Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Of Cartelism, Mandevilleanism and the Era of Robber Barons

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It is turning out that the vice of corruption and its associated elements are being perceived as normal within the Kenyan state. The concerned authorities and even a large pool of the Kenyan citizens are no longer taken aback by the incidences and instances of social, political as well as economic venality witnessed and experienced on a daily basis.

Kenya’s system of societal and state organization that is capitalism has morphed into a system of cartelism, after undergoing a systemic and synthesized evolution since the attainment of our independence up to the current period of time. But are we really reaping the fruits of our independence? Not at all because true independence lies in all the three planes of the state board. This implies that independence is a three-dimensional aspect, that is, it bears social independence, political independence and most importantly economic independence. Majority of Kenyans are not economically, socially and politically independent due to the fact that corruption is thriving in the country.

Just to be clear enough, corruption has in fact turned out to be a vibrant independent and inter-dependent sector of the economy just like any other sector such as agriculture, manufacturing and others. Its peppiness within the Kenyan economy continues to intensify through its own creation of the forward and backward linkages with the other sectors and sub-sectors of the economy; it is deeply entrenched in the country’s economic, social and political systems.

With the country ranking among the bottom thirty on the corruption perception index, according to Transparency International, it implies to a greater extent that our moral standards are highly questionable, largely depraved and unequivocally putrescent. But of course not all Kenyans have stinking morals.

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Corruption is a case of morality versus immorality and in Kenya’s case, the reigning of cartels and its system of cartelism has deprived majority of the Kenyans the right and privilege of accessing and utilizing the basic facilities and resources. The initiators of the cartels and subsequently the propagators of cartelism are the robber barons and so mind you, we are in the era/age of barony and happily or sadly living during the time of the robber barons.

In his book, The Robber Barons published in 1934, Matthew Josephson endeavored to document at length on how some of the American capitalists were “milking dry” the citizenry and in due course enriching themselves. Certainly, the situation is not in any way different from the “state of corruption” in Kenya at the moment.

Perhaps, the culture of cartelism and barony in the country can be related to Bernard Mandeville’s (1670-1733) intellectual and philosophical heresy of virtue being vice and vice being virtue. The satirical political economist documented in his book, ‘The Fable of the Bees: Or, Private Vices, Public Benefits’ that, ”the profligate expenditure of the sinful rich gave work to the poor, while the stingy rectitude of the virtuous penny pincher did not, hence, private immorality may redound to the public welfare, whereas private uprightness may be a social burden.”

The Mandevilleanism doctrine has been fully embraced in the Republic of Kenya. Being corrupt or extensively mentioned in cases of corruption creates a figure and perception of heroism. By not engaging in corruption, one is branded as being na├»ve and even classified as a villain! Reflecting on this statement by Mandeville, does the public benefit? Not holistically but the cronies and those closer to the “backbone” are the beneficiaries. So, the immorality occasioned by some Kenyan somewhere to loot improves the welfare of the beneficiaries.

Cartelism, Mandevilleanism and barony have taken root in various spheres of the Kenyan state. The situation is catastrophic especially to the majority of the public coffers whose coins are plundered by an uncaring lot, a minority whose voracious appetite for public resources is well known.

In the corporate sector, we have seen and continue to witness the collapse of several entities because of the acts of avarice. Revisit the situation at Kenya Airways which is now the biggest ‘Shame of Africa’ and no longer the ‘Pride of Africa’. How can a firm make losses of Kshs.25 billion then Kshs.26 billion? In the finance industry we have the super-normal/abnormal profits but in KQ’s case, these can be termed as abnormal losses. The situation at Uchumi Supermarket was not different before the management was changed. The events at Mumias Sugar Company were not in any way different. Refer to the collapse of some of the banks in the country. Dubai Bank and the Imperial Bank collapsed because of the insatiable appetite of some corrupt individuals.

The housing sector has also been taken over by the cartels especially in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. How many cases relating to collapsed buildings have we seen? Criminals, white collar criminals, have staged a coup in the sector by masquerading as real estate investors. These criminals of course engage in connivance with the responsible authorities to risk the lives of Kenyans who contribute dutifully to the economic growth and development of Kenya’s economy.

