ghastly. The Chinese cultural revolution in the mid 1960s is an example.

What objective material conditions produce class warfare? Just a sample: A minority and predatory ruling elite. Corruption is endemic. This elite is culturally aloof. Mass poverty. Income inequality on a vast scale. Alliances between the local elite and external capital. State institutions and instruments — police, Judiciary, taxation, prisons, collectively terrorise and exploit the citizens.

Others are enlistment of religious aristocracy into the ruling circles and interests. Total emasculation of State institutions by various devices like politicisation of the military, the police, the Judiciary etc. For the very poor, life is Hobbesian — nasty, brutish and short.

But why could the Kenyan situation create violent class antagonism, while elsewhere political pluralism would be sufficient antidote to mass uprising?

What effort at raising class consciousness would cause ordinary folk to forswear ethnic solidarity in order to embrace a pan-ethnic hope?

A tantalising conclusion is that class struggles died with the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the supposed triumph of liberal capitalism, particularly, the spectacular success in China of “socialism with Chinese characteristics”, Deng Xiaoping’s metaphor for capitalism.

If the matter is that clear-cut, was the Economist’s commentary rational, mischievous or merely malevolent?

And, assuming for a moment, that the magazine made a serious rational observation to arrive at this conclusion, would the spectre of class conflict be preferable to the spectre of tribal slaughter?

The power of supposition or assumption is what drives strategic scenario construction i.e. building, a hypotheses on something(s) taken for granted. It is advisable for Kenya’s policy formulators and politicians to give greater credence to the Economist’s views — that our current socio-economic condition could lead to class war at some point in the future.

To avoid an apocalyptic class struggle, some policy initiatives need to be effected.

These include a completely revamped land policy and tenure, radical power devolution including demystifying the presidency, waging war on corruption, reducing regional and personal income inequality, expanding access to opportunity, deliberately extending democratic space, and observing the rule of law.

In tandem, rapid economic growth must be pursued vigorously and a more egalitarian distributive mechanism devised. The provision of adequate and quality health, education and other social safety net services require resources that may be unavailable, but, whatever it takes, this must be done.

IN HIS BOOK, ‘AGE OF TURBULENCE’, Alan Greenspan recognises that concentration of wealth and inequality create serious security implications, and radical policy initiatives are advisable to ameliorate its adverse effects.

Now, even if we do not end up with class war, the current material condition of Kenya is fraught with danger. This is an environment ideal for religious extremism, impunity of officialdom, ethnic enmity, fickle law enforcement, military coups, and general indiscipline.

The danger is this: The above demands a strong charismatic leader, with far-sighted vision, with the capacity to unite and rally the country towards the economic revival required, to create growth and wealth distribution. The hope is that no such leadership quality is currently lurking underground, undetected and busily fermenting revolutionary ire.

Maj Oswago is a lawyer and management consultant.

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