Why meritocracy is the secret catalyst to economic growth

Economic recession and recovery concept. [Getty Images]

One of the underlying reasons why the hustler nation did well in the August 2022 polls was the dream that once in power, the movement's leaders would open the floodgates of meritocracy.

Just as its leader President William Ruto rose from a humble background to State House, so should anyone else. The dream is that we would all reach our potential and opportunities should be open to all. Something akin to the much talked about American dream. The nightmare part of it is muted.

The opportunities include education, jobs, privileges, and such things as national honours.

The dream should be cognisant of the laws of economics, that there is usually a shortage of good schools, jobs and even honours. But who should get the available opportunities and how they should be shared is the heart of the matter.

Traditionally, such opportunities were given out at birth. Your life, its longevity and quality depended on whether you were born into royalty or as an ordinary citizen.

The Greeks saw the folly of this system and invented democracy. But it took several centuries before democracy flowered. It took blood and chaos to allow citizens to choose who to lead them. Remember the French Revolution, the USA war of independence and closer home the Mau Mau and the struggle for multiparty democracy?

But for any door that opens to opportunities, there are always men and women trying to shut it. Not so surprising because every socio-political system favours the status quo and rarely do people give up such privileges willingly.

So is a new era of meritocracy nigh in Kenya?

We should define meritocracy more broadly, beyond the ranking in exams. The dictionary definition is: "A social system, society, or organisation in which people get success or power because of their abilities, not because of their money or social position."

Few human beings are born without talent or ability, only the majority never get a chance to nurture it. How can we know you have a talent in music or sports unless we expose you to them?

The starting point in building a meritocracy is to expose citizens, particularly children to as many opportunities as possible. They would eventually find their "home." That would allow them to compete with each other. Is that the spirit of CBC?

Given a level playing ground, whoever is selected for a job or even an honour can perform at the optimal level, and is more productive and emotionally satisfied. Using meritocracy, the whole society gains. We work at our best and society prospers. For meritocracy to flower, it must be supported by institutions. These include our families, governments, religions and schools.

Such reforms are driven by enlightened men and women who see beyond self and often across generations. Think of the missionaries who crossed seas to come and transform our country. Yet we find it hard for counties to employ highly qualified men from neighbouring countries.

Are institutions ready to drive meritocracy? Voting is a starting point as we form the government. Are voters well informed and do they vote out of conviction? Are leaders voted in open to new ideas? If there is a meritocracy in voting why do we have nominated leaders from MCAs to senators?

Our constitution refers to the face of Kenya. Is that a risk to meritocracy? Quota systems were once popular. It has cousins like affirmative action. Are these not threats to meritocracy?

The other threat to meritocracy is the two-thirds gender rule. Why a third? Why not a quarter or any other percentage? Governments through laws and policies should drive meritocracy.

I have repeatedly argued that if we can't use merit in giving out jobs in the public sector, the lottery would work very well! Are the families free to bring up their children without fear and want? Are they helped where they fail? Who gets bursaries and scholarships? How are single-parent families driving meritocracy?

Transparency drives meritocracy. There should be clear criteria on how jobs, educational opportunities and even honours are given out. A good example is the public service commission website gives the list of shortlisted candidates including principal secretaries. Why not list all applicants, the public can do its own shortlist.

Meritocracy is using your ability to work for the greater good of all. That has been the missing link in our work ethic. But work must be tied to incentives. Are hard workers, innovators or those who go beyond the call of duty rewarded?

Citizens of this country are waiting in great expectation for our new leaders to open the floodgates of meritocracy and irrigate every sector, institution and even our individual dreams. The evidence of meritocracy will be seen in accelerated economic growth leading to jobs, a higher standard of living, happier citizens and patriotism.

Lest we forget, the rise of powerhouses such as China or Singapore is based on meritocracy. As one Chinese official told me: "In getting to the top, you should use the stairs and not the escalator."

Starting from the cabinet to mashinani (grassroots) will meritocracy finally flower? Remember the antithesis of meritocracy is nepotism and its evils. Meritocracy is the secret catalyst of economic growth. Let us try it. Over to Kenya Kwanza.