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If Kenyans want equity and social justice for everyone, they should embrace socialism

COMMENTARY
By | August 22nd 2010

By Amukowa Anangwe

The referendum held recently was not an ordinary event but a silent revolution. The term revolution describes a historical period involving a change not only of regimes, but also a major reconstitution of the social, political and economic order.

There have been great revolutions like the American Revolution (1775-89), French Revolution (1789-1815), Russian Revolution (1917) and the Chinese Revolution (1949) that were bloody and dramatic, whereas the Kenyan one has been creeping in imperceptibly and peacefully over the last two decades, save for the post-election violence in early 2008.

If the portrayal of the new Constitution as revolutionary may seem an overstatement and far-fetched to the cynics, a critical examination of the document reveals monumental and epoch-making changes that are in the offing.

There are changes anticipated in the social, political and economic spheres, but the socialist content of the new Constitution needs to be highlighted and how it may reorient the Kenyan polity towards a socialist-oriented system.

The new Constitution has a high dose of socialism, and this should be perceived positively since Kenya is long overdue for structural transformation given the disappointment with the current economic system that has impoverished and marginalised many, and nurtured ethnicity, individualism and ‘a man-eat-man society’, as some would say.

For those unfamiliar with socialism, the notion has undergone fundamental re-formulation. Modern-day socialism is no longer about the dictatorship of the proletariat, nationalisation of the means of production, or centrality of State ownership and accumulation any more. The contemporary Chinese experience has shown that socialism can coexist conveniently with a modicum of moderated capitalism. Nonetheless, socialism is still about the enhancement of human dignity, equity, social justice, inclusiveness, human rights, and protection of the poor and disadvantaged groups in society, as indeed now enshrined in the new Constitution under Article 10 (b). To understand the socialist character of the new Constitution, the principles of equity and social justice are briefly explained.

On the one hand, equity signifies equal treatment for all, equality of opportunity and the full realisation of potential by the citizenry without hindrance on account of poverty, poor education, parental background and other environmental constraints. Equity is not about equality, and the latter is not even desirable for the good of society that seeks to prosper, and generate wealth. However, there are degrees of inequality in society which threaten its legitimacy, stability and result in widespread alienation, strife, and misery for many. Therefore, a desirable and just State is one of moderate inequality, and where nobody is allowed to fall into destitution, even though others are free to get rich.

On the other hand, social justice acquires relevance in a society that is highly unjust, like Kenya is presently, and it is a term used usually by socialists to justify extensive income redistribution and creation of an egalitarian society. As a principle, social justice is geared to ensure all persons access basic human needs, regardless of differences on account of economic disparity, gender, race, ethnicity, citizenship, religion, age, and disability. This also includes the eradication of extreme poverty and illiteracy, as well as the creation of equality of opportunity.

A related provision in the new Constitution under Chapter Four, Article 43, is on economic and social rights which are patently socialist.

The realisation of equity, social justice and social and economic rights as provided in the new Constitution would require a different policy environment which the Kenyan state has not been able to create since independence. Beyond Kenya, there are important lessons to learn from the socialist regimes.

It is only a socialist State that has so far proved to be effective and willing to bringing about a free, just and egalitarian society through equitable development, redistribution and sharing of wealth in order to ensure equity, social justice, human dignity and inclusiveness as envisaged in the new Constitution. However, a capitalist State is inherently incapable of ensuring equity and social justice because, as Karl Marx pointed out, it is an instrument of select few, especially the capitalist class, whose preoccupation is to exploit the majority and accumulate wealth. Thus, if indeed Kenyans want equity and social justice for all to be realised, then they need to rethink on the current economic system and to embrace socialism as the practical way to ensure equity and social justice for all.

For instance, if Kenya embraces socialism, the policy agenda would have to change fundamentally with a focus on ensuring free education at all levels, free health services, gender equity and economic empowerment of women, subsidised agricultural inputs to promote peasant agriculture, adequate water supply in the arid and semi-arid lands, guaranteed markets for the agricultural produce and livestock and their products, food security for the poor, heavy investment in the Jua Kali and small-scale enterprises sector to expand employment opportunities, poverty alleviation programmes for low-income groups, redistribution of land, universal social security schemes for vulnerable groups and unemployed, and workers-friendly measures including support for the trade unions, democratisation of the workplace and strengthening labour laws to protect the workers and their jobs. This would imply the role of the State has to expand in economic and social spheres as a necessity.

The writer teaches political science at the University of Dodoma in Tanzania

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