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Kenya's middle class must now take up its responsibility

By | January 13th 2012 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

Paul Mwangi

Greek philosopher Aristotle, writing 2,362 years ago, addressed himself to the issue of the political stability of nations. In his view, every state is made up of three elements or classes. "One class is very rich, another very poor, and a third is a mean", he wrote in his book ‘Politics’.

Aristotle said the rich class never learns, even at school, the habit of obedience. On the other hand, he said, the very poor, who are the opposite extreme, are too degraded. "So that the one class cannot obey, and can only rule despotically; the other knows not how to command and must be ruled like slaves", he wrote.

He said that the rich and poor classes were so extremely apart, and were in such conflict, that none could rule the other. The rich despise the poor, and the poor envy the rich.

"The poor and the rich quarrel with one another, and whichever side gets the better, instead of establishing a just or popular government, regards political supremacy as the price of victory", he said.

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Aristotle called for a middle way, one between the very rich and the very poor, which he called "the mean". These are the class of citizens who "have a moderate and sufficient property", being not poor nor too rich.

According to Aristotle, these citizens were free from factions and bias, supported neither the rich nor the poor, and prevented either of them from dominating the other. They act as arbitrators between these classes.

From 350 BC, it became mandatory for each nation aspiring to political stability to develop a large middle class. Acting to prevent the excesses of either the rich or the poor, the middleclass came to be known as "the bulwark against revolution".

Sadly, after the middleclass saved the country from the military coup d’ etat and popular uprisings that were witnessed across Africa, it is today the greatest threat to the survival of this nation. The middle class, of which I am a part of, has abdicated all responsibility to this country and entered into a conspiracy with the very rich to suppress and dominate the poor.

Take for example the issue of cost of living facing this country. The middle class has stood aloof from this debate and not required Government put together meaningful programmes to save the poor from starvation.

Neither are we ready to support what initiatives are brought to force Government to do so. When Hon Jakoyo Midiwo led a group of MPs to force the Minister of Finance to rein in runaway rates of interest by the banks, we the middle class was silent.

How we’ve sunk

This is despite rates of interest being charged are threatening to wipe out whatever gains the middleclass has made in the last nine years. Coming to think of it, the middle class has never been there when the country needed us. We have watched as the rich have pursued policies for domination of the poor, even when those policies are a threat to us as a middleclass.

According to Aristotle’s political theory, the values of the country should be those of the middle class. It is for the middle class to determine the best way to establish an equitable society then require the other classes to adhere to those values.

Instead, we take on the values of the very rich and follow them as the values of the country. But these values of the rich are tailored and directed for one single objective, the suppression and domination of the poor.

The reason permanent change keeps eluding this country is because the middle class has never developed or at least identified with any values that can bring about that change. After every election we go back exactly where we were when we first started talking of change.

Kenya is collapsing under the weight of graft and ethnicity, but the middleclass is silent, and often altogether absent. We don’t want to talk against any of these vices, lest we annoy the rich class which we have allowed to dominate our thoughts, conscience and freedoms.

When I was appointed as the legal affairs advisor to the Prime Minister, one of the criticisms I received in accepting the appointment was that my acceptance was not in conformity to the political ambitions of a member of the rich class.

This criticism showed me the debasing depth that we as a middle class have sunk to the point we even make decisions on our professional or even personal lives, based on how well we please the rich.

If the Kenya middle class is what is expected in political theory to be the stabilising factor of this country, then we are in problems. What a responsible middle class should have done, or at least should do so now that the country is at a crossroad, is lay down the values necessary to secure the future of this country.

Once we have identified these values, then we must commit ourselves to them and adopt them as the values of the middle class and the whole country. After this we shall be able to participate in politics that is meaningful to the country and that will secure the change we want.

But so long as we as a middleclass keep serving the interests of the rich, and keep treating the destiny of this country as though it is tied to the destiny of individuals, then we shall fail to establish even the basic stability in this society which we ourselves need for a fulfilling life.

Writer is Legal Affairs Advisor to the Prime Minister.


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