The choice of economic development over justice is unjust - reject it

Wednesday September 20 2017

As the initial excitement of the Supreme Court judgement starts to wane and as the full decision is published, some people will seek to cope through the familiar cynicism with which they navigate their citizenship.

Others will feel trepidation and angst.

Others still might be propelled by the winds of change that blew on that historic day. All the reactions, as the people in whom they reside, are valid.

Yet my focus in today's column is the re-emerging school of thought that, at face value, may be considered pragmatic but whose intents are downright sinister.

It situates the repeat presidential election within the impact of politics on the economy. It concludes, worryingly, that this quest to institutionalise democracy is harmful to economic development.

The argument being put forth is that this journey we’ve set ourselves on - of seeking to uphold democratic values - is a road less travelled by countries who are seen as economic giants today.


To industrialise, as envisioned in development blueprints like Vision 2030, is apparently to forfeit rights - be they civil, labour, political - and to get down to the harsh, hard business of building industries.

In the words of one author, “it seems that our pursuit of human rights and democratic ideals is slowly impeding our ability to industrialise.”

She further asserts that:

what we fail to understand, however, is that as a country’s labour rights and wages increase, (they) chase away investors, who must seek the cheapest means of production in order to recoup their investments [...] Our liberal democratic laws, which place individual human and political rights above economic interests, are hindering economic development.

It served as yet another reminder of just how much neoliberal schools of thought pervade our policy and business circles.


Switching focus to the political arena, for instance, it’s quite fascinating how the Supreme Court judgement is being posited as an impediment by various quarters.

The highest altar at which many would have us worship is the economic one: that of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), middle-income status, foreign direct investment and other macroeconomic indicators of progress.

Kenya, to those leveraging its political and economic power, is merely a site of extraction and transaction. Period.

Fifty plus years since attaining ‘independence’, the rhetoric emerging from circles of influence is simply crystallising the fact that we, the people of Kenya, and our sovereign will, may be defined one way in instruments such as the 2010 Constitution, while

the ‘real’ will, in effect, is that which reserves power, resources and influence for a select few.

Who selects them, when and how remains a conundrum with which to contend, as the cogs of injustice remain in motion.


The ‘seek ye first economic progress and development and all other democracy goodies shall be added unto you’ school of thought can indeed be justified from precedent, which often references how Western nations came to be the powers they are.

The fine print is hardly given much spotlight, though one no longer needs a magnifying lens to read it; a quick glance at world news, in all is clearly not well, gives you all the context you need.

The last five decades of this country have made it very clear that people, and the public interest, will keep pushing back against systems that try to undermine their centrality in a nation.

As a young person looking ahead, it is clear that this is an untenable manner in which to proceed. Economic dividends have accrued to the few, not the many.

That is why the Supreme Court judgement, the ongoing and resolved labour unrest and other sites of struggle for human rights cannot be downplayed or merely dismissed as inconveniences.

The respect for, and upholding of, those rights enshrined in the Constitution, that have long been the desires and entitlement for all citizens of this land, are what inspire and rejuvenate all actors to contribute to the very economic development that is spoken of.

Infrastructure over people, GDP growth over individuals, families and communities moving away from the poverty abyss, ‘development’ over the preservation of the environment, culture and heritage sites; all these amount to building castles over sand.


Just because an exploitative, exclusionary and predominantly unjust path to economic development exists surely cannot mean that it is the only option.

Recent events in this country attest to a rejection of this path. For as long as justice is delayed, the worshippers of ‘economic development at all costs’ will not only be fooling themselves, but also placing us on a trajectory that is continually disrupted, increasingly violent and less resilient.

No doubt, the road ahead is a difficult one. At this critical; juncture, where a flawed process in exercising our civic right has been outed, we are presented with options: to continue with ‘(unjust) business as usual’ or to fix these issues that are finding less and less space under the rug, where they have often been swept.

Fixing what is wrong is obliviously a long-term commitment and it may not bode well for those who want to attain, retain or control power. However, to keep passing it down to the next regime, or the next generation, is to set us all up for failure.

Twitter: @NiNanjira