By Darius Okollo
To cut the deficit agreed upon between CBK, CS-Finance and the IMF, the government has to raise more revenue and cut expenditure and that’s how you end up with austerity (SAPs) measures. SAPs destroys societies by reducing the levels of cash available to social services. See the dynamics of societies is that wealth distribution tends to be manifestly skewed, unequal and unfair with majority of population often finding themselves stuck in cycles of economic struggle. That’s why we need public social services like water and education and safety, and energy and good infrastructure and health-care.
These are supposed to be more than mere market products that capitalism has turned them into. They are supposed to provide the social safety nets that allows as many kids irrespective of their state of family of birth to access opportunities and become upwardly mobile. But then a 26 year old entitled white kid in the corridors of World Bank and IMF yells at your 200-year old career politician to cut funding to these services as a condition for loans, effectively messing these safety nets and leaving those dependent on public services, to their devices.
What happens is, absent social services, the next best option for citizens caught up in a tanking economy is social capital. While there exists disagreements over what constitutes social capital, it can be defined as public life when measured across seven measures including: civic mindedness, political participation, informal networks, religious participation, altruism, workplace networks, and general public trust.
As SAPs and it’s ramifications distort the economy and wrecks public social services the social capital across those seven frameworks will become increasingly important for persons and families. Kenya is still a largely poor, largely young, largely uneducated, and largely rural society with AfDB placing the size of the middle at no more than 400k persons in a country of 48+ million. Bereft of personal financial muscle the need to lean on and strengthen personal and community social networks and safety nets becomes very critical for large segments of the population.
Unfortunately for most of we younger folks our social capital tends to be tenuous at best. We rarely engage in religious communities, our political participation is spotty, our professional networks tend to be low-value and often weak and there exists low public trust levels among people especially city folks. This ‘lost decade’ which started in March 6 will need to be mitigated to avoid the possibility of it turning into a generational mess.
Advocating for strengthening social capital in the face of decaying social safety nets isn’t championing private solutions to public problems. The two are neither mutually exclusive nor interchangeable. In fact, if properly managed social capital provides the kind of institutionalized pressure that the government agencies can’t ignore, when utilized to push the parastatal bureaucrats to restore public social services.