No wealth, no rights

‘Without power, discrimination reigns’

Nairobi global activists welcomed trade ministers from over 100 countries with a protest.


Discrimination is not a result of like or dislike. As Dr Claud Anderson observes, all forms of discrimination occur in the absence of economic empowerment.  

“To earn recognition, the black man must first achieve economic wellness. The surplus gained from creating wealth should then be invested in politics.”

In his five stages of liberation, he doesn’t give much regard to voting as a source of citizen power, advocating, instead, for the buying of every politician of influence and ability to look out for the rights of the small man.

“Wealth and political power deliver the integrity of the law enforcement agencies. Without power, discrimination reigns – and there is hardly a better example of this than the United States of America where the victims of law enforcement often are blacks, Mexicans and a section of the Arabs. Once wealthy, blacks must attempt a large scale and deliberate investment into media so as to mobilise and push their agenda. You may create media but how do you sustain it without wealth? Without expansive media preaching the black agenda, unity will be hard to come by/ all the other side needs to do is switch us off.”

Although a little extreme, the methods Anderson advocates for present the truth about politics: that rights and recognition belong to those who take them and not those who beg for them. This is the level the discriminated should aspire to. Perhaps then equality and tolerance will become reality.

Anderson is particularly relevant in trying to understand the discrimination of Kenyans at the hands of their Chinese employers. In no instance is his logic more profound than in a recent video gone viral in which a Chinese man racially abuses everything Kenyan with the confidence that being poor, they are incapable of punishing him. While the man has since been deported, Kenyans are not convinced that the State couldn’t have taken more drastic action.  Many are of the view that he should have been tried and jailed in Kenya.

Big Brother to the rescue

Historically, richer men have often been treated with more grace. The old adage that a rich man’s fart doesn’t smell is perfect testimony of this bias.

Applying this logic to diplomatic affairs, poor countries which rely on donors for sustenance have always held their benefactors with special regard. The relationships are even tighter when “Big Brother” was previously a colonial master. In one part, a nation’s citizens are easily charmed by the old master’s logic, having been born and established in her ways.

In another part, the nation has little choice but to bend to the whims of the old master who, due to hidden independence arrangements, more so with the departed fathers of the current elite, retains access and control of its socio-political and economic resources. The latter can be observed across the continent where old colonial masters retain the status of a sugar daddy. Enjoying such clout, they manipulate state affairs, cause unrest, and then swoop in to clean up political and economic messes.

Atieno Ogolla, a lawyer, puts it best when she observes:

“The moment a child is introduced to an ideology, chances are high that subsequent ideology sharing similar heritage as the preceding ones will always find a red carpet into the mind and psyche of that child even into adulthood. Any ideology contradicting those already settled in the mind will not be appreciated even upon consideration (idea non grata).

This explains why half of Kenya’s donor-financed education budget coming from the United States and the United Kingdom is channelled to class one and two specifically to facilitate early grade reading. The World Bank, which is the founder of the Global Partnership for Education, specifically funds Kenya’s early education to the tune of nine Billion shillings annually. This is the stage where foreign ideologies are first introduced to a scholar and are difficult to challenge let alone replace in future.”

Keeping states poor

To be sure, many developing countries are run by incompetent and corrupt leaders with neither the will nor the competence to eradicate poverty. As renowned journalist and historian Martin Meredith observes in his account on the histories of the continent, it is the will of external benefactors that has kept unwanted leaders on the continent in power. Over time, governments have been elevated and destroyed on the basis of their familiarity with the West.

This is how rogue characters such as Joseph Desire Mobutu and Jean-Bédel Bokassa managed to hang on to power despite the lack of love from their subjects, and the West’s perceived stance against dictatorship. It also explains the US’s friendship with a Saudi regime that ranks fifth worst on the Human Rights watch Human Rights Index. Commentators have argued that by assigning privileges to such rulers, on the basis of their effective power alone, the rich countries support their banks and secure their resource imports. In doing so they fund the state and ensure that the leaders bend to their whim.

