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Is Kenya experiencing the American gilded age of 18th century?

By Prof. M.Y. Elmi:

Dr. Elmi

Dr. Elmi

The Americans experienced the gilded age in 1878 to 1889 a period of rapid economic growth and industrialization. While the rich wore diamonds, many poor people wore rags. In 1890, 11 million of the nation’s 12 million families earned less than $1200 per year; of this group, the average annual income was $380, well below the poverty line. In New York, the opera, the theatre, and lavish parties consumed the ruling class’ leisure hours. Sherry’s Restaurant hosted formal horseback dinners for the New York Riding Club. Mrs. Stuyvesant Fish once threw a dinner party to honor her dog who arrived sporting a $15,000 diamond collar.

Corruption extended to the highest levels of government. During Ulysses S. Grant’s presidency, the president and his cabinet were implicated in the Credit Mobilier, the Gold Conspiracy, the Whiskey Ring, and the notorious Salary Grab. The presidency of Grant was usually represented as a nadir of political probity. When French Prime Minister George Clemenceau visited, he said the nation had gone from a stage of barbarism to one of decadence — without achieving any civilization between the two. The writer Mark Twain (1873) described this era The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today, which satirized an era of serious social problems masked by a thin gold gilding.

The Kenya economy is robust and growing rapidly, it’s projected to 6.5% growth by the end of 2016 and the discovery of oil and other natural resources in the country is likely to catapult massive economic growth never witnessed before. Kenya is not only a participant in the global geopolitics as in the past but an active and a prominent member in the decision making organ with many first international conferences held in Nairobi among others, the most prestigious World Trade Organization and Tokyo International on African development (TICAD) conferences.

In this robust growth, the manifestation of the American Gilded age is conspicuous. It was a period of indulgent of commercial speculation, social ostentation with political prevarication with nefarious linkages between politician and businessmen resulting to unprecedented wide spread corruption and plunder of the public resources as annually reported in the Auditors general report. , unearthing numerous financial scandals from the recent Rio Olympic scam, the National Youth Service ( NYS) and the land grabbing mania including public primary schools land grabbing, where primary pupils were teargassed after public protest to reclaim the land from a well-placed private developer etc . The transparency international rates Kenya in the corruption perception index 139 out 160 scoring 25% .The organizations mandated to fight corruption and public resources pilferage are themselves dogged with corruption and other impropriety. The Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission (EACC) is a classic example. All arms of the government from the Parliament, the Judiciary and Executive have being affected by ever increasing wipe of corruption infiltrating every social fiber and resulting to moral decay in the society.

The economic growth has brought massive infrastructure developed of extensive road network connecting most parts of the country except for the North Eastern Province. The Airport have been modernized and rehabilitated to international standards and the seaport have similar transformation and the newly modernized under construction railway line will ease congestion and improve efficiency at the ports for faster economic development and regional integration. The Government spending has increased by 25.3% and Public debt has increased by 54% of the total domestic output and population below poverty line is at 43.4% with unemployment at rate hitting at more than 40%. The gap between rich and poor widen resulting to soaring crimes and impunity. The public anger is palpable and manifested in public street demonstration, the burning of schools by students and other cartel linked to examination cheating. Insecurity become a huge national problem with terrorist organizations taking advantage of the prevailing corrupt environment and unleashing generalized terror activities in whole country and perpetuation of radical religious extremism. The Government reacted with wave of anti-terrorism mass hysteria similar to the American senator Joseph Mccarthy anticommunist hysteria of the 1950, resulting to exaggerated anxiety of terrorism and prejudicial treatment of part of the society particularly the Muslim communities with disappearance and extrajudicial killing of the suspected victims as report by the human rights organizations.

Devolution was intended to transform and bring essential services closer to the people and ensure public participation in governance processes. This has been made possible by the transfer of functions and funds to the County Governments to implement those functions to reduce inequity, the gap between the rich and the poor. The dilemma is, has devolution achieved its intended purpose or devolution is a part of the gilded era in Kenya”s history? The solution lies in overzealous fighting of corruption and social inequities. Do the current crop of politicians and the governing elites have the will power to end corruption? Time will tell.

The writer is a professor of epidemiology.

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