Connect with us

Op-Eds

Fiddling, while Kenya burns

The Jubilee administration gambled on mega-infrastructure projects to expand the economy. It has borrowed heavily to finance them. Over the past five years, it has conjured up a misleading set of economic data that paints a rosier picture than the grim reality now confronting the country. What is this fantasy in aid of? By DAVID NDII

Published

on

Fiddling, while Kenya burns

After all the hullaballoo, and the brazen manipulation of the vote on Uhuru Kenyatta’s presidential veto of parliaments proposal to defer VAT on fuel for another two years, you would be forgiven to think that the government scored big in the battle to shore up its terrible and rapidly deteriorating finances. It did not. Much to the contrary, the melodrama was an inconsequential sideshow.

Alongside the president’s memorandum, the Treasury tabled a supplementary (i.e. revised) budget that which elicited screaming headlines: the government had “slashed” by a whopping 55 billion shillings from Sh. 3.026 trillion to 2.971 trillion. A critical reader would immediately have noticed that a 1.8 percent reduction hardly qualifies to be a “slashing” — trimming would have been accurate. Of note, the supplementary budget the Treasury did not provide a complete budget revision, but only a high level expenditure summary with five budget lines.

But the Treasury also published its regular Budget Review and Outlook (BROP) paper that contains the detailed budget data. As is customary with our National Treasury, the numbers in the two tables are not identical. Even the numbers in different tables of the BROP are not identical, although the differences are not material— it’s mostly sloppiness, and occasionally, sleight of hand. I follow the BROP figures (See table below) as they are more comprehensive and also the more up to date of the two, if only by two days. Two things to note.

Government Fiscal Projections FY 2018/19 - 2021/22

First, the expenditure cuts are less than the revenue forecast which is revised downwards by Sh. 96 billion, while expenditure is revised downwards by Sh. 83 billion. Even though the 10 billion difference is not such a big sum, it’s unclear why the government would go to such lengths to table an austerity budget that increases the deficit.

More significantly, the revenue forecast is still unrealistic. The budget was based on revenue growth of 31 percent, comprising of 30 percent and 36 percent increase in tax and non-tax revenues respectively, which has now been scaled down to 25 percent, with tax and non-tax revenue forecast down to 24 and 28 percent respectively. These forecasts are out of touch with reality. Tax revenues increased only three percent and non-tax by 12 percent for a total revenue increase of four percent. This, as we will see shortly, is not an anomaly—it is a significant trend.

The budget was based on revenue growth of 31 percent, comprising 30 percent and 36 percent increase in tax and non-tax revenues respectively, which has now been scaled down to 25 percent, with tax and non tax revenue forecast down to 24 and 28 percent respectively. These forecasts are out of touch with reality.

In its current financial circumstances, it is not just sensible that the government be prudent, it is imperative. There will be no harm done if revenue exceeds target, but unrealistic revenue forecasts result in government spending money it does not have. This is how the government ends up accumulating pending bills, which, according to the private sector lobby KEPSA, are now in the order of Sh. 200 billion.

Trend growth gives you a revenue forecast of Sh. 1.55 billion. An optimistic one, assuming a most favorable economy and factoring in tax rises, would double the growth rate to 8 percent, still comes to Sh. 1.62 trillion. I would work with Sh.1.6 trillion.

In its current financial circumstances, it is not just sensible that the government be prudent, it is imperative…Unrealistic revenue forecasts result in government spending money it does not have…The government ends up accumulating pending bills… now in the order of KSh 200 billion.

Herein lies the problem. The Sh.1.6 trillion revenue forecast is Sh. 250 billion short of the revised recurrent budget. Interest cost (Sh. 400 billion), pensions (Sh. 90 billion) are non-discretionary (i.e. mandatory) and the wage bill (Sh. 444 billion) which does not give you much room to manoeuvre already add up to Sh. 930 billion. This leaves a balance of Ksh. 660 billion to fund counties (Sh. 367) and the national government’s operations and maintenance (O&M) outlays (Sh. 530 billion) totaling Ksh. 960 billion.

The only question here should be where the axe falls. There are only two options either the axe falls on the national government, or to share the cuts with the counties. The latter is obviously more sensible than the former. The equitable way of doing this is to net out the counties wage bill which is about Sh.140 billion, and share the balance proportionately. This math works out to 33 percent of the national governments O&M budget and the transfer to counties net of wage bill which translates to national government O&M budget of Sh. 202 and counties Sh.78 which means that the transfers to counties reduce from Sh. 376 to Sh. 218 billion. This is the reality that the government has refused to face. It should also be readily apparent that the tax measures that the government rigged through parliament are not a solution to its financial woes.

The Jubilee administration bet the farm on mega-infrastructure projects to expand the economy and has borrowed heavily to finance them. Infrastructure investments are supposed to crowd in productive private investment which in turn expands the tax base, which in turn generates the revenue to pay the debts. But far from increasing, the tax take is falling. The preliminary data treasury has published shows a sharp decline to 15.4 percent last financial year, down from 17 percent in the previous one. A 1.6 percentage-point decline in a year looks improbable— it is more likely that they have over-estimated GDP. This and the reason why, will be confirmed shortly. Still even the one percentage-point decline from 18 to 17 percent in five years is itself a serious problem. It translates to a forgone revenue of Sh. 77 billion in FY16/17 (see chart below). If we assume that the 15.4 figure is an underestimate and instead apply a revenue yield of 17 percent last year, the revenue yield gap drops to a more plausible Sh. 80 billion. Why?

Revenue to GDP ratio, % (LHS) and implied revenue gap Sh. billion (RHS)

Revenue to GDP ratio, % (LHS) and implied revenue gap Sh. billion (RHS)

First, a lot of the borrowed money was stolen outright and many, perhaps all the projects have been done at highly inflated costs. We still do not have any physical evidence of what we spent the proceeds of the first eurobond, Sh.190 billion (US$ 2.2 billion) proceeds of the first eurobond issue on. Government claims that the money was channeled into the development budget and absorbed in one financial year. Not only is it simply not possible to build things at that rate, the funding for all the projects done for that year is accounted for without the eurobond money. This is the reason that the special audit of the eurobond has never come out.

