How global capitalism increases ‘unequal criminality’ in Kenya

Control theorists justify why ‘we’ don’t commit crime. They explain how behaviour conforms to society’s normative expectations… A holistic “organised crime” counter-strategy should redress not only inequitable national, but also global, capital


Dr charles khamala

Karl Popper (1945) proposes that the Director of Public Prosecutions should articulate an annual prosecution policy. However, for the police bureaucracy to succeed in prosecuting the poor, Chambliss argues, they must covertly and selectively forgo investigating certain elite crimes. Unsurprisingly, our courts have only belatedly awoken to construe the 2003 Economic Crimes Act as shifting the burden of proof onto suspects to account for their unexplained assets. Furthermore, many crime victims are silenced.

By conducting original interviews, Kippra attempts to rectify unreliability caused by the “dark figure” of unreported crime, which invariably distorts official statistics. In sum, that survey fails to faithfully apply its smorgasbord conceptual frameworks to analyse its copious data – illustrated in 112 tables, 5 bar charts, 2 pie charts, and a graph – to derive some “proactive” conclusions of increasing government focus on the causes of crime, rather than punishing criminals. Even assuming its proposed managerial approaches, like community policing are progressive, rather than “business as usual” repressing lower classes, whether street crime causes or criminals, nevertheless, by omitting the need to fight respectable crimes – electoral, institutional and grand corruption – its 14-policy recommendations elicit scathing criticism. Admittedly, “research is an important source of knowledge in management of crime”. Ultimately, Kippra’s moderate policy recommendations arise from crime theories neither cognisant nor responsive to 21st century criminogenic pressures of global capital, financial markets and symbolic media which spawn new global crime.

Statisticians Chris Muchwanju, Joel Chelule and Joseph Mung’atu’s 2015 study is expressly limited to analysing official data with no field research. Their 8-page “Modelling Crime Rate Using a Mixed Effects Regression Model” paper, points out purposively that it is “crucial to study crime rate and the reason why it increases, not only for academic purposes but also for designing and diligently prescribing effective policies for planning, predicting and preventing crime”. This is because “unless there are clear policy guidelines to deal with issues of crime, Vision 2030 may not be realised”. They conclude that “all the crime rates considered differ significantly between provinces and hence crime should be studied at smaller levels”.

Economics of Crime Rates

With tremendous respect, however, the recommendations by Muchwanju “et al.” do not “help the government in formulating policies that can be appropriate in crime prevention and move away from the tradition(al) way of crime reduction to preventive way” as claimed. Rather, their recommendations merely reinforce punitive law and economics, well known theoretical assumptions on crime and punishment based on Gary Becker’s (1968) landmark model of economic man.

Sparing the economic jargon of Muchwanju et al., their sole novel recommendation is that “the community at large should also be (used to) educate the youth and occupy them with work.” They concede not only that qualitative research is required to determine reasons for individual wrongdoing and to combine tailoring educational treatments with occupational ones. By recommending community participation in education for youth empowerment, these statisticians aim, albeit weakly, to minimise the social strains resulting from lack of means to satisfy consumer wants. Still, they too fail to radically criticise the state’s failure to protect against liberal ravishment by unbridled capitalism itself, particularly in the new global era.

Kippra’s survey also invokes classicist economic perspectives of crime, but only to buttress its reliance on mainstream “positivistic” criminological theories drawn partly from Robert Merton’s (1938) “Strain theory”, and partly from Albert Cohen’s (1955) “Subcultural theory”. The former’s illusive American dream generates “anomie” responded to through adaptations “viewed as a mismatch between goals people have and the means of obtaining them legally”. The latter develops delinquent boys “since some lower class individuals are unable to achieve success legitimately, they experience cultural conflict which is also referred to as status frustration”.

