Nairobi, Africa and David Mamet
The congested streets of downtown reveal a thriving city and yet, the surrounding roads around the downtown are congealed masses of traffic, spewing diesel fumes and laying waste to time like nothing else. A ten minute journey with no traffic takes 60-90 minutes with traffic. Nothing moves. Traffic police try vainly to flow traffic through junctions and roundabouts – the latter of which only work when people obey the basic principle of giving way to traffic on the right (if driving on left hand side of the road), which NEVER happens in Nairobi. No one gives way, period. The traffic police don’t help much, keeping one line of traffic waiting for many minutes, allowing vehicles to pile up for miles before letting them through. Concepts such as maintaining a flow of moving traffic doesn’t seem to have computed here. It’s simple madness, choking the city like congested heart failure. The new attempted bypass - to stop all the traffic and trucks coming from Mombasa going through downtown on their way to Uganda, Rwanda and elsewhere has not had the desired effect and yet still more vehicles pile onto the roads, not knowing the terrible life they will lead, choking to death on their own fumes, while little is done to obviate the impending heart attack. As of 2017, Kenya’s population is 40 million, give or take, and expected to rise to about 60 million in the next 15 years or so. Just imagine, another 4 million or more added to Nairobi’s population, another million cars or so, and yet still no real plan to deal with the traffic and no integrated transport system. A decision was made some years ago to allow the private sector to evolve the city bus system, in the process creating hundreds of thousands of small entrepreneurs running a single “matatu” (12-seater comby), all competing with one another, creating utter havoc on the roads. Yes, there are all sorts of syndicates and mafia style arrangements but the point is, it’s madness.
I was browsing the streets the other day, looking at the books sold on the sidewalks, most being religious or self-improvement in nature (how so many of these American financial or spiritual empowerment books come here, god knows – in fact it could be god’s fault, or the frank belief in a Christian god which is the norm here) and came across a book by David Mamet – The Secret Knowledge – his political treatise, espousing his new found born-again conversion to Conservatism. And a really well written and amusing book it is too, which in its polemic style has had the desired effect on such a lily-livered liberal like myself – shock, amusement, anger at such an intelligent person having such “extreme” views. And extreme they are too. “All liberals are anti-Semitic” being one such view. Extraordinary. He believes all liberals seek the destruction of Israel! Really! The twisted logic – so well espoused by defenders of the status quo in Israel and Palestine – is that any criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic, period. We know that argument well now. And when Mamet condemns liberals for being victim centered in defending many who are on the wrong side of the tracks in the USA and needing some form of government support – just a little maybe – he doesn’t mention how defenders of Israel justify any and all actions by Israel because of historical victimization – culminating in the holocaust. He is right though that victim mentality can breed in all kinds of places and it is a particular conceit of much liberal thinking to identify with the idea of the victim and in that way feel better and more righteous; and he is right to condemn the culture of political conformity in many of the university campuses in the USA. But this criticism can also come from the left. The narcissistic culture prevalent in modern society is not an indictment of liberalism itself but of a materialistic, indulgent society which is as much a product of so-called conservatism as it is of liberalism. It is more the reflection of the dying embers of western liberalism in general and the perverted form of socialist capitalism that we see propping up the carcass of the modern financial system. (Since Covid19 has hit us, this process is now being sped up considerably).