The World Trade Organisation is another obvious example of economic manipulation.  The imbalances that define the current economic regime are well documented. The WTO may come across as an advocate for trade balance. In reality however, it allows the more affluent countries to favour their companies through quotas, anti-dumping duties, tariffs, export credits and huge subsidies. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) estimates that the market distortions they cause cost the developing world an excess of $700 billion annually in lost export revenue. Considering the poverty levels in these countries, this is a huge amount. The saddest thing is that the trading opportunities these rich countries give to their poor contemporaries hardly come for free. Poor countries cannot obtain them without spending exorbitant amounts on ensuring the intellectual property rights of the rich. In the process, their populations are denied access important commodities like life-saving medicines generic and cheaper versions of patented seed. 

As, Nsongurua J. Udombana, Associate Professor & Director of Centre for Human Rights, Central European University, writes in a paper, ‘A Question of Justice: The WTO, Africa, and Countermeasures for breaches of International Trade Obligation’:

“While some praise the WTO dispute settlement system as effective legal institutions to induce compliance, there are different perceptions, too. This is because, in practice, empowering to counteract violations of the WTO rules is one thing, the enforcement of the rulings by the WTO members are quite another. In other words, inducing compliance through the WTO dispute rulings on the matters of industrial policies is a challenging issue that the current WTO system has faced to resolve. Although the retaliation system for non-compliance or delayed compliance looks compelling in law, enforcing the WTO rulings to others is de facto relied on the country-specific factors and political motivations. More importantly, there is an asymmetry in enforcing the rules between the South and the North, depending upon the size of economic power and resources.”

If the policies are challenged by the other WTO member countries and found to be inconsistent with the WTO rules, the policies are advised to be abandoned or adjusted according to the rulings from the WTO. The policies are established on the regulations or national legal systems, it requires enough times for a change; thus, the WTO Dispute Settlement Body provides defeated countries with reasonable time for implementation pursuant to the WTO rulings. However, the defeated countries decline to abide by the rulings, the retaliation is allowed but this retaliation should be claimed by interest countries individually. During this long process of legal battles—raising issues in the request of consultation, the WTO rulings (Panel and Appellate Body), and implementation of the rulings, the damages for complaining countries last while the responding country satisfies the policy goals, at least, to some extent. This prevents developing countries from accessing the developed market- the whole point of (developing countries) joining the WTO in the first place.

The United States is one of the guiltiest countries in this regard. There is a litany of cases that shows that the US government keeps implementing regulatory measures for their industry in spite of adverse WTO rulings. Existing antidumping margin given to firms often remain unchanged even after she has accepted the WTO ruling which in essence, maintains the status quo while deferring application of prohibition of zeroing practice to future cases.

(Dumping is when a country or company exports a product at a price that is lower in the foreign importing market than the price in the exporter’s domestic market. Zeroing on the other hand is a calculation device used by the United States to establish antidumping duty. WTO rulings have confirmed that this method increases, often substantially, the exporter’s margin of dumping and thus the amount of anti-dumping duty that the exporter has to pay.)

No rights for the socio-economically weak

“With Africa, it becomes a little compound,” says Joel Okwemba, a diplomat and the Managing Director at the Centre for International and Security Affairs – a Nairobi based think tank.

“Various factors including race and civilization come into play. Equality only comes where respect has already been established. For the creators of the current global order, the equality envisaged by among others the Universal Declaration of Human Rights can only be satisfied when people are capable of innovation or some other profound contribution to humanity. This explains why the black population across the world has always been seen as backward and the least amongst the races. This to me is the misconception that defines investment and international politics. Take the United Nations Security Council for instance; Africa remains the only continent without representation.”

It is therefore imperative that African countries rise beyond a fixation with economic success to contribute towards the fourth industrial revolution, then take the lead in the fifth. Only then can they confidently claim and expect equal treatment.

If I may cite Nigeria and Nigerians as an example of such better treatment: due to their wealth and the importance of their oil to the United Kingdom, Nigerians have for a long time been probably the most accepted African group in the UK. Botswana is equally respected thanks to their diamonds and an admirable structure that is both progressive and traditional that makes it a symbol of peace and stability on a turbulent continent. “

Prof John Harbeson of the John Hopkins University summarises the malaise in the best way possible:

“In my experience human rights may get discussed in bilateral relations, but economic ties are what the relationships are really about.” (



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here