The health sector hasn’t been left behind. The invisible hands of the cartels that execute visible criminal acts have penetrated into this sector that plays a fundamental role in treating the populace and in due course maintaining a healthy labour force for the economy. Have we not heard of some of the medical doctors referring patients to India and some of their privately-owned medical clinics out of collusion? Have we not heard of the ‘shortages’ in medical supplies artificially created by these individuals who only think about making an extra immoral shilling from the public resources?

Our education system has been taken hostage by these cartels, invisible as they seem to be. Over the years the national examinations for the primary, secondary and tertiary institutions have been leaked because of these criminals. In fact, the acts by Dr. Fred Matiang’i the Cabinet Secretary for Education to sanitize the system especially the administration of the national exams have been subjected to resistance by these disciples of Mandeville.

Let’s not forget that our political system is largely dominated by these barons. Who owns political parties and systems in Kenya? A secluded class of elitist capitalists who of course use political power to cement their “investment” deals. Political parties are neither agenda-driven nor are they people-centred in the Kenyan state. They are tools used to orchestrate the economic manipulation of the whole and because the economy forms the basis for socio-political organization, then the thoughts of economic, social and political independence are consequently and consistently watered down.

The preying culture is also ingrained in the petroleum industry. At a time when oil prices are at their lowest globally, locally we have not fully benefited from the slump in the prices because some fellows somewhere are controlling the gears. I’m meant to believe that the current prices of petroleum products are supposed to be relatively cheaper by Kshs.20 or thereabout. What if we start drilling the recently discovered oil in some parts of Kenya? I have a feeling that we might not be significantly better off with the discoveries and the subsequent drilling of the “Texas Tea.” Right now the barons are conspiring to grab the land on which the Kenya Petroleum Refinery Limited is situated.

I still don’t have a clear comprehension of why some bottled “mineral water” is more expensive than petroleum in this country. Most of these water bottling firms have in fact admitted to filling the so called “mineral water” with ordinary tap water. Water is supposed to be a basic right and basic commodity freely provided by the state and its agencies. In my opinion, all towns, centres and market centres are supposed to have a constant flow of cool and clean water freely available to all people. But because we allowed water, one of the basic rights to humankind, to be corruptly commercialized then such an act only remains a reverie. Cartels have taken over the water industry that we end up experiencing artificial shortages for them to reap big. Recall the closure of several water bottling plants in Kenya sometime back by the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS).

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Cartels have even gone to an extent of stealing and looting relief food and items. What a shame! What an embarrassment! These are the effects of cartelism, a mutated form of capitalism. Is it that capitalism has failed to generate social, economic and political independence? Maybe…Joseph Alois Schumpeter (1883-1950), one of the greatest and brilliant economists and political scientists in the world, attested to the fact that economically capitalism had succeeded but sociologically capitalism had failed.

The political leadership, at the national and county levels MUST be committed in the fight against corruption. What happened to the Economic Crimes Act of 2003? Parliamentarians should make amendments to this legislation and make corruption very expensive. But I doubt most of these “honorable” members of the august House because they have never been concerned about scrutinizing the national budgets that we have had for the last three years or so. Theirs is to keep strategizing on how they will be re-elected and globe-trotting by making silly benchmarking tours on policy-making when similar policies are gathering dust on shelves of various ministries. What is the role of the Executive in this republic? Resign to cartels and corruption?

Sadly enough, the justice system hasn’t been spared by the cartels and the robber barons. The institutions mandated to fight corruption are indeed waging their own unending battles against corruption itself. The Ethics & Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC), the Attorney General’s office, the Judiciary, the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the various police units are all faced with corruption.

The national teams have mercilessly fallen in the fishing nets of the cartels. Teams which have fallen victim to these economic robbers include the athletics team, Harambee Stars, the men’s rugby team (Shujaa), Malkia Strikers (Women’s volleyball team) among others. Where did our African values disappear to? Is cartelism African?

Well, let’s change our conduct or forget altogether about the bright unforeseen future of Vision 2030 and beyond if we are not going to be ANGRY ENOUGH about corruption.

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