A lot of the borrowed money was stolen outright and many, perhaps all, of the projects have been done at highly inflated costs. We still do not have any physical evidence of what we spent the proceeds of the first Eurobond on…

The national investment rate has remained stagnant at about 18 percent of GDP, against a requirement of 25-30 percent of GDP. We also know that credit to the private sector collapsed suddenly three years ago, and has been comatose since. The credit market has become a pyramid scheme, where interest on government securities is re-invested in government securities. As with all pyramid schemes, this one too will come to grief.

In short, the reason why the revenue yield has declined is because the productive base of the economy has not expanded. The Jubilee administration bet the farm on a state of the art milking machine, even built a brand new shed to go with it, and now expects the cows to produce more milk. It is the same cows. And now the debt repayments and electricity bills are eating into the working capital forcing the farmer to cut back on feed. They now lament that the milkman (KRA) has a new machine but is still unable to produce more milk.

But the National Treasury’s growth projections are as panglossian as ever. In the original budget forecast, the nominal GDP expands from 7.7 trillion in FY16/17 (the latest actual data) to Sh. 12.6 trillion in FY20/21 a growth of 64 percent or 17 percent per year. Nominal GDP is the denominator used to calculate budget financial ratios. This translates to a real economic growth rate of 7.4 percent per year (this is obtained by applying an inflation adjustment known as GDP deflator. I have applied the average deflator for the last five years). Average growth rate for the last five years—5.56 percent. Growth has topped seven percent only once in the last thirty years— 2007. Now comes the remarkable part. In the revised projections, nominal GDP has been adjusted upwards to just under Sh. 13 trillion in FY20/21. It is conceivable that the mandarins are factoring higher inflation— one hopes so because otherwise it translates to a delusional eight percent per year growth rate. The reason for the sharp fall in the revenue ratio last year is now clear— GDP has been inflated on purpose.

What is this fantasy in aid of? Their purpose is to reduce the budget financial ratios without budget cuts. This way, they are able to “get away” with fiddling with the actual budget figures and still achieve “fiscal consolidation.” This year, the deficit in the revised budget is adjusted upwards by 14b from 603 to 622 billion but it as a ratio to GDP it declines from 6.3 to 6.1 percent on account of GDP being adjusted upwards by 321 billion. In FY21/22 the nominal GDP projection is jerked up 17 percent which excluding an inflation surge, brings the real growth rate for the period to 8.4 percent. This enables the mandarin to “bring down” the budget deficit 3.4 percent, even as expenditure grows by Sh.750 billion. A serious sensible projection would have projected 5 percent real growth. A 3.4 percent of GDP deficit based on this would have required expenditure to be adjusted downwards by Sh. 400 billion, or revenue to rise by similar amount or a combination of the two.

The budget, both the original and supplementary one, is best summed as “do nothing” strategy. If you are not up to changing reality, change the numbers.

We are compelled to wonder who this tomfoolery is meant for? It is not the public, they don’t get to see these numbers, let alone read and understand them. It cannot possibly be the IMF, the credit rating agencies or the markets. If anything, this is nothing short of showing the markets a middle finger. That to my mind, leaves only one constituency— their political bosses. The mandarins are telling them what they, the political bosses, want to hear.

My first column calling out the Jubilee’s administration fiscal recklessness, published in August 2014 was subtitled “Lessons from Ghana”.

Three days ago, the Ghanaian government announced that it was planning to issue $50 billion “century bonds” over the next few years, starting with a five to ten billion issue by the end of the year. A “century bond” is a bond with a hundred year maturity. Only three developing countries—China, Mexico and Argentina_ have sold century bonds. Ghana’s issue will be the biggest. A 10 billion dollar issue is a fifth of Ghana’s GDP and would cost a billion dollars in interest a year. The markets did not like the news. Immediately, the yields on Ghana’s eurobond yields shot up (which is another way of saying the value of its bonds fell) and the Cedi fell 2.6 percent. The Financial Times summed it up thus: “In capital market terms, this is no this is not just a moon shot, it’s a mission to Mars.” The FT story was headlined, “Someone tell Ghana this it isn’t 2017 anymore.”

If you are not up to changing reality, change the numbers. We are compelled to wonder who this tomfoolery is meant for? It is not the public, they don’t get to see these numbers, let alone read and understand them. It cannot possibly be the IMF, the credit rating agencies or the markets. If anything, this is nothing short of showing the markets the middle finger. That to my mind, leaves only one constituency— their political bosses. The mandarins are telling them what they, the political bosses, want to hear.

Argentina issued its century bond last May. The issue was oversubscribed four times. A year down the road, Argentina is in the grip of another financial meltdown. Inflation is raging at 3.5 percent a month, the Central Bank has raised the benchmark interest rate to 60 percent and the Peso, down 52 percent on the dollar this year, is still falling. What changed? In 2015 Argentina elected a new president who promised to impose macroeconomic discipline. Argentina’s legendary fiscal laxity has led to eight debt defaults, including the biggest sovereign default in history in 2002. The markets took the new president seriously. Earlier this year, he showed signs of backtracking — revising inflation target upwards and lowering interest rates. Market sentiment turned. Argentina had plenty of foreign exchange reserves, but within weeks it was looking for lifelines everywhere including its perpetual nemesis the IMF which it has approached for a US$ 50 billion bailout.

Someone needs to tell Jubilee this isn’t 2017 anymore.

See all comments
David Ndii

David Ndii is one of Kenya's leading economists and public intellectuals.

Continue Reading

Op-Eds

Slaying the Monster: How to Win the War on Corruption in Kenya

The Judiciary is under sustained assault from the Executive branch of government and buck-passing has come to distinguish Kenya’s war on corruption. Beyond the blame games, there exist opportunities for Kenyans to break the yoke of oppressive corruption and chart a new course towards a liberated future argues WILLY MUTUNGA.

Published

on

The social cost of corruption in this country is incalculable. It has emptied our ethical contents, hemorrhaged our economy, corroded and destabilized our politics.  It must be confronted directly and boldly, employing the full panoply of instruments of public education, sanction and restitution. Both administrative and legal measures must be summoned in this fight.

One significant but often ignored truth is that fighting corruption is primarily a political project. The political will leading that fight will only succeed if it is credible. Vehemence, however boisterous and loud; righteous but false indignation, however shrill, are all “a tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury signifying nothing.”

