The hard reality about old money and old wealth

Aerial view of Nairobi city. [File, Standard]

One of the most popular terms in Kenya is "old money." I think it's a misnomer, the correct term should be "old wealth".

Few have defined old money. My definition is any wealth passed from one generation to another. It can be cash but it's usually assets that generate more cash. That includes land, buildings and in rare cases jewellery or art.

Old wealth or money is a preserve of only a few. The majority start from a clean slate. If I picked a group of ten Kenyans, how many inherited land, rental houses or cars from their parents? One in ten would be too high a percentage.

Many Kenyans who are in the middle or upper class are the first in their generation to own a permanent house, drive a car, take a flight abroad, graduate from university or collect rent.

They do all they can to perpetuate that lifestyle. That is one reason private schooling is so expensive. The non-indigenous Kenyans long mastered the science of this self-perpetuation. Social engineering is real.

The problem has always been how to start the perpetuation, as a hustler without money. Traditionally, it was through a good education with the minister's sons and daughters in the same class as peasants.

Working smart

A good education was the route to upward mobility. Lately, it's through working smart, a euphemism for taking shortcuts or coded corruption. Few believe hard work will take you far in life.

That's why the hustler narrative was so persuasive. In it, citizens saw a route to upward mobility. Did they factor in the time?

In reality, it takes a generation to shift from one socio-economic class to another, unless one rides on old money or wealth. Such quantum jumps lead to financial instability, just as energy in quantum mechanics.

I doubt if hustlers are that naive; all they want is an opportunity to transform their lives even if it takes a generation. Is the next regime listening?

Will the next government open these windows of opportunities for all, either through good education or entrepreneurship opportunities?

Will the Competence-Based Curriculum (CBC) make our education globally competitive, a pathway to upward mobility? Will it be punctuated by meritocracy? Will the new government make it easier to do business and scale up our hustles? That is not asking too much from the next regime.

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