What is this conservative philosophy and culture he talks so much about? Where is it actually? Who is this real conservative that liberals hate to hang with and won’t talk to because as he puts it, Liberalism is a utopian religion? Isn’t that what could be said about the conservatism he believes in. Does it in fact exist and has it ever existed? It seems that often “conservatives” make reference to a time that never existed (making America great again) and that the values of conservatism, with its oft quoted reference to the powers of the “free market” and people like Frederick Hayek and Milton Friedman, isn’t a reality but a fantasy. Can the free market really maintain the necessary political, economic, social and cultural balance in a society? Can the government really be relegated to just the police, judiciary, border issues, defense and basic infrastructure. Can it really turn a blind eye to the ever- growing power of corporations and do nothing when it goes awry, which it always does and is doing so now as the extremes of wealth and power reach unprecedented levels. Should the government have done nothing in 2007-8 after the banking crisis and let the chips fall. Some “conservatives” did say so and maybe Mamet also thinks this, but it seems the consequences would have been catastrophic (although some controlled demolition might have been a good idea). Should the government be in the business of controlling business at all. Most people, even conservatives, would say some control is needed, some oversight and accountability and not just the vagaries of the free market. That being said, a good argument can be made that President Obama and his Goldman Sachs advisers chose to simply put a band-aid on the corrupt financial system which only delayed an inevitable and more profound collapse (fast forward 2020/2021). After all, his Treasury Secretary, Tim Geithner was a protégé of Larry Summers, and previously head of the New York Fed. He didn’t have the balls to whack the banks. Maybe Alan Greenspan should have been arrested or at least held to account, instead of leaving him in his PJs reading Ayn Rand. But that issue transcends left v right or liberal v conservative and goes more to the core of whether you think the current banking system and the parasitical corporations are worth saving in their current form.
And who is this “individual” that Mamet talks about, in stating it is the state v. the individual. A romantic perspective, if ever there was one, and yes a very American romance – the John Wayne style Montana cattleman, the pioneering individualistic scientist or IT man like Steve Jobs, (I won’t mention Bill Gates, a silver spooned gentleman if ever there was one), the larger than life business mogul like Donald Trump. All very much part of American individualism. But it is not the individual who is the problem, as each of these people and the ideas of individual ingenuity and entrepreneurship are an essential part of American reality and mythology, but it is the corporate culture that has come to define the modern USA that has to be cornered, caroled and garroted. In the USA, a corporation is classified as an individual which was one of the rationalizations of letting corporations give endless amounts of money to political parties and candidates, thanks to a Supreme Court ruling. This is where the “conservative” argument goes so astray. If you let corporations have totally free reign, under the umbrella of the “free market” then they will in time abuse the power they accrue and exploit as much as they can, wield too much influence on government, erode its democratic legitimacy and ability to protect the country for the benefit of all. That is what they do, have done and will always do. It’s not individuals who are the problem but unfettered pseudo-capitalism – there I have said it. Like anything, it needs some controlling and accountability. To think otherwise is to buy into such a false narrative and delusional state that it becomes mere fantasy. Was Teddy Roosevelt wrong to break up Standard Oil? Or the government wrong to take Microsoft to task in 1999, leading to those excruciating hearings with Bill Gates looking so weird. Are governments wrong to stop ever increasing monopolies from distorting and abusing the “free market.” Government is there to mediate between all the vested interests in society and yes, in so doing protect the vulnerable and ensure the sick and needy are provided for. Isn’t that what it should be doing now with Big Tech; Microsoft part 2 and throw in the Gates Foundation this time. Make the bastards pay real taxes and not defer them by allowing Gates to give money away to his favourite drug companies and Monsanto who he then profits off. It’s sick.
The way Mamet and other conservatives talk, the role of government would be so small that voting would become meaningless as you’d be only debating whether to have 10 or 11 cops on the street. The market will determine everything else.
Mamet says the government has no role in most things, including healthcare and education and accuses liberals of being delusional and oblivious to the debacles of government intervention. Really!! Is the system of private medical care such a great thing in the USA? The most expensive health system by far with massive profits to drug companies who advertise directly to the public and where 50% of the time, patients are given what they demand from their doctor based on the informed decision of a 20 second ad. What kind of system allows 50% of all bankruptcies in the country to come from health care costs and where many millions don’t even have access to health care in the first place, which is not such a bad thing unless you really need it in emergencies? And we haven’t talked about the many billions of dollars spent on advertising and all the perks to legislators. Big Pharma has gone nuts and Americans take more drugs than any other nation and are one of the sickest. Something is wrong.