We must ponder. Why did wananchi undertake citizens’ arrest of corrupt officers when NARC (National Rainbow Coalition) came to power? Why did harambees, land allocations and the attendant corruption around public land die during the Kibaki years? If the link between harambees and corruption had long been established (see several Transparency International reports on this subject), why did we resurrect them in 2013, sometimes in total disregard of the law that prohibits public servants from conducting them?

The big question we pose, is do the political elite now leading the fight against corruption have the moral standing sufficient to win public credibility? If they do not then how can they win? My view is the lifestyle audit from the top that was promised a year ago would have come close to conferring that credibility. And that credibility will be long in coming until we clear the dark clouds surrounding issues like Eurobond, the Afya House Scandal, Laptop and Medical equipment leasing to name but a few and make public the sovereign debt for debate.

So, which arm of state is the most corrupt?

This is a false question that is at the core of the blame games being played over the “War on Corruption.”

Over two years ago when I still worked in the Judiciary, Hon Duale, the majority leader in the National Assembly and I, had an interesting spat on Twitter. He had posted a tweet decrying corruption in the Judiciary. I retorted that there was corruption in the Judiciary but not the magnitude found in Parliament. I believe very few people would doubt the enormity of corruption in the Executive and Legislative arms. One only needs to read the Auditor-General reports since independence to confirm this.

Historically, whereas the Judiciary has faced its own independent corruption challenges, part of this problem has been driven by the fact that the Judiciary has been an appendage of the colonial and postcolonial Executive. What is not common knowledge is that until 2010, the Judiciary was closely weaved into the structure and organization of government, listed as a Department of the Attorney General’s Office.

Staff were under the public service and the Judiciary was the place where ‘problematic’ civil servants were banished as punishment.

District Treasuries held Judiciary accounts (some are still in their control even though we began the delinking process). Ironically, since the Judiciary never dared stand up to the Executive, it did the latter’s bidding, but also created spaces for it to shake down litigants, the Judiciary well protected by the Executive in this form of corruption.

The state has always known who the corrupt judicial officers and staff are. The incorruptible ones have had to struggle against the pressure of the Executive and other forces to save their integrity. I believe that is the challenge the Judiciary faces in its quest for integrity and independence. Therefore, the issue is not which of the arms ( of government) is more corrupt but rather how the arms and their organs reflect the integrity and independence decreed by the Constitution.

“War on Corruption” is a National Project

For the “War on Corruption” to be operationally successful, it has to be a national project where the entire justice chain must work in coordination and in concert.  This requires that investigation (police), prosecution (Director of Public Prosecution), and the adjudication (Judiciary) should be seamless, effective, incorruptible, and focus on the national interest.

The National Council for the Administration of Justice (NCAJ), which the Honourable Chief Justice chairs, brings together representatives of the Executive (Attorney-General, DPP, Prisons, Inspector-General of Police) and representatives from civil society and the private sector. This provides the institutional framework for the attainment and monitoring of this objective.

It is the arena where approaches to the fight against corruption should be discussed and any outstanding issues resolved. If NCAJ worked properly, the public altercation that we have seen in this fight would not occur. It is the peer review chamber in the administration of justice where each of the agencies can be held to account.

There has been a consistent policy of blame games by the members of this chain for the administration of justice, that does not serve national interest. The investigations are supposed to be as thorough as the prosecution with the Judiciary promising no delays or compromises in its administration of justice. I believe it was also once suggested that the Inspector-General of Police, through the Director of Criminal Investigations, could utilize the services of the lawyers upfront to make sure that all the relevant and admissible evidence was collected. I believe it was also a practice that once the investigations were complete and the suspects given the chance to respond, the Office of the DPP would peruse the file to make sure the charges taken to court were in order and backed by evidence. Bail applications would be dealt with on this basis and there would be no applications for time to complete investigations, secure exhibits and so on. The NYS criminal prosecution (among others) clearly demonstrates the policies of the NCAJ, are not being adhered to.

The integrity of the organs and institutions in the entire chain for the Administration of Justice is premised on the integrity and independence of such organs and institutions. So who protects their independence? It is the organs and institutions themselves, the citizens, and other arms of state, the corporate sector, civil society and international interests.

All these organs and institutions face pressure from different quarters anyway, including ethnic communities, families, friends and other insidious demands. Politicians and their masters, the cartels and foreign interests, do not support the independence and integrity of these institutions and they seek continuously and consistently to capture and enslave them. Rarely, do they talk about their corruption, and politics of division and inhumanity. Indeed, when politicians attack institutions that have integrity they invariably do great job in guarding the integrity and independence of these institutions. The attacks by politicians can be construed as the frustration and failure on their part in their quest to enslave these institutions.

The Constitutional Oath of Office

Officers in the three arms and all organs of the State  swear to uphold the Constitution. Yet as soon as you are sworn in to serve, this duty seems to be constantly and summarily forgotten. Most politicians have not read the Constitution. If they did why would they argue publicly that one cannot be granted bail when charged with murder? Why would they be quiet about the right of appeal against decisions granting or denying bail? I am quite sure they could get basic constitutional education from the learned lawyers if they chose to be honest about the issue of bail. I have heard the two main ‘hand-shakers’ attack the Judiciary on issues of bail. How will they protect the integrity and independence of institutions if they constantly abuse and disrespect them? It seems using the Judiciary as a punching bag is not restricted to presidential petitions and their outcomes. The independence and integrity of institutions have to be nurtured by a culture of respect and dialogue.

The speeches of President Uhuru and the Right Honourable Raila Odinga in the recently concluded Multi-Sectoral National Anti-Corruption Conference profiled the Judiciary as the weakest link in the “War on Corruption.” It is a clearly predictable critique because the investigatory and prosecution processes are in the departments controlled by the Executive. Indeed, for the entire chain in the War on Corruption to work seamlessly and effectively the Executive must respect their integrity and independence. The Inspector-General of Police and the Office of the DPP must resist compromising their integrity and independence as decreed by the Constitution. Every institution under the Constitution has delegated powers from the Kenyan people. Protecting the human rights of the Kenyan people in the processes of investigating corruption and prosecuting it are cardinal considerations to bear in mind. Investigations and prosecutions must never be selective or politically motivated.

The speeches of President Uhuru and the Right Honourable Raila Odinga in the recently concluded Multi-Sectoral National Anti-Corruption Conference profiled the Judiciary as the weakest link in the “War on Corruption.”

