Sam Amadi, Former Chairman of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, and Director, Abuja School of Social and Political Thoughts

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Subjects of Interest

  • Commercial Policy
  • Economic Governance
  • Electric Power
  • Law & Economy
  • Public Sector Reform

From Kenya with anger 09 Jul 2024

The end of June 2024 was dominated by stories of violent protests by Kenyan youths against plans to increase tax on the people in the face of excruciating pains of inflation. The president of the Kenyan republic, President William Ruto, and the legislature were determined to pass the finance bill in spite of strong expression of disapproval by the civil society. At a point, the president threatened to arrest and deal ruthlessly with those opposed to the bill. But the protesters were unyielding.

Sadly, in an attempt to violently putting down the protests, about 19 persons were reportedly shot dead. Nevertheless, the parliament passed the bill. But the president, in a supposed act of penitence, refused to sign the bill and withdrew proposals for the increase in taxes. He is now calling for discussion with the leaders of the civil society to end the protests.

Rather than relent, some of the protesters are now demanding that the President resigns from office for his irresponsibility and gross abuse of power. They have tasted blood and there is no chickening out. Some are fancying the prospects of an African spring from this ugly encounter.

But let us step back and consider the bigger picture. President Ruto is under pressure to manage a dire fiscal crisis and, as usual, he needs the help of international financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. These Washington, D.C.-based institutions will need stiff macroeconomic measures that requires, in the main, reducing public expenditure or increasing public finance, or both.

Kenya is not resources endowed and is not a very productive economy in terms of tradeable goods and services that can be increased to earn more revenue from world market. It relies heavily on proceeds of tourism and export of few agro products. Raising revenue through more taxation would be the standard prescription of these institutions. But the problem is that Kenyans are already distressed and barely coping with rising costs.

Now the tyre has hit the road. The President lamented that the protests have resulted in multiple deaths and destruction of property worth millions of dollars. The government has lost credibility and public trust to make required economic reform by its obduracy and dogmatic implementation of IMF advisory. A virus of violence has been unleashed and we expect that lawlessness and fear will characterise civil culture in Kenya. All these are needless and avoidable if the president and his team had paid attention to the changing landscape of political economy in the continent and elsewhere.

In his book, The World is Flat, renowned New York Times Columnist, Thomas Friedman, made a telling point about how the world has changed. He called the changed world ‘Globalisation 3.0’ and noted that it has bridged the gap between developed and developing world through technological innovation, which has "superempowered a whole new group of angry, frustrated, and humiliated men and women”. These angry men are in the streets, and they have the technology and visual space to do damage to the establishment.

The reading of Thomas Friedman has to be supplemented by a reading of Moses Naim to make a sense of what is happening in Kenya. And that is, that power is ending or has ended. The End of Power, the title of Moses Naim 2018 foreign policy masterpiece, means that hierarchy has been destroyed, a flat world has bequeathed to us a place where individuals can face down states. This is a disciplinary message to African governments that continue to emphasise governmentality rather than governance. Governmentality continues to see the state as a Weberian entity with the monopoly of violence that does not need to engage with citizens but to issue orders. Unfortunately, we are living in the era of the end of power and the reign of narratives.

That is another problem. We are living in the age of narratives where deliberation, stories, and perspectives are more important than substance. It may be true that Kenya needs to raise taxes. But the narrative of an irresponsible leadership beholding to the IMF and careless about the suffering of the masses imposes a major hindrance to governmental actions. African governments have to realise that, in an age of disruptive technology and social media, they are not as powerful as they used to be. They cannot suppress protests and dissents as they used to do. They are more vulnerable to negative narratives and would be economically damaged when such brutalities like what happened in Nairobi became a staple of social media.

It is time to admit what is obvious. The world has changed. Governments cannot do as they wish. Governmentality is no longer a sustained mode of public leadership. Governance, which is based on rule, networks, and cooperation rather than power, force and hierarchy is the sustainable and effective mode of public leadership in Globalisation 3.0. The modern African state, whether democratic or not, should be an argumentative – not coercive – state. It must engage the angry youths in a conversation that restores its credibility, effectiveness, and responsiveness to the anger and suffering that neoliberal economics has unleased in the continent and elsewhere.

The message from Kenya is clear and depressing: the African spring may not be as cheery or avoidable as both the leaders and the angry youths imagine.

Sam Amadi, PhD, a former Chairman of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission, is the Director of Abuja School of Social and Political Thoughts.