Yes, state run education can be like a prison where students are simply seen as products to be churned out to fit the immediate needs of society, and which by the way, has been encouraged by corporations and the military, needing semi-educated people to fit the conveyor belts of the modern workplace. Look at what George W. Bush did with his No Child Left Behind Act, one of the worst pieces of educational legislation ever and also, by the way, mandating that schools give the military the personal details of all high school students. But to say government has no role to ensure access to an education is insanity and makes Mamet’s legitimate points about government overreach and paternalization mute. Who else is going to ensure that education is available? Private corporations, seeking to make a profit from individuals with advertising piped into classrooms and a soft drinks dispenser in every corridor, or good-hearted members of society setting up community-based schools and bringing teachers from the community to teach wholesome subjects like plumbing and carpentry. I like the idea of that and taking kids out of institutional frameworks but I can’t see it happening without at least some government role, even if a backseat one. I also think Mamet is right about a lot of liberal education in the USA. It is often a deferment from life and just keeps people in jobs and the education system going, and yes, the proliferation of “soft subjects” like gender studies and the proliferation of therapy-centered subjects a symptom of a narcissistic culture, breeding spoilt kids unprepared for the real world. And the current student-loan fiasco is tragic, and the government’s involvement in that may only be making college education more expensive (as it has led to colleges increasing tuition fees, knowing government will pay and offering more shitty useless degrees). I agree, but…the “free market” is not the alternative and also education is not simply about the rough and tumble of the “real world” but about other, even more abstract things, which a college education should be able to indulge if so chosen. What needs asking is, what is the goal of education? Dumbed down kids to fill dumbed down jobs for the elite, a professed goal by none the less than John D. Rockefeller. Or an opportunity to give all kids an opportunity to find themselves, to evolve into whole human beings and make the world a better place.
Mamet’s polemic dives into parody and reveals one of the peculiar things about American life – this fascinating polarity of opposites, between the individual and group (government), between left and right, conservative and liberal, all the way up to between good and evil, God and the devil himself, a Manichean obsession of false opposites. The ideology of the right is a religious ideology, that of the left a more secular ideology and never the twain shall meet, except that in reality, in the street, they meet all the time and many a liberal wouldn’t classify himself as such from a conservative point of view and vice versa. The projection and misrepresentation on both sides is huge and reflects a deeper, broader mythological confusion over where the country is going and what it actually is in the 21st century.
Mamet and many conservatives hark on about American exceptionalism, the shining city on the hill, the pinnacle of human evolution to this point while the rest of the world looks on in various states of amusement and fear!! Really, this is that they really think and if this is as good as it gets, god help us! Similar to Mamet, I get tired of the simple overgeneralized criticisms of the USA, especially from left wing Europeans and Americans, as there are so many good things about the USA and it’s way too easy to simply condemn its evil, capitalist ways and sinful abuses of race and class, heinous as they are. It’s America’s turn so of course they think they are the best. The British did too for quite a long time and every imperial conquest is fueled by this idea. Otherwise, why bother. You have to think that you are doing this for the greater good, even as you exploit a people and country and rape and pillage it to submission. It’s why you do it – for their benefit. As the British used to think, bringing the 3 C’s to a country – Commerce, Christianity and Civilization was a noble thing to do. But one thing is true. In many parts of the world, the influence of the USA is not a benign one. That casual assumption by most on the right that the goals of the USA around the world are benevolent is a sick joke – whether looking at Vietnam, Indonesia in the 1970’s, Central and South America forever, Africa during the cold war and now most other places – Yemen included. Lets’ not forget Libya just a few years before that (along with their allies, the UK and France, with Hillary Clinton gloating in the wings). Yes, the USA has protected Europe from possible Soviet and now Russian meddling for a long time but even that is questionable and following Mamet’s logic, it is perhaps time to question this. Also, history shows that the USA’s policy after the 2nd World War actually facilitated the Cold War, through its anti-communist agenda and the lack of understanding by President Truman. It was an opportunity missed as was the end of the Cold War in 1990 when the USA spent too long gloating over its ascendancy to being the only world power. (Oliver Stone’s excellent series The Untold Story of the United States is a good watch here.) Perhaps it is time to let Europe go and also other parts of the world and Trump’s isolationist instincts are maybe a better idea here. If Hillary Clinton had come to power, it is likely she would have been much more interventionist and carried on the same old same old machinations of instigating coups wherever, and further prodding President Putin, who actually has shown real restraint over the provocations of NATO onto the historical borders of Russia. It is strange to say this, but the West has behaved worse and been more aggressive than Russia, the USA behaving like the global glutton it is. Putin moving into Crimea made total sense from a geo-political point of view. Most countries would have done the same thing. I’m sure Prime Minister Trudeau would invade Alaska if he could!