It pains me when I hear Right Honourable Raila Odinga subvert the Constitution by arguing that suspects of murder and corruption must prove their innocence. The Constitution provides otherwise. Indeed, he knows that the provisions on bail in part are historically explained by the trials and tribulations he and other patriots went through in the courts captured by the Jomo Kenyatta-Moi-KANU dictatorships. I was shocked by his proposal in the said conference that suspects must prove their innocence and the courts, notwithstanding the provisions of the Constitution, must deny such suspects bail. President Uhuru, himself a beneficiary of soft bail from an international court that enabled him to run and campaign for office, earlier criticized the courts for giving soft bail terms. We are told that the courts must decide based on the will of the Executive notwithstanding the provisions of the Constitution and the Oath of Office taken by all judicial officers to uphold the Constitution and protect it. I hope that both our leaders never rue the day they uttered these words in the future. An independent Judiciary is critical to all politicians, as is indeed, to all citizens.

What has always surprised me is how those who attack and refuse to nurture the integrity and independence of institutions forget that they need those institutions more than the ordinary citizens. If as a politician or a cartel you enslave an institution, what guarantees you that your enemies, once in the same privileged position as you, will not use the institution against you? In this regard, all politicians and other interest groups should not influence (in any way) the integrity and independence of the Judiciary. They will not have to yell from the rooftops that “money has been poured (sic) or we are being finished” when their turn comes to answer the crimes they have committed. Judiciaries are temples of justice where the oppressed, discriminated, bullied, tortured, and intimidated run to. You do not want to run there and find your worst enemy at the entrance of the temple of justice!

Paying Lip Service to Corruption

Let us not pay lip service to War on Corruption. Let us not be selective in the prosecutions. Let us be consistent in our narratives in support of the War. What became of lifestyle audits that would start from the very top of our political leadership? Why, in the observation of the constitutional values of integrity, transparency, and accountability should we not make accessible all management and loan agreements, and details of our sovereign debt? Why do citizens have to go to court under Article 35 (freedom of information) of the Constitution to get these agreements and details? What is being hidden from the Kenyan public? It is on the basis of this disclosure that we can have a national dialogue on what these debts are, and who will ultimately pay for them.

I believe some are not even legally recoverable.

Under the 2010 Constitution, the State cannot live to its historical reputation of “Siri Kali/Vicious Secret” on matters of finance, security, investments, and the use of people’s resources. Kenyans must still demand the implementation of the Constitution in its entirety in their quest to change our unacceptable and unsustainable status quo.

The War on Corruption in Kenya is also an intra-elite struggle about looting, succession, corruption, and how fruits of corruption are shared. The War is also about struggles between national cartels and foreign interests. Like any other war it is an industry where profits are found in buying elections, oiling the machinery of state violence, and investing the ill-gotten gains internally and externally. The corrupt have no loyalty to any country or relationship. The elite hate the people they rule. How does one view all these merchants of death in any other way? The so-called illicit economy (money laundering, piracy, terrorism, human trafficking, trafficking in human body parts, counterfeit, corruption, wildlife crimes) co-exists with legitimate ones – there is no distinction. Legal corruption (such as exploitation) is a twin of illegal corruption reflected in the illicit economy. Ultimately, a system that puts profits before people controls and owns both legal and illegal corruption.

Under the 2010 Constitution, the State cannot live to its historical reputation of “Siri Kali/Vicious Secret” on matters of finance, security, investments, and the use of people’s resources.

The War on Corruption must extend to foreign interests and forces (economic, social, military, financial, communications and surveillance, the entire system of imperialism of the West and East) if the War is to be won.

What can we do in the short-term?

Political leaderships the world over and the interests they serve (economic, social, military, financial) are the root cause of corruption. The joint control of resources by leaders and their interests mean that only by bringing, by all means possible, leaderships that are alternative to the current ones can we hope to end corruption, or at least start mitigating it.

In the case of Kenya, we are yet to even occupy the vacuum that exists for authentic opposition. Such opposition is the beginning of this struggle. We have many uncoordinated social movements that need to come together in a national convention against corruption and their delegates elect interim leaders to start the People’s War on Corruption.

This will be a national convention by delegates of all social movements and non-baronial parties and their affiliates. I believe there has been enough discussion on the critiques and consequences of corruption on our development. The national convention should collate and coordinate solutions and actions to achieve them. We have various precedents of national conventions. We had one in Limuru in April 1997. There have been other formats like the one adopted by the Kenya Tuitakayo Initiative.

Public intellectuals will definitely play an important role.

We have many uncoordinated social movements that need to come together in a national convention against corruption and their delegates elect interim leaders to start the People’s War on Corruption.

The convention will also draw a four-year program of activities by social movements and parties and the holding of a yearly national convention. It will have sub-committees to deal with specific issues. I believe all these initiatives can be funded by Kenyans. The convention will determine a funding strategy. And there are many more issues to come out of the convention such as its manifesto, ideology, politics, and membership. It is not rocket science.

The time to end the baronial politics narratives that only the rich who can rule this country is now. The time to reject baronial promises on fighting corruption is now.

We need to protect and secure our national resources. Out of these movements, and political parties that are not captured by baronial elites, a national progressive party can be formed to contest political power over the next ten years. The window of opportunity is now. The time for the politics of issues is now. The opportunity for implementing the Constitution, particularly its fundamental pillars are now. The time to end the baronial politics narratives that only the rich who can rule this country is now. The time to reject baronial promises on fighting corruption is now. This can only be done by political formations that will contest political power and wrestle it away from the barons.

Kenya gained its nominal independence because of the Mau Mau War of Independence and the collapse of the British Empire. There followed the second liberation that resurrected multipartyism. There was the third liberation brought about by the promulgation and implementation of the 2010 Constitution. Together with citizens of the world, we must bring about a humane, peaceful, non-violent and non-militaristic planet that is ecologically safe, equitable, The fourth liberation is about consolidating the gains of all these liberations, rescuing their fundamental weaknesses, and bringing the end of baronial rule in Kenya. just and prosperous.

The fourth liberation is about consolidating the gains of all these liberations, rescuing their fundamental weaknesses, and bringing the end of baronial rule in Kenya.

We in Kenya must start our effort for an alternative world. Let us think freedom and emancipation of our country, our continent, and our planet. To do so we must imagine the defeat of the imperialism of West and East. Such a world cannot exist under these current corrupt systems. Our Constitution’s vision is socially democratic and its implementation will put us into the trajectory of the fourth liberation forming the basis of the fifth liberation to come.