Both these Chicago School approaches, according to Martin Schwartz and Walter De Keseredy (2006), are inadequate. Nonetheless, they contribute to the 1980s “Left realist theory”. “Left realists believe that relative poverty rather than absolute poverty is the key to understanding crime. There are a great number of people who live in the world at a very low standard of living who do not engage in crime. However, when people come to the conclusion that they are being cheated, that other people have many more material goods than they have for no particularly good reason, this is a political situation that breeds discontent”.

This is but one deficiency in the theoretical frameworks underpinning the studies of both Kippra and Muchwanju et al. They ignore the fact that it is only if talented individuals perceive that less talented people possess more material possessions or hold unjustified statuses, that they (the talented), “irrespective of class”, may become frustrated and rebel by, Schwartz and De Keseredy say, solutions such as “riots, political movement, and labour organisings that have taken place in the past century” or other adaptive acts which capitalist laws criminalise. Status-desire for symbolic, rather than useful, goods is acquired through consumer advertising, derisively termed Americanisation, MacDonaldisation, globalisation, westernisation, universalism or neoliberalism.

Another deficiency is that Kippra and Muchwanju “et al.” fail to conceptualise the theory which immunises against deviant acculturation. Control theory is also absent from their conceptual frameworks. Nonetheless, its argument strongly informs their recommendations of strengthening media, community participation and youth education etc. In brief, control theorists justify “why ‘we’ don’t commit crime”. They explain how behaviour conforms to society’s normative expectations. Travis Hirschi (1969) identifies “social bonding” entailing being attached, committed, involved and believing. He focuses on external institutions and routines like belonging to peer groups, churches, families or even jobs which effect control. Inadequate constraints cause crime.

Organised criminal gangs

Although crime is a social construction, official reporters, including Kenya’s National Crime Research Centre’s 45-page “Summary of a Study on Organised Criminal Gangs in Kenya” (2012) wrongly conceive of it as a physical quality.

Ignore NCRC’s brief of general, yet cosmetic allusions to criminality’s social causes, to wit, “There is a conducive environment in Kenya for organised criminal gangs to flourish: the weakening social fabric, rapid social changes, increasing poverty, unemployment, corruption, political antagonism and ethnic politics”. That study’s conceptual framework pays lip-service to its own proposition that “organised criminal gangs are a product of society. They come up and develop because society accepts them but society turns against them only when their negative effects begin to weigh too heavily on it”.

Although NCRC sets out to identify “the main causes of crime and its prevention as opposed to unsuccessful deterrent methods applied in the criminal justice system to fight crime”, in actual fact, its study miserably fails to critique the fundamental public-production/private-ownership contradiction from which capitalist criminal law advances ruling class interests. It narrowly finds that because “most members of organised criminal gangs had low levels of formal education” therefore they “focused more on crimes that did not require technological and/or software application”. NCRC merely endorse strengthening conventional criminal justice since “Corruption within the institutions responsible for investigation, prosecution, sentencing and corrections is a key challenge”.

Hence, its badly-skewed recommendations remain aimed at punishing “crimes of poverty” while permitting “crimes of wealth”.

Besides reviewing some Italian-Sicilian Mafioso and Sino-Middle Eastern organised criminal enterprise literature, it recognises that “African criminal gangs have developed quickly since the 1980s due to the globalisation of the world’s economies and the great advances in communications technology”.

Nevertheless, NCRC’s “first-half of the 20th century criminology theories” are as obsolete as those of Kippra and Muchwanju et al. Clearly, it is incumbent upon 21st century criminologists to develop explanatory frameworks of how global capital structures create an unregulated exploitative elite comprising multinational corporations whose new economic tyranny fuels grand corruption, surpassing the horrors of 20th century state impunity. They do not. For them, “organised crime is defined as crime committed by structured groups typically involving the provision of illegal goods and services to others”. Yet their analysis omits Kenyan elite “criminal firms”.

