Friday, January 18, 2008

A continent of shop keepers?

Looking for a little more in-depth coverage of the roots of Kenya’s recent political problems, I came upon this piece in Spiked Online. The thesis: From colonial times, the foundation of the modern Kenyan state has been built on force and the political manipulation of ethnic identity.

Then I came across this:

Post-independence politics in many African countries has been characterised by what Africa expert Morris Szeftel describes as ‘the dependence of the African petty bourgeoisie on access to the state and its resources. In the context of underdevelopment, local accumulation rests heavily on political power and the ability it provides to appropriate public resources.’ He continues: ‘The problem is how to find a niche somewhere between underdevelopment and the domination exercised over the local economy by foreign capital… Ruling elites learn that gate-keeping functions (trade licences, contracts, foreign exchange) bring huge rewards (far greater and with far fewer costs than legitimate business).’ (4)

It is not only accumulation that is dependent on access to the state but also political support. Via the mechanism of clientalism, those in public office can distribute development projects and more clandestine resources in return for loyalty and votes (5).

In Kenya, state authority has been “ethnicised.”

I’ll admit that I went to a state school, but “petty bourgeoisie” is a word that always turns me back to the dictionary. Thank heavens for Wikipedia: members of the lower middle social classes; includes shop keepers and professionals; those who rely on the sale of their labor for survival.

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