The views expressed are personal to the author and do not in any way reflect those the Office of the Former Chief Justice

Continue Reading

Op-Eds

Battle of Ideas: The Social Responsibility of Intellectuals in Building Counter-Hegemonies

In a capitalist society divided into classes, you have broadly two types of intellectuals. There are those who produce rationalizations, justifications and mystifications to maintain and reproduce the status quo of inequality and inequity in favour of capital. Then there are those who question and challenge dominant knowledge and try to demystify and debunk hegemonic forms of knowledge and ideologies. Some go further to produce and articulate alternative forms of knowledge and ideologies to propel the struggle of the ruled, the oppressed and the downtrodden. They are involved in constructing counter-hegemonies. By ISSA SHIVJI

Published

on

Battle of Ideas: The Social Responsibility of Intellectuals in Building Counter-Hegemonies

Intellectuals pride themselves as producers of knowledge. They are also articulators of ideologies, a role they do not normally acknowledge. Respectable universities worth the name call themselves sites of knowledge production. I say “respectable” because these days many neo-liberalised universities have abandoned the role of knowledge production in favour of packaging disparate information and branding their “products” (students) to make them saleable on the market. That is a story for another day. Today I don’t want to talk about packaging factories. Today I want to address those intellectuals who still consider themselves producers of knowledge rather than assembly line supervisors of packaging industries.

In a capitalist society divided into classes, you have broadly two types of intellectuals. There are those who produce rationalizations, justifications and mystifications to maintain and reproduce the status quo of inequality and inequity in favour of capital. These are the producers and purveyors of what we call hegemonic ideologies. Then there are those who question and challenge dominant knowledge and try to demystify and debunk hegemonic forms of knowledge and ideologies. Some go further to produce and articulate alternative forms of knowledge and ideologies to propel the struggle of the ruled, the oppressed and the downtrodden. They are involved in constructing counter-hegemonies. Thus there is a battle of ideas. One of the foremost sites of the battle of ideas is the University. Battle of ideas precedes battle at the barricades.

Hegemony by definition means acceptance of an ideology voluntarily, by consent as opposed to, by coercion. It was Gramsci’s great insight that the bourgeoisie rule by mobilising consent through its ideological apparatuses, both in the state (for example, courts) but – and this is important to note – also in civil society, for example, institutions of education, media, CSOs, art, literature etc. The wheels of ideological apparatuses are always churning. They generate and refurbish hegemonic ideologies and make it the ‘common sense’ of the time. During normal times, therefore, the coercion of the bourgeois state does not appear on the surface. It is there – but always in the background. This is the case in normal times. What happens in times of crisis – in times when the underlying capitalist system itself is in the crisis of reproducing itself? It is the crisis that interests me most because, I believe, we are currently in such a crisis of the global imperialist-capitalist system. I will not go into the details of the economics of the crisis because I want to focus more on its ideological expressions.

Battle of ideas precedes battle at the barricades.

Today we are witnessing an upsurge of fascism, narrow nationalisms and parochialism (for short, I’ll call them “new nationalisms”) both in the Centres (the global North) and in the Peripheries (the global South). In the North, rightist parties and formations wave the flag of racism and nationalism against immigrants. Given the electoral victories of the right in recent times, even mainstream center and centre-left parties, fearing the erosion of their electoral base, buy into the anti-immigrant rhetoric. Brexist is one such example; the other is Trump’s laughable but tragic Mexican wall project.

In the South, there is a rise of demagogic and populist leaders who wave the flag of narrow ethnic, racist, religious and parochial patriotism. Modi of India, Duterte of Philippines and Bolsonaro of Brazil, well illustrate populist and demagogic languages. Modi waves the flag of Hindutva which is nothing but an assertion of Hindu supremacy. Inevitably this unleashes street violence against minorities – Muslims, Christians and Dalits. Bolsonaro deploys his populist slogans against Blacks, women and LGBT communities. In Latin America, another Bolsonaro is in the making. This is the gentleman called Juan Guaido who has “democratically” declared himself the president of Venezuela. He is supported by the “champions of democracy” in America and Europe and recognised, among others, by the only “democracy” in the Middle East – Israel. [Please note the term “democracy” and all its derivatives here are in inverted commas.]

Hegemony by definition means acceptance of an ideology voluntarily, by consent as opposed to, by coercion

I’d suggest that the upsurge of “new nationalisms” is a backlash to neoliberalism gone wild. Ironically, neo-liberalism itself paved the path for the rise of “new nationalisms”. Neo-liberal ideologies did not have a long staying power but for some four decades of its rule it caused havoc. Market and monetarism were its mantra. Neo-liberalism attacked bourgeois liberalism in the Centres and assaulted post-colonial, radical and progressive nationalism in the Peripheries. Socially, it rested on individuation as opposed to bourgeois individualism. The best description of individuation comes from Margaret Thatcher who rhetorically exclaimed: ‘Society, what society! There is no such thing as society!’ There are only disparate individuals. Bourgeois individuals stood for rights and obligations. Neo-liberal individuates don’t stand for anything – except for self-enrichment and aggrandizement. They will sell their rights and trample on others’ rights so long as they can “move on”. And ‘obligation’ has no place in their utterly self-centered mindsets.

On economic level, neo-liberalism is based on the endless creation of fictitious commodities and their privatisation. So public goods – education, health, water, energy and air are commodified and owned; so also flora and fauna, mountains, rivers and forests; bio resources and genetically modified life organisms become private property to be owned and traded for profit. Even languages and cultural practices get patented and owned. (Recently Walt Disney took out a patent on the Kiswahili phrase: Hakuna Matata!) Debt, including sovereign debt, becomes a commodity and is traded. Financial oligarchies offer cheap credit – so every one from individuals through households to states borrow heavily becoming indebted. Debt slavery has become a new kind of slavery. We all exist in debt to financial sharks, literally and figuratively. Descartes’ famous saying, “I think therefore I am” becomes “I am indebted therefore I am”. Underlying it all is rampant primitive accumulation by a small financial oligarchy overshadowing ‘accumulation by expansion’ in the productive sphere. Financialisation becomes the name of the game. Fictitious economy takes leave of real economy and begins to believe in self-regulation and self-reproduction. When the hiatus between the real and fictitious economy becomes unsustainable, the bubble bursts like the 2007-2008 prime mortgage crisis in the US that spread like wild fire to other countries. But the state pumps in trillions of dollars to save financial institutions, which duly resume their nefarious transactions. The outcome of the crisis is further concentration of wealth and power in fewer hands.