Neither should punitive responses be limited to the criminal justice system’s “law and order” repression. Yet, to justify a “zero tolerance” policy, the Kenya Government proscribed ethnic cleansers, like “Mungiki, Al Shabaab, Sungusungu, Angola Msumbiji, Mombasa Republican Council and the 42 Brothers”. At its conceptual level, that “proscription of 33 organised criminal groups in the countrywide (vide) a gazette notice dated October 18, 2010” under the Prevention of Organised Crimes Act, 2010, denies the rationality of criminal organisations. Clearly, the Cabinet Secretary for Interior and Coordination of National Government selectively ignores the globalisation’s elite crime gangs. Declaring “war on terror” merely justifies unleashing the Kenya Defence Forces to exterminate Al Shabaab religious extremists. NCRC conveniently “carry out research into the ‘modus operandi’ of members of these outlawed organisations engaged in criminal activities”. Its sole recommendation worth quoting is its 13th: “Build and/or strengthen international capacity, cooperation and partnerships in dealing with especially transnational organised criminal groups”. Their remaining ones perpetuate apologies consolidating ruling-class ideologies.

Three globalisation movements

Yael Tamir (2003) construes the condition of bonded labourers in pre-capitalist feudal socio-economic formations as being even more dehumanising than workers’ plight under capitalist exploitation. “Consequently nationalism could offer the most desirable good – human dignity. For those who had no pedigree, no property, no work, no gain could be more valuable than this one”. Because serfs were enticed by prospects of gaining from meritocracy, it “was therefore rational to ally themselves with the national project despite economic exploitation”. However, Steven Messner and Richard Rosenfeld’s (2000) “institutional-anomie theory” cautions why, under globalisation, the nation-state’s bluff of equal citizenship has become farcical.

Globalisation, Katja Aas (2007) explains, shrinks space and time. People, goods and symbols are linked by worldwide distant “universal” events, values and risks. While factors of production may travel, however, corresponding controls by the state’s formal criminal justice system remain petrified inside porous territorial boundaries. Unfortunately, no international trade union movement heeds Marx’s call to unite workers in industrial action against multinational corporation exploitation. Instead, late 20th century decline in state welfarism, as Norbert Elias (1978) has shown, and similarly diminishing foreign donor aid, are both likely to increase domestic conventional crimes. This “first movement”, Karl Polanyi (1957) calls “the Great Retrogression”. It results in a self-regulating international economy. But there is a “double movement.”

Globalisation also creates new conflicts such as drug, human, organ and heritage trafficking, money laundering, environmental destruction, etc. Neither, can neoliberal states protect local workers from these new hazards international capital portends. Therefore, in an attempt to regulate transnational relations through bilateral and multilateral treaties, states delegate limited sovereignty to international institutions such as the WTO. This is globalisation’s “second movement”, Polanyi’s “New Great Transformation”. Because international law lacks enforcement mechanisms, surrendered sovereignty proves insufficient.

Attempts to enforce domestic compliance encounter resistance from developed countries, opposed to UN regulations of multinationals, insisting on exceptions. Buffering twin tyrannies of state self-interest and economic domination is left to international civil society which forms coalitions and networks. Nonetheless, absence of effective – both state and international – constraints on global capital, increases “strains” of “anomie”. Thereupon, Third World individuals who cannot resist Western enticements portrayed by consumer advertising tend to recede behind ethnic and religious identities.

Third movement

Rising ethnic-cum-religious chauvinism represent globalisation’s “third movement”, Polanyi’s “Fundamentalist Counter Transformation”, filling the vacuum left by the “withering away of the state”. By rejecting “universal” symbols of capitalist consumerism, fanatics seek parochial identities through “hyper-moral vigilance” against “others”.

National identities are substituted by ethnic militia groups and religious fundamentalists, with a vengeance. Globalisation’s exploitative capitalism explains why “the rich get richer, while the poor get prison”. It is submitted, thus, alongside protecting whistle-blowers, privatising and communalising police, it is necessary to responsiblise Amisom and even regional or international courts and actors. A holistic “organised crime” counter-strategy should, moreover, redress not only inequitable national, but also global, capital where, Oxfam (2016) reports that, next year the wealth of the richest one per cent of the world’s population shall exceed that of the remaining 99 per cent.


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