According to the somewhat Machiavellian rationalizations that Mamet gives for the justifications for human actions, America’s motives cannot be benign, they have to be based on “ambition” and self-interest, but which, he states is more neutral as it’s about give and take which is the heart of the free market system. But we also know it’s about exploitation – including the natural resources of the world – which Mamet bemoans is not part of the liberal impulse. Really can that be true? Every liberal government in the USA and the rest of the world has never really hesitated to continue to seek to exploit natural resources, especially those belonging to other people. Even Jimmy Carter didn’t hesitate to make it known of the US’s divine rights to Saudi oil, and whether left or right, the USA and all imperial powers have simply taken what they can, when they can. The Nazis did it, the British and French did, and now the Americans are doing it. Left or right makes little difference.
But maybe Mamet has a point in that conservatives may be more honest in their exploitation. Liberals tends to cover their tracks through all the NGOs scouring the world, whether UN organizations, or USAID, PEPFAR, Clinton Foundation, Gates Foundation and a ton of NGOS who really are involved in the global agenda of the USA’s economic and political hegemony. Yes, some good gets done (not much by Gates and Clinton) but mostly it’s to benefit themselves financially and politically.
The naïve assumptions by some within the USA that its foreign policy is mostly of a benevolent impulse, to improve the lot of the world and encourage real democracy simply doesn’t hold water. Politicians don’t really believe it in the main, but it is the narrative used to justify things. Mamet talks about looking at the facts and seeing if something is really working, being more of an uber realist than idealist. Well, it depends on what one means by working. Sure, in the cold war, there was some justification to prop up dubious leaders and their governments. It at least made sense to a point but did we really need to get rid of Mosaddegh in Iran in 1953, Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954, Allende in Chile in 1973? Amongst others. That kind of massive discrepancy between the popular idea of America from within and the reality without leads to a state of schizophrenia, one fed by a deep delusion of innocence that America has of itself. It can do no wrong as its innocent, perfect, good. In its ongoing fascination with Judeo-Christian thought and the Manichean forces of good and evil, America is good and much of the rest is evil. This original innocence has never been embraced by much of the world. Europe and Japan purged itself of its innocence through two world wars and China is much more realistic, with its taoistic understanding of the true nature of the human condition and its functional need for conformity, given its history and population. Russia also never tasted innocence but has relied on hyper nationalism to validate itself and being the outlier in Europe, never truly belonged. It was always different and has had to perpetuate this idea of its uniqueness through its own form of nationalism.
Therefore, right until this moment, whether liberal or conservative forces are in power, American foreign policy has not changed much. It varies a bit between the neo-liberal (conservative) hyper aggression of the globalists in power in both Bush eras and the slightly less interested in dominating world affairs by frequent invasions of the Clinton and Obama eras, but the concept of the insular, isolated nation turning its back on the world has never been really true. American writer Andrew Bacevitch clarifies that well enough. It’s a delusion, and is usually used to justify yet more military investment and therefore by default, it’s use. If you have it, you will use it. Whether Trump, in 2017, is really going to change this agenda much remains to be seen. However, Trump doesn’t have quite so many outright fascists in his back room as Bush Jr did, with Rumsfeld, Cheney, Pearle, Wolfowitz, Bolton and other global neo-cons plotting America’s perpetual supremacy over land, sea and space.