The wheels of ideological apparatuses are always churning. They generate and refurbish hegemonic ideologies and make it the ‘common sense’ of the time.

Inequality, unemployment, poverty, despair and hopelessness rise as wealth concentrates in a small minority. Angry masses become cannon fodder on which rising fascist and right-wing feed. In the absence of a feasible alternative, this is the way the masses hit back at neo-liberal excesses.

Neo-liberalism was primarily an ideological assault on radical nationalism and its relatively independent policies. It devastated our social fabric and the neo-liberalisation of our universities destroyed counter-hegemonic, progressive discourses and debates. The University structures were corporatized. Courses lost their integrity as they were semesterised and modularised. Short courses proliferated. Basic research was undermined as policy consultancy overwhelmed the faculty. Knowledge production was substituted by online information gathering. A few resisted but many surrendered. Voices of resistance from staff and students were stifled and suppressed. University authorities spent more on surveillance gadgets to keep students in check rather than on sanitation facilities in dorms to keep students healthy. This campus, once known for its intellectual salience, is today cited for its selective silence. The kind of discourse that I’m indulging in today, I bet, must sound Greek and Latin to our neo-liberal generation of both students and faculty. This is the story of many African campuses.

As a consequence, the rise of “new nationalisms” caught intellectuals by surprise. Neither did they anticipate it nor do they know how to react to it. The knee-jerk reaction on many African campuses – not all of course – has been to join the bandwagon either out of choice or because of lack of choice.

Today we are witnessing an upsurge of fascism, narrow nationalisms and parochialism both in the Centres and in the Peripheries. In the North, rightist parties and formations wave the flag of racism and nationalism against immigrants. Given the electoral victories of the right in recent times, even mainstream center and centre-left parties, fearing the erosion of their electoral base, buy into the anti-immigrant rhetoric.

“New nationalisms” across the global South share certain characteristics, albeit manifesting in different forms and languages, depending on concrete conditions. Some manifestations are undoubtedly progressive but are invariably eclectic.

Firstly, populism speaks in the name of the poor against the poor. Secondly, it privileges ‘God and country’ instead of peoples and nations. Thirdly, it concentrates power and destroys other potential centres of actual or potential power. Fourthly, it seeks legitimacy in “gods and ancestors” rather than its people. Fifthly, it makes fetish of “industrialisation-as-development” while marginalising agriculture and pillorying “development-as-freedom”. In Africa, no doubt, we need industrialisation to develop but development is more than industrialisation. Development, as Mwalimu Nyerere used to say, is a social process of enlarging the terrain of freedom and constricting the tyranny of necessity.

Sixthly, ”new nationalism” mounts a concerted assault on veritable centres of thinking, especially universities. My Indian friends from Jawaharlal Nehru University tell me that Modi’s regime has repeatedly tried to destroy radicalism at JNU, by slapping criminal charges on radical faculty and students, by mounting direct attacks by police on the Campus and by appointing regime’s stooges as vice-chancellors, and so on.

The upsurge of “new nationalisms” is a backlash to neoliberalism gone wild

Seventhly, the anti-imperialist rhetoric of “new nationalisms” is eclectic and selective. It is couched in the language of “they”, the foreigners, and “we”, the indigenous, rather than as an anti-systemic project.

Finally, in Africa, the “new nationalism” is singularly bereft of the Pan-African dimension. This is very much unlike the first wave of nationalism, which was born of Pan-Africanism and tried to keep it on the political radar in spite of its problems and shortcomings. Paraphrasing Mwalimu Nyerere, I would say that African nationalism could only be Pan-Africanism otherwise it becomes “the equivalent of tribalism in the context of our separate nation states.” (Nyerere)

Under the circumstances, it is squarely the social responsibility of intellectuals to construct a counter-hegemonic project that would resonate with the lives of the vast majority. Instead, African intellectuals have reacted to “new nationalisms” by falling back on the ideological rhetoric of bourgeois liberalism, which they know best but which, in my view, falls far short of giving the people a vision and a cause to fight for. The liberal language of political pluralism, social diversity, ideological identity and party politics is, in my view, inadequate and does not touch the hearts and minds of our people. We must always remember that it is liberalism constructed on capitalist foundations that created the soil for the rise of neo-liberalism and its offshoot “new nationalisms” in the first place.

One cannot construct a counter-hegemonic project in the abstract and I do not intend to do so. Such alternatives are built in the course of struggle. By way of conclusion, though, I’d like to suggest for our consideration that any counter-hegemonic project must be based on four building blocks. These are: popular livelihoodspopular participationpopular power and popular rights and freedoms.

‘Popular’ is used in two senses: one that it is anti-imperialist and two, that it is based on a ‘bloc of popular classes’, which together I call working people. The term popular helps us to distance ourselves from populisms emanating from the term ‘people’. The term popular livelihoods does not require any further explanation. Needless to say it has to be based on a people-centered development. (And by ‘people’ I mean working people.)

Popular participation is meant to interrogate the limits of parliamentary and party politics and rethink the institutions of the state. The idea is to posit a new mode of politics. Politics are where the masses are. And masses are in villages and urban ghettoes and neighbourhoods. So popular participation and popular power is meant to re-locate power and politics from the state to villages and neighbourhoods.

African intellectuals have reacted to “new nationalisms” by falling back on the ideological rhetoric of bourgeois liberalism, which they know best but which, in my view, falls far short of giving the people a vision and a cause to fight for.

In popular rights and freedoms I include two fundamental rights and four fundamental freedoms. The fundamental rights are right to human existence to live life with dignity and right to organise means that an organised working people are able to defend their interests themselves through their own organisations – whether these are trade unions, workers’ associations, working women’s organisations, peasant co-operatives or peasant parties. Forms of organisation arise from concrete conditions. People have always been innovative in organising themselves for resistance and for fighting for alternatives.

