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The new human species driving the Kenyan economy

FINANCIAL STANDARD
By XN Iraki | September 14th 2021
In Kenya, Homo economicus has taken over the country. [Courtesy]

The stages of modern humankind, according to evolutionists from the earliest to the most recent, are Homo habilis (handyman), Homo erectus (upright man) and Homo sapiens (intelligent man) and Homo sapiens sapiens (more intelligent and technologically savvy). 

Writing on this does not in any way mean I endorse evolution theory. 

And now there is a new human species that has emerged from its four predecessors - “Homo economicus.”

This most recent species is driven by economics - the desire to accumulate wealth and enjoy higher living standards without necessarily working for it.

While the other species worked hard, Homo economicus is averse to work. This is why terms like deals, arbitrage, corruption, rent-seeking, and smart working are so common nowadays. 

In Kenya, Homo economicus has taken over the country. Like the Delta variant of coronavirus, this is the most predominant species.

Up to around 1990, there were few species of Homo economicus. What made this species so dominant within such a short period of time? 

One was the liberalisation of the economy, where the invisible hand of the market was allowed to do its work.

Remember soko huru (free market) in the early 1990s? Two was political liberalisation. Remember multipartism around the same time? The two conspired to make Homo sapiens think more about money.

Remember when all services were offered by the government, from medical to education and extension services, among others? 

With liberalisation, we had to learn how to fend for ourselves and convert into Homo economicus.

With liberalisation, we had to learn how to fend for ourselves. [Courtesy]

Political liberalisation, or democracy, had to be funded. Some people realised you could make money through politics. Getting elected became an easy route to Homo economicus. Hefty salary raises for our MPs come into mind.  

Let’s admit there were a few species of Homo economicus roaming our country before liberalisation, courtesy of early encounters with wazungus (whites).

Such species got a modern education, which opened their eyes to what it means to be a Homo economicus. Later, they learnt to use politics to gain more wealth and safeguard it. 

Feeling the pains of economic liberalisation, the small man on the streets and in the rural areas had no choice but to convert into a Homo economicus.

It is, therefore, not so surprising that small and medium enterprises became the mainstay of the economy.

Add the shrinkage in land acreage, and becoming a Homo economicus was not an option.

Note that some of the most ardent converts into Homo economicus status are from crowded regions like Central Kenya and Kisii in Nyanza?  

Two other factors catalysed the evolution of Homo sapiens sapiens to Homo economicus. Mass education is one.

With the introduction of the 844 system of education and the removal of the A level, more Kenyans got access to higher education, the best converter into Homo economicus.

What is preached in school more than the gospel of money? Even the preachers of the real gospel have been sucked into the gospel of Homo economicus.  

My religion teacher, the late Reverend Fred Welch, taught us that materialism is a religion; it’s the religion of Homo economicus. This does not stop us from holding parallel faiths. 

Even the younger generation is now Homo economicus. Masses of young men and women know the sweetness of money but not the drudgery of earning it. It’s easier to learn about money than to earn it.

Masses of young men and women know the sweetness of money but not the drudgery of earning it. [Courtesy]

It’s easier to spend it than earn it. That is why stealing, violence and fraud are common. 

Globalisation also catalysed the promotion of Homo sapiens sapiens to Homo economicus.

Exposed to the media, movies and travel, we started talking the language of money, the mother tongue of Homo economicus.

Noted remittances are the biggest foreign exchange earner? Remember the structural adjustment programmes and Washington’s consensus driving liberalisation at the global level in the 1980s?  

The predominance of Homo economicus is what has made our economy so vibrant compared with our neighbours.

But it has had the unintended consequences of inequality and nepotism. The hard-nosed Homo economicus has no human face; it’s all about money.

They defy the constraints of traditions, religions and even regulations. 

In the run-up to next year’s polls, economics has become the hottest debate among the leading contenders, each proposing their economic model.

Getting economic issues in our headlines is the best evidence that the era of Homo economicus is here. We now must gloom Homo economicus and remind him that money does not grow on trees and that there are laggards in evolution and taking care of each other is noble.

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