Another amazing statement in Mamet’s book is that the USA is not a racist country. Why? Because it has laws to say so. Because any Black American can in theory take any position available. Because any Black American, or any other color, is free to do as he or she chooses. That is freedom. One has a choice. This is a noble concept and has a nice theoretical base to it, and backed up by the US constitution. But is this true? Is the fact that 1 in 4 African Americans have or have had something to do with the criminal system anything to do with race? The War on Drugs? Is that an inevitable expression of ongoing racism in the USA, where race and class are the same thing and where the perversions of the penal system constantly hold Black Americans more to account than whites – the difference between Crack and Cocaine being the obvious example. And not to forget the litany of killings of innocent, unarmed black people by the police all over the country. Sure, race has nothing to do with it! OK, I admit it, it sounds like the very bleating of liberal heartache that Mamet hates, but where else in the world of democracies does such behavior exist and where the police get away with it so consistently. If that is what makes America great, you can keep it. (This was written in 2017 and whoops, look at it now). (Also, to note, it was Clinton who passed the Welfare Reform Bill and the Crime Bill in the 1990s, along with Uncle Joe Biden, that led to the incarceration of ever more black and poor people.)
And if the government shouldn’t be involved in anything but clothing cops and filling in potholes then our current private prison industry is doing a swimming job. Isn’t that great. The government has the legitimate job to run a justice system, and the best way to incarcerate as many people as possible is to hand it over to the private for-profit prison industry who take tax payers dollars to keep people in prison – and for as long as possible. Why as long as possible? Because they make money out of it. Which is why the California Prison officers Union has been the most powerful lobby in Sacramento, influencing state government penal policy and building one of the largest prison industries in the country. When Holland (it’s a country in Europe!) is closing its prisons as its finding better ways to punish people, most of the states in the USA are building more prisons to hold yet more people (the poor and non-white), and often in more depressed areas and towns where the only industry is the prison industry. What politician is going to run this industry down? And this is the nub. When private (individual/corporate –whatever) interests influence government policies so profoundly, it is no longer a government of the people and for the people. It is simply a vessel to do the bidding of vested interests, i.e., corporations, which is what fascism is. The merging of state and corporation. That’s where Mamet’s concern should be, not the superficial influence of liberal policy on higher education and multi-cultural studies. (This is actually a bit unfair as I do agree with him that the culture of political and social conformity that permeates a lot of higher education, has made it become a place of intolerance and bigotry. One university wanted to ban Bill Maher from speaking, for god’s sake, one of the few really funny and questioning voices on American TV). The question though is where is the power and who is wielding it? What are the real threats to a growing, evolving democracy and greater freedom. It’s not from the left mostly but from the right who will generally use both government and corporate power to keep people in check. At least the left is trying. (Again, this was written in 2017. Now in 2020, in the middle of Covid, we are seeing the democratic left being much more willing to lockdown the population and eviscerate civil rights based on the dodgy science and numbers fed to governments by Big Pharma and Dr Anthony Fauci and Bill Gates. Maybe Mamet has a point. Things are now switching around now and it’s the dems like Andrew Cuomo in New York and Gavin Newsom in California that are behaving so badly and forgetting the constitution. The left wing in the UK also seem to like this lockdown nonsense).
But why not leave the old dynamics of left v. right or liberal v. conservative behind. In the end it’s a massive distraction from the true causes of eroding democracy, which is the ever increasing collusion between government and private interests. Government, however big, should be a neutral force to mediate the interests of all parties, but in particular those with little voice and power are more likely to be oppressed. In theory in a democracy you can choose to be oppressed or not, according to Mamet, but is that really the case? Of course not. Most people don’t have that choice and the increasing choices they had after the 2nd World War and that continued till the end of the 1970’s has since been systematically eroded away. Thatcher and Reagan set the ball rolling and it hasn’t stopped since, wonderfully enabled by those two bastions of liberal thought – Bill Clinton and Tony Blair. There is precious difference between liberal and conservative in the world of real-politic. That’s why so many on the left are disenchanted and also many on the real conservative libertarian right, which I presume is who Mamet is talking about. A true conservative and a true liberal would be equally distraught at the corruption of government, not just the size, but what it is doing and who it is serving. A valid argument can be had about the basic role of government and who should provide solutions to many of the challenges we face and I agree that government is often the problem and dislike ever encroaching invasion of personal rights and freedom from the government. But in the post 9/11 world and the War on Terror, I don’t see the right pleading the individual rights of Man any more than I do the liberals. They are the same and they all signed the Patriot Act without blinking, with some noble exceptions (including Ron Paul on the libertarian right and Bernie Sanders and Dennis Kucinich on the libertarian left).
