Hustling is not new, only that its status has been elevated by economic realities. Even among our traditional societies, hustling existed. There have always been some members of the society at its periphery.
Most communities had chiefs and families at the top. Below that were other members of the society, the hustlers. Some societies had traders as the middle class but in most cases the middle class did not exist; you were either in upper class or lower class - a hustler.
Strangely, slavery was not common, we lived in rare freedom. We only feared natural forces like thunder and witchcraft. Hustling as we know it today was a byproduct of the modern economic system and its classes based on what one owns.
Traditionally we shared most assets, including land. This sharing reduced hustling to a minimum, everyone worked for the common good. Yet there was no tragedy of the commons, where land or commonly owned resources are over exploited. We had learnt to exploit natural resources sustainably.
Elinor Ostrom won her Nobel Prize in economics for analysing how traditional societies managed their resources sustainably. Part of her work was among the Maasai community.
Have you noted that in most communities’ forests and mountains were sacred? They knew those were the sources of rivers, medicinal plants and life.
The communal ownership of land made it easy for the European colonialists to get it, no one really owned it. This marked the start of modern hustling with owner of factors of production getting the lion’s share of the profits. The plantations needed labour.
The modern economy ensures that hustlers are left with just enough money to continue hustling. Communists tried to end this system; they failed after 70 years.
After independence we grandly took over the new hustling system, best espoused by slums next to affluent neighbourhoods. We could argue that today’s affluent-hustler relationship closely mirrors the relationship between chief and their subjects in colonial times.
Could this explain why capitalism has entrenched itself in African countries despite its apparent contradiction with our traditional system and communal ownership of assets?
In traditional societies, hustlers could not become ‘sonkos’; chiefdoms and their royal lineage belonged to certain families. Today we get an illusion that hustlers can become ‘sonkos’. The reality is that we are becoming more like traditional societies with hardened class systems and minimum leakage from one class to the other. It may be the reason we are warming up to political dynasties.
Taxation, welfare system and public education ought to shift citizens from hustling to ‘sonkolism’ or middle class. That does not seem to have worked as expected in the West and in Kenya. Why else has hustling become a way of life?
Traditional hustling still exists among some communities today, but it’s fast being supplemented by modernism. It still echoes in chamas, where like-minded, mostly women, come together to try and pool resources to escape hustling. It seems whether you extrapolate into history or forward into the future, hustling is found somewhere.