Uhuru Kenyatta’s Big Four: The Missing Dimension

Published on 11th April 2018

President Uhuru Kenyatta’s development agenda involves the implementation of the big four project which includes universal health, manufacturing, housing and food security. To realize the big four project, there is need for a different value system that guides our ethics and logic of production and exchange as well as the relationship with each other.

The first cohort of African leaders such as Kenneth Kaunda, Kwameh Nkrumah, Leopold Senghor, Julius Nyerere and Jomo Kenyatta had visionary value systems that guided human relationships,  production and exchange ethics. President Jomo Kenyatta’s  mementos included uhuru na kazi, turudi mashambani and hakuna cha bure. President Nyerere crafted the Ujamaa philosophy of solidarity and self-reliance. Nkrumah  focused on a development paradigm that borrowed  from socialism and African values. Senghor advanced the philosophy of negritude while Kaunda proposed humanism.

The philosophies above shared several things: the centrality of humanity, solidarity, self-reliance, self-determination and equity. I remember with nostalgia a Kenya Police Band song:

Harambee, Harambee

Tuimbe pamoja

Tujenge Kenya yetu

The song echoed the fact that our nation building relied on unity and solidarity of all Kenyans. Solving our development issues was a matter of collective action for everybody.

In 1969, John S. Mbiti in his book African Philosophy and Religion summarized the ethos of unity and solidarity in production, exchange and human relationship with the following statement: I am because you are and because you are therefore I am. Desmond Tutu has reiterated the importance of this African philosophy in the new South Africa by saying that people need to recognize that they are inextricably connected and interdependent on each other. When you do something, think about how it will affect the other person. Think about things you can do with others in building the nation. Do not be self-centered.

The philosophies of our founding fathers never saw the light of day. Africa was forced to adopt the prevailing market economics espoused by the IMF and World Bank. Goran Hyden observes that African countries were forced to do away with the economies of affection and embraced development paradigms that were not human centred.

Being a young professional during the implementation of the structural adjustment programs, I remember that despite having a PhD from Cambridge, I could not afford a mortgage and my savings with the East African building society lost value when interest rates were liberalized. Thika town, then known as the Birmingham of Kenya, lost its many industries. Indigenous banks collapsed and lives were lost as many people could not afford medication. Money, rather human life and relationships was prioritized in transactions.

Both President Kibaki and his successor, Uhuru Kenyatta, continued advancing policies that led to massive inequalities and creation of disposable individuals. The plight of these individuals is best described in the Gikuyu song Muthini wa Ngai (Gods poor people).  Self-reliance and determination was replaced by dependency on government or Nongovernmental organizations. Selfishness and greed replaced solidarity and sharing. Workers’ interests and welfare were undermined as companies pursued making huge profits with minimum expenditure.

One can only mourn the demise of the Kenya Planters Cooperative Union (KPCU), a farmers organization that represented the interests of coffee growers. While accusing fingers are directed on corruption for its demise, the bottom-line – greed and selfishness – are overlooked. Government sponsored marketing boards resorted to making more money for their management secretariat at the expense of the peasant producers. Individuals enriched themselves through NGOs and Civil society that were supposed to provide safety nets for the ordinary people.

The elite continued to build their portfolios and enriching themselves. They focused on opening up markets and inviting foreign direct investors who drew resources from the country to their home countries. Almost 85% of goods in local supermarkets – from toothpicks to matches - are imported. We destroy self determined locals who engage in local production such as those in Kamukunji and call them the informal sector. We have advanced a myth that we do not have innovation and entrepreneurial culture yet in the 1960s and 1970s, we had bus lines like Jogoo Kimakia, Uhuru na Kazi, Overland Quick Services, etc. We watched as these bus lines sank into oblivion. We failed to build them while we endeavoured to create a new entrepreneur culture which was based on selfishness and greed.

Uhuru’s big four agenda should revisit the ubuntu value system of the 1960s and 1970s which encouraged solidarity, reciprocity, sharing and self-determination. He should learn from the experience of the Githunguri Dairy Cooperative, Tabaka Soapstone industry, Kamukunji Jua Kali Cluster and Uhuru Market Garment Makers. These organizations are supported by a strong and socially inclusive  ubuntu base. They are managed by self-motivated and determined individuals committed to build themselves and move life to the next generation.

The ubuntu philosophy will encourage solidarity, sharing, reciprocity and good will among people. It will serve as a basis for new patriotism and nation building where people will respect each other’s interest and desire to create collective action. As espoused in the Safaricom tune bega kwa bega tusaidiane, people will work together to create communities for harnessing creativity and individual agency. Instead of people fighting for resources, they will work together to create more resources and share with each other.

Sometimes I wonder whether the young men and women working at high end hotels in Nairobi are able to entertain their families in the same places. I wonder how many young men and women working in supermarkets in Nairobi shop in these places. Their wages are kept low because we are in labour surplus economy. An utu-ubuntu production and exchange will ensure that these young men and women are well enumerated and share the wealth with the shareholders. They will be happy to serve.

Uhuru’s strategy of bringing in foreign investors will not succeed in the implementation of the big four.  Mobilizing youth and peasants like in the Githunguri Dairy cooperative will ensure an inclusive growth, development, an economy that will not proleteriatize some and make them the underdogs of production and exchange. It will help the individuals use their self-reliance and self-determination to build themselves and their community. It will help individuals examine how their production and exchange affects the other person. No person will be left behind or be a slave to corporations.

An utu-ubuntu value system will help people create communities for harnessing creativity and agency as in Kamukuji jua kali cluster where members have a self-evolved governance infrastructure that takes care of competitive ethnicity, ensures that different ethnic communities live and work together and remain united against unsupportive County and national government policies.

Kenya’s developmentalism crisis is about the nature, philosophies of production and exchange. If the country has a hotel that housed the American President, the problem is about how production and exchange is organized and managed. An utu-ubuntu human based transaction, production and exchange is the only one that will cure the problem. It will create a space economy where people will work together in reciprocal, solidarity and sharing relationships.

By Njeri Kinyanjui Phd

Institute of Development Studies, University of Nairobi. Author of Coffee Time, Women and Informal Economy in Urban Africa: From Margins to the Centre, and Vyama: Institutions of Hope: Ordinary People Market Coordination And Society Organization.

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