What should be done is create a better, more effective firewall between government and corporations. Stop the revolving door that allowed half of Clinton’s cabinet jump onto the board of Monsanto, the sickest company on the planet. Enforce a 5-year moratorium on any politician joining private industry of any company in which he/she had any involvement or oversight. Enforce a financial open book for all politicians for 5 years after government service. Don’t let them use their years of service as a means to make profit once leaving government. Limit the powers of corporations, especially the banking industry and also the oil, gas mining and drug industries. Revitalize anti-trust laws. Break down the massive Big Pharma, Big Banking and Big Tech companies. National policies on health, power and finance should not be influenced by private corporations. (In the UK, renationalize the water, power and train systems). Oh yes, and the Bank of England! Control the finance. Blow up the Bank of International Settlements in Basle, Switzerland! Private corporations can have a say – why not – in how things should happen, but the link should be formalized and kept at a distance. Is this the government intervening “unnaturally” into the free market. Maybe, but the market isn’t free. It’s fixed in the interests of those with power, i.e., private industry and the banks that feed them. Politicians mainly do the bidding of these players as they know after government, there’s a nice job waiting for them, which will pay the mortgages of their many houses.
So if Mamet and others are talking of the “free market”, then let’s make it free, but like a football game, have some off-side laws and recognized boundaries. If getting rid of Affirmative Action will balance the playing field and take away the concept of the victim and empower people of all backgrounds to stand on their own two feet, great. But let’s create as much equal opportunity as possible at the same time. It’s all very well to say, well, from now on, we’re all starting from zero, but what if we are starting at – 50, then what? Should anything be done or should we just leave it to personal ambition and drive to do that – in time!
And back to Africa, Mamet quotes Dambisa Moya’s book, “Dead Aid” which is an indictment of much of the aid industry in Africa (and perennial favourite amongst the academic right wing) but she makes a good point. (let’s forget for a moment her links to Goldman Sachs, World Bank, Barclays Bank, World Economic Forum and now Chevron Corporation). Perhaps similarly to the concept of Affirmative Action, her argument is that aid simply encourages dependency and perpetuates the very inequalities it is meant to alleviate. Corrupt governments being given money to facilitate development simply lets the government off the hook doing the work for itself and anyway, the poor people don’t see any of the money anyway. As someone said somewhere, “Aid is poor people in rich countries giving money to rich people in poor countries.” Kind of sums it up.
The inequities built into the political structures of most African countries means that, like the rain pounding onto the savanna, it instantly dries up the moment the sun comes out and nothing has changed. The money has gone. This argument of letting individuals/countries standing up on their own without developing codependence and enforcement of post-colonial agendas (a lot of aid money has these dubious ties to bygone era of overt colonialism) has a lot of merit and after working and being in 3 African countries for over 8 years, I see how much dependency on aid simply creates complacency and an unnatural reliance on way too much money from donors to do most things. Many books discuss this dilemma, perhaps most brutally revealed in “The Crisis Caravan” by Linda Polman and “Lords of Power” by Graham Hancock. Another more recent book is “The Trouble with Aid: Why Less Could Mean More for Africa” by Jonathan Glennie, which makes the good case that, bottom line, aid is the cheapest and most efficient way to exert political and economic influence for global players. Maybe Mamet just wants to be clearer. You just put the cards on the table and don’t cover it up with Bono and Jeffrey Sachs platitudes. The classic book though on this subject is “Confessions of an Economic Hitman” by John Perkins, if one wants to get uber-real-politic. Is that what Mamet really means?
