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Economic deprivation is a lethal tool that helps the wicked to rule

By Patrick Muinde | Jan 22nd 2022 | 6 min read

Workers at Kapuodho gold mine in Rongo, Migori County. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

Monday 17 was Martin Luther King Jr. Day. This is the only federal holiday in the US designated as a day of service to encourage all Americans to volunteer and improve their communities.

By a stroke of coincidence, somebody special to me had bought me Martin Luther King’s Jr. classic Why We Can’t Wait as a Christmas present. This has been my first book to complete in 2022 out of my annual target of at least 15 books.

The central theme in Why We Can’t Wait is the significance of the non-violent protest against racial segregation in Birmingham City, Alabama, in the summer of 1963. It would appear the Birmingham protests emboldened the Negroes’ resolve to fight for social and economic inclusion.

Also, it pricked the national conscience to the deep and entrenched evils of racial segregation. In the views of King, the centuries of enslavement and economic deprivation of the Negroes had destroyed the will to stand-up for their rights to dignity and fair treatment in a prosperous America.

In simple terms, the easiest way to abuse a group or a particular constituency in society is to make them feel and believe they are powerless. Economic deprivation is one of the most lethal weapons to achieve this by extractive political institutions. To put this subject into context, there has been a widely rumoured existence of ‘Deep State’ in Kenya that has power to influence national election outcomes.

As a consequence, attempts to enlist many Kenyans as voters in the upcoming elections suffered from huge voter apathy last November. It is yet to be seen if this apathy has subsided in the 21 days ongoing mass voter registration.

On a popular morning radio show this past Tuesday there was a strange public engagement. The gist of this debate was that some political aspirants are giving people packets of unga and bars of soap so that they could register to vote. Listening to the callers, it would appear that the disillusionment of voters is real out there. Many wondered what difference it will make given that the likely choices are the very same ones that have dominated public life and presided over the mediocrity we suffer from.

A hopeless generation

Naturally, one wonders at what point did we sink this low as a society that folks are willing to forego their sovereign right to choose whom to govern them just like that? Why is it that for almost four decades there is no breed of a new generation of leaders to inspire hope and drive change? If the upcoming generations do not excise their minds and rights freely to choose who their leaders are, who then will ever change this sorry state we complain of? More importantly, is it true that their exists an institution called ‘Deep State’ that rations the air we breathe and the freedoms we ought to enjoy?

From behavioural economics and psychology, we could argue for some reasoned and/or logical arguments to explain this phenomenon. One, the fact that learned and arguably informed folks can knowingly opt to forego their inalienable right to choose their leaders in a clear indicator of a people trapped in fear and lack of will.

An old schoolmate calls it the ‘slavery of the mind’. There exists a lot of empirical evidence in the world of finance and psychology that the greatest and most sophistically engine of growth is the human mind.

From a production point of view, there is not a single product or service that exists today that was not first an idea in someone’s mind. Similarly, any change in society must first be conceived as an idea in someone’s mind within that society.

The late Myles Monroe wrote that the wealthiest place on earth is at the cemetery. There lies the greatest ideas that were never turned into reality; great leaders that could have transformed societies that never came to be; and weak men and women who failed to rise up to their generational obligations to demand fair and just political and economic institutions for the sake of future generations.  

Two, on the question of the dominance of only a few individuals on our public life, there can only be two logical explanations to this. First is that of failed political leadership. Whichever way one look at it, all models of leadership informs us that wise and great leaders are measured not by the length of their stay, but by the character of their conduct, impact in society and the greatness of other leaders they helped nurture.

Great leaders know when to hang up the boots and pass the baton. A true legacy can only endure across generations when shared and passed on to a new breed of leaders. Tragically, this seems to be an extreme rarity in this side of the world. The second part of the explanation can only be that the young generation has abdicated their solemn obligation to society and failed to bring their ‘A-game to bear in nation-building.

In most of our traditional African folklore, there is a saying that is loosely translated to something like ‘a bull does not roar in the valley/ridge forever’.

Power is never given

In the animal kingdom, especially within the cat family (lions, leopards and tigers), the young males have to dethrone the older ones from their territories in order to perpetuate a new generation. If they can’t win individually, then they join forces to conquer territory for each before going their separate ways.

In the political circles, even the president has been clear that political power is never given. It has to be taken through wit and strategy. The onus is on the generations of the 1970s through 2002 to prove that they are a worthy and credible alternative.

On the final question of the existence of some dark evil forces that determine the outcome of elections in this country is first and foremost a fallacy to instill fear and a sense of powerlessness. In warfare, of which political contests have all the attributes of war, psychological mind games are far more lethal than real guns and missiles.

The architecture of our Constitution has no such institution known as deep-state or shallow-state. It only has cadres for state officers, civil servants, public officers, constitutional and administrative institutions with clearly defined mandates, roles and responsibilities.

These people have names or physical identities that are verifiable and must be called to account. This does not mean that I am naïve not to know such machinations do happen around town. But it is the greatest abdication of our solemn duty and obligations to the State to accept of their omnipotent power.

In psychology, the corrupt and those that sabotage public good to serve personal greed are often persons of low intellect and self-esteem. On the contrary, honest men and women are confident of their own abilities and trust the universe to fulfil their desires for self and society.

It, therefore, follows that, if a cabal of a few evil men and women can connive to pervert public good for selfish ends, then it is also equally possible for men and women of goodwill to unite and stand up for that which is true, right and just.

In the circumstances, it calls for individual introspection and collective responsibility to chose on which side of the divide we stand.

More than five decades later, the world honours Martin Luther King Jr not because he was a great president of America, but because he understood the times and chose to stand on the right side of history.

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