By Shadrack Muyesu
The most economically developed states are those that best mirror the peculiarities of liberal democracy. It’s no coincidence, therefore, that the world’s oldest democracies are also the most developed (with “gas states” the only ones defying this rule).
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While myriad reasons are given in explanation of this phenomenon, history is unanimous that liberal democracy as a precursor to economic development is slow and therefore not best for application where quick development is required. Even then, the net success of liberal democracy varies depending on the nature of the society. As Fukuyama, Lipton and many others argue, maximum benefit from liberal democracy can only be enjoyed where the society is predominantly urban and educated as opposed to being multilayered cultural.
If any quick development is to be achieved in the latter societies, it has to be coerced. To this end alone, history is awash with stellar examples.
Kenya prides itself with being a robust liberal democracy. What many fail to understand is that this democracy is destined to fail since, as I argued earlier, it is not anchored on the key pillars of education and cultural unity. On this premise alone, it wouldn’t be farfetched to assume that liberal democracy cannot be used as a catalyst to spur our own economic development. The market needs to be coerced, after which urbanization and democracy follow, with complete economic development coming thereafter.
Sadly, our vision 2030 economic blueprint seems to defy this course. Liberal democracy and basic industrialisation are cited as primary wants upon such basics as food security, education and clean water will be delivered. The planners must have reasoned that the extensive cyclic effects of initial industrial investment will be enough to spur further industrialisation while providing capital for the payment of social goods. They couldn’t be more wrong!
The starting point for Kenya should have been at worst, an autocracy or, at best, a restricted democracy which allows the Executive to play a greater direct role in policy making. As I argued in my last article, it is only in such a system that agriculture can be fully harnessed through increasing production quotas, reducing imports and consumer subsidies while multiplying savings. Though many may argue that autocracies, and to an extent, restricted democracies hamper foreign direct investment, I should emphasise that coercion can still exist within a capitalist society, as long as it’s not the kind that limits free competition (e.g. consumer subsidies which are so common in Kenya) but rather one that squeezes the agriculture so as to maximise production and promote savings.
With a legal and government framework in place, public spending should have then been focused on agriculture. Not only would agricultural spending address food security (the primary concern for city dwellers) by maximising agricultural exports; it would also provide core capital required to kick start initial industrialisation. Factually, transition to “developed” should only be paid for by agriculture. Borrowing should only be pursued as a last resort and not as an integral financer as our blueprint seems to suggest.
Technical education, urbanisation
Since industrial societies require a high number of skilled workers, education should have naturally been the next area of focus. The importance of education cannot be overstated. Bryce James observed (while also affirming the development stages) that it is education that qualifies people for democracy while introducing them to industrialisation, which produces middle-class societies in the long run.
Sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset has observed, and I concur, that education is one of the most important indices of a developed country. However, careful distinction has to be drawn between the focus of education in developed industrial states and education in industrial start-ups or low-economic jurisdictions. Applying himself to this distinction, Francis Fukuyama noted that education in the late states should be emphasised on technical application as opposed to social skills. It’s upon social sciences that nations are conceptualised.
Hierarchy of needs
Technical skills come in when these concepts need to be applied before social sciences regain prominence in sustaining the already established state. This cycle is premised upon the complexities of an enlightened industrialised state, which only democracy can only cure (that such a society can only perpetuate itself within a democratic environment makes keeping everyone happy a primary concern hence the need for, according to Talcott Parsons, social curatives).
Basically, the need for non industrial skills, such as financial management, law and other human dealings, increases gradually with the systematic development of society. Why? Not only do people in industrialised jurisdictions have a greater awareness of their rights, but with industrialisation also comes a surplus which needs to be managed through savings or investment in diverse portfolio. Lastly, industrialisation increases multilateral trade and therefore conflict, hence the need for diplomatic and international trade expertise. It is important to understand that simple societies such as ours are in less need of these social skills. For a long time now, the best way of making use of the runaway surplus of these social and economic “goods” has been to export them or resign to losing them anyway through brain drain. The government needed to invest in incubation centres aimed at nurturing scientific talent and innovation for, without a large established and specialised human resource, industrialisation cannot be achieved.
Liberal democracy and development
Another key benefit of education, which is often overlooked, is its ability to downplay the importance of socio-cultural economic sacreds such as land. An educated population naturally migrates from the rural areas so as to take advantage of the city’s economies of scale, its consumer culture, diversity and the blue collar engagements it has to offer.
Technical qualification also creates a need for enabling factors necessary for research. Such factors are almost always only found in the cities. Most importantly however, education sows the seeds of democracy and informed rationalism. Not only does it make people more difficult to manipulate, it also invokes innovation whilst teaching people to harness other energies as opposed to over-relying on subsistence farming. As an economy gradually picks, agriculture becomes more large scale and commercialised, with land being left to those who use it best.
Diversification and market liberalisation are the natural result of an urban state where most of the people are engaged in private commercial practice. Such a society could only be more capitalistic and truly democratic.
These arguments are not made in blue. In his landmark 1958 article, Lipset (a celebrated sociologist) demonstrated a very startling empirical correlation that existed between a country’s level of economic development and other economic indicators such as education, urbanisation and democracy. According to him, the more educated a country was, the more urbanised and democratic it became. If I should interpret Lipset, though education sows the seeds of democracy and rationalism, it is urbanisation that strengthens them; it makes them grow!
And Fukuyama agrees when he notes that, in traditional peasant societies such as Kenya, it is possible for the landlord to “recruit peasants to kill other peasants so as to dispose them of their land”. These peasants obey these orders because, Fukuyama says, they are used to obeying authority. In contrast, he notes, while they can be recruited for anything else urban professionals in developed countries cannot certainly be picked for death squads simply because they were commanded to do so!
Fukuyama’s percept is that as society becomes more democratised, it becomes more developed. Yet again, he does not discount that as society becomes more developed, it becomes more democratised. While this may be construed as imprecise, he couldn’t have been clearer when pointing out the requirements for liberal democracy to thrive.
Because the Kenyan society doesn’t mirror these characteristics, robust liberal democracy can never be a starting point for our development goals neither can primary industrial development in infrastructure spending. In peasant societies, liberal democracy is an end, and not a means to industrialisation. Urbanisation is a natural result of education not a premeditated end.
By ignoring this route (restricted democracy, agricultural investment, technical education, democratisation, urbanisation, industrialisation and matured democracy) Vision 2030 risks being nothing but a game without an end – a house of cards.