Four fundamental freedoms are: freedom from want, freedom from fearfreedom from violence (both state and social violence) and freedom from enforced silence – in other words, right to speak out. Time does not allow me to elaborate further on the building blocks of an alternative Project. My aim was simple: to jolt us from the slumber of silence. My hope is – and I’m eternally hopeful – that this type of discourses will morph us from the state of unthinking to the state of thinking.

This article adopted from a Keynote address at the University of Dar es Salaam was first published in Sauti ya Ujamaa on February, 2 2019.

Continue Reading

Op-Eds

The Swan Song of Electoral Democracy: From Kenyatta to Kabila, the Rise of a New Impunity

The farcical rigging of the DR Congo election was only a surprise to the extent that fellow African presidents and international observer missions were not in on Joseph Kabila’s novel innovation: fixing the election for an opposition candidate. With 20 African elections set for 2019, does the threat of the Congolese example confirm a final retreat of electoral democracy on the continent? What is to be done? By MIRIAM ABRAHAM

Published

on

The Swan Song of Electoral Democracy: From Kenyatta to Kabila, the Rise of a New Impunity

The normalization of electoral pilferage in Africa is baffling. Election management bodies, long the political tools of incumbents, can’t stop outdoing each other in their mediocrity. And ready to legitimise these atrocities, are African presidents who compete to be the first to convey congratulatory messages. Not to be outdone, international and regional organizations continue to provide technical support for these sham processes, releasing bland observation reports that rubber-stamp electoral fraud. And the diplomats, who while investigations are launched on sabotage of elections in their own countries, undermine electoral justice in their host countries.

The recent charade in the Democratic Republic of Congo is only the latest in the disturbing trend. Similar processes in Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Rwanda and Kenya, in the past year or so, confirm this. In these four situations, the incumbent retained power, despite detention of political opponents, massive irregularities, blatant theft, intimidation of voters and in some cases, brutal murders by security operatives. With elections scheduled in more than 20 countries this year including Nigeria, Ethiopia, South Africa and Malawi, we should expect this trend to continue unabated.

Turning to the Democratic Republic of Congo: it has the world’s most complex and longest running humanitarian crisis. It is estimated that since 1996, violence has claimed over six million lives (without including the period between its independence from Belgium in 1960 to 1995). Historically, the country has never had a bloodless transfer of power. Former President, Joseph Kabila, who inherited the seat from his assassinated father, Laurent Kabila in 2001, managed to cling to power for 18 years. He could have probably postponed elections again, if the Congolese, led by the Catholic Church, did not keep the pressure on him finally to conduct them.

The recent charade in the Democratic Republic of Congo is only the latest in a disturbing trend. Similar processes in Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Rwanda and Kenya, in the past year or so, confirm this. With elections scheduled in more than 20 countries this year including Nigeria, Ethiopia, South Africa and Malawi, we should expect this trend to continue unabated.

With this background, most people would agree that the people of Congo need some semblance of stability (the strict meaning of which usually excludes the violence prosecuted by countries and multinationals pillaging Congo’s rich minerals and timber). But must electoral justice and political stability be mutually exclusive? Several colleagues, working in support of the Congolese election management body, CENI, have expressed their shock and disbelief at the swapping of the presidential results and the manipulation of the legislative vote. These are colleagues who are hardened electoral experts – they have seen it all, from Cambodia to Afghanistan and everything in between.

Most people would agree that the people of Congo need stability (the strict meaning of which usually excludes the violence prosecuted by countries and multinationals pillaging Congo’s rich minerals and timber). But must electoral justice and political stability be mutually exclusive?

In our conversations, I have sought to understand why the Congolese case gets them more perturbed than say, Kenya or Zimbabwe – places in which they recently worked. It is clear that it is because the game played by Kabila deviated from the usual script. These international organizations, complicit in aiding theft in favour of incumbents or their anointed successors, cannot relate to a situation where an incumbent does this in favour of an opposition candidate.

As one of my colleagues said to me, “The difference is that in Kenya, it was not as blatant, there was no paper trail.” I should have been shocked to hear this, that the Kenyans were more adept at creating a farce of an electoral process than the Congolese. What many of these colleagues of mine do not understand is that the end game is the same. In both cases, the will of the people was subverted. For the diplomats and international organizations, their private outrage was that the Congolese were too obvious in their deceit. Perhaps even more outrageous was that Kabila had excluded them from his game plan. They were checkmated with the rest of us. They were not among the usual plotters of the game plan. They were prepared to make a case for how the ruling party had won, because of the power of incumbency, the divisions among the opposition and the sheer constructed tyranny of numbers. They were not prepared for what author and journalist Charles Onyango-Obbo dubbed the ‘Kabila Method’. It partly explains why contradictory statements were issued by the African Union, SADC and some European capitals, in support of the legitimate winner of the race, Martin Fayulu, before capitulating and vowing to work with President Felix Tshisekedi.

I have sought to understand why the Congolese case gets my colleagues more perturbed than say, Kenya or Zimbabwe…It is because the game played by Kabila deviated from the usual script.

If elections are indeed ritual processes to confirm the incumbents or their chosen successors, then why should we invest our hopes, blood, emotions and resources in them? Would we not be best served by monarchs such as those in Morocco and Saudi Arabia? According to several sources, and data collected by ACE African countries rank among the highest in spending on organizing elections. (This does not include campaign financing, for which the United States is off the charts.) Curiously, the higher the amount of money handed over to the ‘independent’ election management body, the lower the country ranks in the Democracy-Index maintained by The Economist.

It is estimated that in 2017 Kenya spent $ 25.4 per registered voter (not including the repeat 26 October 2017 presidential election, petitions and by-elections) and ranks 98 out of 167 states in the Democracy-Index. Botswana ranks 28th in the Index and spends an average of $2.07 per voter, although this may increase in 2019 if the country proceeds with the use of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs).

[International observers] were prepared to make a case for how the ruling party had won, because of the power of incumbency, the divisions among the opposition and the sheer constructed tyranny of numbers. They were not prepared for what author and journalist Charles Onyango-Obbo dubbed the ‘Kabila Method’.

African leaders are getting more emboldened in methods of securing legitimacy, even amidst blatant electoral theft. They know that they can rely on the African Union and other regional organizations such as IGAD and SADC to issue observation reports lauding their illegitimate electoral processes. Prime Ministers, Presidents (sometimes sprinkling onto their official delegations, erstwhile opposition leaders, recent victims of electoral theft now co-opted by the incumbent) will troop to their inauguration ceremonies. They can count on the United Nations to issue statements congratulating the people “for voting peacefully” (as if voters were ever the problem) and taking note of the decisions of the ‘constitutionally established institutions’, even when their own staff have concrete evidence of the foul play and state capture of these institutions.