Further to this argument over the role of government and also discussed a lot by the aid industry philosophers today is changing the strategy from empowering government to empowering the private sector, which is what Moyo is saying. However, this has now been twisted by the neo-liberal obsession with the privatization of virtually all the commons, and enforced ruthlessly by the IMF and their jackals. (See Confessions of an Economic Hitman for more elaboration). Structural adjustment programmes as conditions for loans has led to massive privatization and the people are no better off. The legitimate argument regarding the lack of integrity of many governments in Africa and beyond becomes the excuse for the evisceration of any domestic control over many important areas of economic control and growth – power, water, natural resources, worker’s rights, independent government and judiciary. South Africa is good example of this, where after all the negotiations toward a peaceful transfer of power from the apartheid era to a black dominated government of the ANC, Nelson Mandela was handed the reins of power but with precious little control and influence over its economic agenda. This was wonderfully described by Naomi Klein in “The Shock Doctrine”. Which is why, over 20 years later, little has really changed in the distribution of economic power within the country. All the privatization of water in Soweto created was higher water rates and people being cut off. (And now in 2020, South Africa is suffering from one of the most savage lockdowns of any country during Covid, and also the ANC is being accused of such brazen corruption on such a massive level, it is seriously challenging its very legitimacy. For some countries, Covid19 is an excuse to further diminish democracy and for the powers that be to threaten the opposition – This is happening in Uganda, Rwanda and Zimbabwe, whereas in South Africa Covid19 is being used to distract from the corruption and the desperate economic situation. It is also being used as a guinea pig by the World Health Organization and those that run it, to see how far they can push an African country and soften it up for further exploitation). Maybe I am being cynical but South Africa is pivotal economically and socially for the whole continent so a cowered and penniless population can perhaps be more easily influenced and coerced.
It’s not that much different in the UK by the way, the one country that has been the guinea pig for the widespread privatization of just about everything except the National Health Service, the last symbolic hangout of the social welfare system (and that has been seriously chipped away by both conservative and labour governments). Most of Western Europe wouldn’t allow this situation and even in the United States, there are way more controls of what quasi-private companies can do and manipulate in terms of costs and profits in the power sectors. Americans except and demand cheap power, the Brits don’t. The UK has been used as a testing ground for the agenda of the global corporatists for some time now. If it works there, then they see if can work in the USA. Massive privatization and pillaging have been a favorite pastime for these global thinkers.
Kenya has one of the most corrupt political cultures in the world. Standing at 150 out of 176 countries in the world, according to Transparency International. Its politicians enjoy some of the most generous salaries in the world. Yes, in the world. The trouble is though, it costs a lot to become a politician and a lot to stay as one. Many hands are held out and as you have benefitted by becoming a politician with the support of your community, you are supposed to pay back, and frequently. This culture of paying out perpetuates the endless demand on Kenyan politicians to keep seeking yet more money. Ironically, it is a strange form of economic redistribution on one level. Politicians become a form of social safety net for their communities. The trouble is, they mostly forget to distribute it.
Every now and again, the population says enough and demonstrates against ever increasing salaries and benefits, but it doesn’t really hold the politicians back. Even now in 2017 and a few months before the next election, politicians demanded to be paid for the 8 months that they could have worked if the elections were held early in 2018 and not August of 2017. So, they wanted about $80,000 each for the time that they could be working if the election was to be held 8 months later, even if they get voted out and don’t work. If they happen to get reelected then they get paid twice. It seems they will get this money, while at the same time, the President, Uhuru Kenyatta is holding his hand out to international donors for money to support the serious drought in the country, leaving around 4 million people hungry, and which doesn’t hit the media that much. So apparently there’s enough to give millions of dollars to politicians for not working but not enough to feed the people suffering in the drought. (As of 2020, the Kenyan government did the bidding of the WHO and closed the country for months, even though the number of deaths from Covid are miniscule and the hospitals have not been under pressure. The economy is devastated. The government has gone begging to the IMF for some billions and Kenyan police have systematically terrorized the population, killing many for no reason, sometimes for breaking curfews, and sometimes in their ongoing sport of extra-judicial killings and bribing and looting. The organization that looks into police killings is overwhelmed and in fact has little power and the police mostly ignore them, while the government does nothing).
