Complacent middle class has abdicated its duty to society

In recent times, nothing has been more prevalent on the lips of Kenyans than the incessant discourse on the ever-rising cost of living.

It's a lament that echoes across the nation as individuals and families struggle to make ends meet. As the government acknowledges this issue, it reminds Kenyans that a quick solution to the cost-of-living challenges is not on the horizon.

In the words of the renowned theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, "The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children." The high cost of living is a palpable pain for Kenyans, yet we cannot let it run us down. The pain can be alleviated in a short time.

As a member of numerous social media groups, I have actively engaged in discussions that delve into why developing countries, often referred to as Third World countries, find it exceedingly difficult to rein in the cost of living. I focus on four specific facets of this issue, with a particular reference to the middle class.

First and foremost, the middle class finds itself ensnared by the wealthy ruling elite. It's the middle class that plays a pivotal role in formulating policies, including those that contribute to the high cost of living. Governments of developing countries such as Kenya have great policies and laws generated by the middle class but are wasted. Society can't misuse or waste the brains of the middle class and economically survive.

A few people immensely benefit from collapsing economies while the majority drop to worse status. Unfortunately, some among the middle class tend to favour the wealthy elite who prioritise power over the well-being of the populace. This type of wealth-rich individuals often exert their influence over the middle class, instilling fear of punitive repercussions should they dissent.

Secondly, approximately half of the middle class in Kenya abstains from voting. As Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the famed philosopher, noted, "Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains." Many of the middle class hold positions as bureaucrats in both government and private companies, and they tend to safeguard their social status by abstaining from participating in elections they perceive as mere rubber stamps for pre-determined outcomes. Consequently, when economic conditions deteriorate, they fail to muster a strong dissenting voice, unlike the lower class, who are more inclined to take to the streets in protest.

Thirdly, a significant proportion of middle-class workers are strategically positioned within various government and social sectors. Armed with a solid education, extensive experience, and international exposure, they often engage in consultancy services or run their enterprises, allowing them to weather the storm of the rising cost of living. Their resilience and patience outlast that of the lower class, who lack such financial reserves to draw upon during times of economic turmoil.

Fourth, a considerable portion of the middle class possesses the analytical skills to discern when social systems are on the verge of collapse. They can foresee an uncertain future, thanks to their experience and academic acumen.

Philosopher Albert Camus says, "Freedom is nothing but a chance to be better". The middle class operates within legal systems controlled by the wealthy elite, which can lead them to either self-censor or withdraw from active civic engagement. However, its freedom depends on creating a freer society for themselves and ordinary citizens.

As a result of these compounding factors, the middle class often resorts to online rants without the capacity to organise offline to champion alternative policies and actions. Consequently, they remain powerless in the face of the high cost of living, inadvertently serving the interests of the wealthy ruling elite.

The middle class, given their position and influence, can play a pivotal role in shaping policies that lead to a more equitable and just society. The middle class should consistently provide insights and realistic strategic goals to the ruling elite on how to build a truly human society in which the cost of living does not suffocate those who live by slender means or disadvantage people who have earned their living with unjustified taxes.

-Dr Mokua is Executive Director, Loyola Centre for Media and Communication

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