Both fact and legend agree that The Democratic Republic of Congo is potentially one of the richest countries on earth as far as natural resources are concerned.
It is a place seemingly blessed with every type of mineral, yet consistently rated lowest on the UN Human Development Index, where even the more fortunate live in grinding poverty. This state of affairs is not by accident, it is a scheme by the elite to keep the multitudes in subjugation in perpetuity.
This configuration is repeated all over the world, and Kenya is not in absolution. This is even more endemic where there are natural resources such as oil, gold, diamonds and the like, and a small privileged clique wants to keep a tight grip on them. The ruling elite knows that if they use the country’s wealth to empower the people, the people will start demanding accountability, and this will jeopardize the “chose few.”
Kenya has done well as a non-mineral economy in Africa. However, it has not been spared the jinx of subjugation by poverty. The ruling class likes it when people remain poor, because it is easy to control hungry people.
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It is easy to condition needy, hungry people like Ivan Pavlov’s dogs. It makes for high drama when mases of hungry people queue for hours to receive Sh100 from a politician, and even more incomprehensible because these masses are beholden of the same characters when it comes to voting day.
We may not have stuck commercial oil, but in Kenya, politicians brandish the power of name dropping and the hawking of big dollar tenders in place of diamond and oil concessions to both local and international vendors in return for commissions. The net effect is that undeserving vendors end up bagging big dollar tenders, which they can’t deliver, or flounder with very substandard results to the detriment of the population while a small clique of politicians lounge in milk and honey.
In absolute monarchies like Saudi Arabia and Brunei, the oil feed belongs to a few princelings within reach of the throne. In Kenya, tenders and big government jobs are the preserve of those near the ruling elite.
It is for this reason that the Auditor General has published audit reports that have shown Members of the National Assembly appointing their kin to CDF jobs, and in some absurd cases, their spouses. In one incongruity, a governor had appointed his mistress to the cabinet.
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This keeps many deserving people locked out from the government system as a deliberate commission; meritocracy has become unfashionable. United Nations special rapporteur Prof. Philip Alston has argued that the persistence of extreme poverty is a political choice made by those in power.
This farcicality was bourgeoned by the 2010 constitution that made Kenyans “the most represented people in the world.” All these elected representatives have a feeling of entitlement, and that is why from Cabinet Secretaries, Members of parliament, Governors, and even MCAs, all feel entitled to overlap and obstruct in our highways. There is no bigger currency in Nairobi like that of dropping a name of some powerful politician.
This false status cannot be sustained unless people are kept poor and hold those in positions of leadership in awe. As long as you will never bump into your local MP aboard the SGR to Mombasa, his name will forever be hallowed. Today, MCAs want to be picked by their chauffeured cars from the airport because they are “honorable.” Of course to the middleclass, this makes for high comedy and is an interminable source of social media ridicule.
But the tragedy in a country with a social construct like Kenya is that the middle class is just a spectator class, yet they are the ones that sustain social expenditure by the government. Revenue authorities are yet to net revenue from low income earners, and therefore concentrate on salaried individuals and businesses.
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The richest of the rich pay nothing to run the country. Big business, like anywhere else in the world, don’t like paying taxes, and in nations like Kenya where political namedropping yields instant immunity, only SMEs pay meaningful tax to sustain government operations. On the other hand, the informal sector, the majority, is too messy and fragmented for revenue authorities to deal with.
Yet, it is the masses in Kibera, Kawangware and Kariobangi that vote for politicians in droves, after inducements of small monies and “unga.” It is in these circumstances that the middle class becomes victim of a conspiracy between the very poor on the one hand, and the very rich and politicians on the other hand, yet it’s the middle class that sustains the two. I therefore submit that poverty is a political industry. Politicians will come up with “end poverty” white elephants projects, yet evidence has shown that all “poverty alleviating” schemes are perpetual, and politicians want it that way; it is their sustenance.
Mr Karugu is a strategy and analytics consultant based in Nairobi. [email protected]