So, in observing the role of governments in many African countries, and the real power they wield as the private corporate sector (and also the civil society sector) isn’t powerful enough to exert much influence apart from large international corporations, you do see that the government is mostly interested in forcing its authority and power onto the people. And it exerts a price for doing so, extracting what they can get at every turn. Although not that effective at extracting formal taxes until now, they manage to intervene into most economic activity and discourage and thwart most individual entrepreneurship. People are used to getting the government’s permission to do most things. African governments love formal bureaucracy and hurdle building, simply as an exercise in power and the opportunity to make money from it. That’s why they don’t like to give up power and hang on till the bitter end. There’s money to be made and they fear it will be taken away the minute they lose power which is often true. As the saying goes, “it’s our turn to eat.” Kenya is simply an extreme version of what happens in most African countries and basically most countries in the world. France and Italy in Europe aren’t that far ahead in some respects and the USA has simply instituted a level of corruption into the heart of the political system. In Africa, at least it is still personal to some extent and actually a small amount of corruption is an effective quid pro quo to get things done. Like many things, it is just when it gets out of hand that the problems really start.
To allow countries in Africa to prosper, governments should be encouraged to let people get on with things and simply help develop the infrastructure for people to get busy. They should on one level disconnect from the donor world, including all the UN organizations that are often infiltrated with the government and corporate interests of many countries (not to mention the CIA), and empower individuals, groups and businesses to become more autonomous. The huge amounts of donor money swimming through Kenya mostly fosters greed, complacency and yet more corruption. It doesn’t help. Kenya and many countries should be left to fend for themselves and the money that would be spent can go back to the donor countries where it is likely needed just as much. Humanitarian aid is another thing, but even there, one should be careful. Aid money therefore, acts often as a buffer against accountability of the government to the people. Take the buffer away and make the political class sweat a bit. Make them accountable. Right now, they are not.
(One area of development is the use of smart phones and smart money, using phones to transfer money and pay for things. A large part of Africa is moving very fast now in incorporating new technologies, and bypassing the traditional banking system and credit cards. This is now going hand in hand with the development of biometric I.D. which is being instigated by private companies and working with governments. One potential huge problem is that these companies are massive western corporations and their associated NGO partners, including the Gates Foundation, Microsoft, GAVI vaccine alliance, Mastercard, VST and other companies working in conjunction with NGOs such as ID4Africa, ID2020, Rockefeller Foundation etc. The risk of the collection of unique biometric data, linked to personal information, including health and finance is that it can get in the wrong hands (corporate and government) and be used coercively to create a more controlled and compliant population and for the agenda of these organizations. Can we really trust the agenda of these organizations with their track record?)
Nairobi is a good example of seeing the impact of large amounts of donor money. Fancy hotels, smart malls with all the modern gear, tinted window black SUV’s stuck in traffic, big embassies and UN buildings, beautiful, gated communities with large houses fenced in and manned 24 hours a day, and then, potholed streets, squalid public areas, dusty and dirty pathways, huge slums right next to posh neighborhoods, a chaotic and inefficient public transport system with no order, a laissez-fair classic African madhouse of matatus and beat up old buses, the most deplorable traffic mess and pollution that can be imagined and a vague, threatening quality if one walks down the wrong street. Mostly the people are wonderful and friendly and there is a buzz to the place, a kind of wild west anarchy along with a hip vibe of modernity to it, which is refreshing to see, but if they don’t get their traffic situation together soon, don’t curb the birth rate (48 million in 2020) and finally don’t curb the mad excesses of greed and don’t tame the tribal and hyper aggressive political culture, Kenya will continue to suffer. As for the USA, it’s too late!