These leaders are aware that they can use excessive violence and repression to silence their opponents with impunity. And if this does not work out, they will buy off the opposition with the proverbial thirty pieces of silver and repeat the charade in the next electoral cycle. Or they will promise their victims that, in joining government, the same system that rigged them out could well rig them in, next time. Which begs the question of why we spend billions on elections. Why do we put ourselves through the emotional wringer to end up with leaders we did not choose? Why participate in a charade that ends up keeping the political barons, as former Chief Justice Willy Mutunga calls them, in power?

Electoral disillusionment is not unique to Africa. One could argue that there exists today a global democracy deficit as acute in Europe and North America as it is in Africa. Political scientist Larry Diamond has produced many publications on the subject of ‘democratic recession’. Many more researchers have studied in detail whether democracy is in retreat or not. It is however safe to say that what we have recently seen in Latin America, the US, and Europe is a backlash against leftist policies that pushed the middle class to the edge, with leaders, perceived as unrepresentative and out of touch, playing xenophobic dog-whistle politics with immigrants. Many of these countries have ended up electing populist, nationalist and right-wing leaders, who as expected have not provided solutions to their woes but rather introduced divisive and polarizing politics and policies.

Electoral disillusionment is not unique to Africa. One could argue that there exists today a global democracy deficit as acute in Europe and North America as it is in Africa.

While one could question the quality of the electoral processes in these countries, these leaders are not in power because election results were swapped blatantly, either electronically, as was in Kenya, or manually as in the DRC. It is also evident that, as was the case in the mid-term elections in the US, voters are still determined to organize and repudiate values that they deem not representative of their views. The fact that a 70-year tradition of habitually low voter turn-outs was broken – turn-out was a record 60 percent, yielding the most diverse (youth, women, Muslims) US Congress ever – holds hope for electoral democracy elsewhere. Social movements are growing in Slovakia, Romania and even in Poland to push back against these populist tendencies.

There are examples galore in Africa of what happens when people lose hope in electoral democracy— a system – a strict definition is worth restating in these strange times – in which citizens, through universal suffrage, choose and replace their leaders in regular, free, fair, and meaningful elections. This stands true even in cases where there is a façade of democracy created by the autocrats, such as Kenya. From Algeria to Zimbabwe, political changes have taken place, mostly peacefully through social and political movements. Whether in Burkina Faso or The Gambia, citizens have proven their will and capacity to alter their political fate.

Electoral democracy requires patience and hard work, both of which are acutely deficient, especially as we fall victim of the establishment’s distractions. For now in Kenya, the ‘Ruto Bogeyman’ has been created. Instead of spending time nurturing alternative leadership, the public has consented to being used as State House’s battering ram against him. It’s worth recalling that between 2013 and 2017, we were subjected to the ‘Raila Bogeyman’ regime campaign. We have long forgotten about demanding a public inquiry into the 2017 electoral fiasco – or the 2013 debacle. Those who managed the 2017 electoral thuggery continue to receive public funding and tour the world in the name of exporting “lessons learned” from their experience of managing two presidential elections in less than a year! We are collectively distracted by the smoke and mirrors ‘fight’ against graft. We have even signed on to blaming the judiciary for its handling of poorly prosecuted corruption cases designed to fail. Our social media platforms still have messages appealing for unity against terrorists, without questioning why Al-Shabaab successfully targets Kenyan towns and cities, and fails to do so against Addis Ababa whose troops have been in Somalia longer than us. We even get to spend time celebrating or bemoaning (depending on your political stripe) that Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i is now empowered to coordinate the achievement of the government’s agenda while all along his official title reads exactly that (CS, Interior and Coordination of National Government).

It is tempting to write off electoral democracy in Kenya, especially now. However, there may be still room to begin laying the foundations for overturning the ‘faux democracy’ of the past 50 years. It might be tempting to focus only on de-registering ourselves from the IEBC’s voters roll, which anyway by law needs to be discarded and a new voter registration process to be initiated before the 2022 election.

We owe it to our children to do more than this. To play our role in shaking the current system that has been controlled by the dynasties and elite political ‘barons’ for the past five decades. It requires organizing around a movement that advocates for a different type of leadership – a Third Liberation, if you will. This is an arduous task, requiring time and dedication. It requires going back to the basics of defining the kind of leadership we deserve as a people to end impunity, theft of public resources, to protect our environment and to guarantee public safety and security for all. This is possible. It has been done before in Kenya, with varying levels of success, and it can be done again.

We owe it to our children to do more than this. To play our role in shaking the current system that has been controlled by the dynasties and elite political ‘barons’ for the past five decades. It requires organizing around a movement that advocates for a different type of leadership – a Third Liberation, if you will.

But even as we chart this path, we must remember to hold the leaders of these movements accountable to the people. Most of today’s autocrats in Africa were yesterday’s defenders of democracy. Yoweri Museveni of Uganda toppled the Tito Okello military dictatorship 33 years ago; today, he ranks among Africa’s longest serving despots. In Guinea, President Alpha Condé, a long-time opposition leader, became the first democratically elected president in 2011 and appears to be preparing to remove term limits in addition to his ongoing repressive tendencies against his opponents. In Cote d’Ivoire, the hope that Alassane Dramane Ouattara embodied has long been replaced by the very same tactics of his predecessor Laurent Gbagbo. Closer home, one of the prominent leaders of the ‘second liberation’ Rt. Hon. Raila Odinga and the ‘Young Turks’ have joined forces with the ruling Jubilee Party to undermine the same values and aspirations they allegedly fought to protect.

The journey to real change, to electoral democracy, must advance by the dismantling of the entrenched structures that enable the rise of populism, divisive politics, corruption and impunity. It is a journey that we as a nation have really not yet begun. The jury is still out on how far we shall proceed before we are enjoined in the distractions set up by the political ‘barons’ and the dynasties. Until then, electoral democracy is a mirage. And ours will remain selection, not election processes. Just with more pomp, more pillaging and unfortunately, more deaths.

Continue Reading

Trending

Copyright © 2018 The Elephant. All Rights Reserved.