Kenya’s mixed election history
Sometimes it is said, with some validity, that the only peaceful, non-violent, free, fair, credible, verifiable, and acceptable elections took place during the “sunset” years of British colonialism in Kenya (1957-1963).
During these six years we elected our African representatives to the now multi-racial Legislative Council (LEGCO). It is during this period that decolonization talks took place in Kenya and later at Lancaster House, London.
In 1961 Jomo Kenyatta was released from his detention at Maralal in the Samburu County. He soon joined his fellow Africans in the LEGCO, participated in the independence talks at Lancaster, London, as the leader of Kenya African National Union (KANU).
His party KANU won the 1963 Elections, forming the internal self- government (Madaraka) from 01 June 1963. He became our first Prime minister on 12 December 1963 and the first President of our Republic on 12 December 1964.
Although it was widely accepted that the colonial government and the British settlers would have loved a government of Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU) and the liberal British settlers, KANU was the more popular party.
Rigging an election against KANU was out of the question. Gone were the days the colonial government would select their colonial chiefs from the outcomes of rigged queue voting (if for some reason they thought this voting was necessary).
The post-colonial times are peppered with stories of the rigging of elections, particularly during the few years the Kenya People’s Union (KPU) existed before it was banned and its leaders detained in 1969.
The by-election in Kandara (1966) in which independence hero Bildad Kaggia ran on a KPU ticket was rigged by making sure that ballot boxes were thrown out into coffee farms as government land rovers ferried cast votes to the district headquarters for the Loyal and law-abiding peasants in Kandara who showed up with the ballot boxes they found in their coffee farms were routinely arrested and detained!
Later in local government elections that took place, all the KPU candidates were disqualified because it was said they were unable to fill their nomination forms correctly! What saved the country from widespread violence was the strength of the provincial administration and the machinery of violence that the KANU government was able to mobilize.
The chilling call “Fanyeni fujo muone/Cause trouble at your own risk was often repeated, driving the point home that Jomo Kenyatta’s KANU would not be defied. That is not to say there was no resistance against the subversion of the right to vote.
When Kenya became a de facto one-party state in 1969, the KANU party and its government used many tricks to disqualify its members from running for elections. Members were either expelled from the party under dubious party disciplinary proceedings, or simply denied nominations to run for elections.
In cases where elections took place and so-called KANU “dissidents” were elected, a Judiciary, enslaved by KANU party and its government was able to nullify such victories. Others who were found guilty of election offences were barred from running for office for five years.
It was in 1988 when KANU dropped all pretense of holding free, fair, and credible elections. The Mlolongo/Queue Voting (where candidates would be elected based on the length of the queues of supporters lining up for them) took place and rigging took place in broad daylight.
In Othaya Constituency where former President Kibaki was a candidate, KANU party and its government tried to rig him out of his victory displayed by a long queue, far longer than his opponent’s.
It was during this election that Kibaki famously told the Presiding Officer that he could not rig that election because “it takes intelligence to rig elections.” Clearly, if the Presiding Officer had tried to declare Kibaki’s opponent the victor he may not have left Othaya alive!
The post second liberation elections of 1992 and 1997 elections were won by KANU because of the violence in the Rift Valley, a divided opposition, a subdued Electoral Commission of Kenya and its twin institution, the Judiciary.
Although in 1997 the KANU party and government allowed for opposition representation in the Electoral Commission, the changes didn’t curb electoral fraud.
The 2002 Presidential election was won by NARC (National Rainbow Coalition) because the barons (mabaroni/mababe vita) of the five communities that control over 70% of the vote (Kalenjin, Kikuyu, Luhya, Kamba, and Luo) voted for President Kibaki. It is safe to assume both Kibaki and Uhuru being Kikuyus shared the Kikuyu vote.
The violence that took place after the 2007 Presidential election is well documented. The loss of property and lives are well documented. The raping of women is well documented. One only needs to read both the Kriegler and Waki Commission Reports for the details.
This time round the Judiciary was rejected as a possible institution to hear the Presidential election petition by the losing political party. Again the Electoral Commission of Kenya was rightly accused of not conducting free, fair, peaceful, and credible elections.
It is clear to me that the 2013 Presidential elections did not result in violence because Raila Odinga stated that he accepted the decision of the Supreme Court although he did not agree with it.
In 2017 the Supreme Court nullified the Presidential election. The subsequent presidential election was boycotted by NASA Coalition and the resultant presidential petition filed by citizens was dismissed by the Supreme court.
The Supreme Court had shown that it could rule against either of the political factions, Jubilee and NASA. The “we shall revisit” warning by Jubilee to the Judiciary is still being felt.
It is possible that the two Supreme Court decisions birthed the dictatorship of the government and opposition (the Handshake and its child named BBI) and the continued political instability in the country.
Potential Electoral War in 2022
The potential for conflict, strife, instability, and violence in 2022 cannot be ruled out. The dynasty/hustler narrative is fraught with danger. Demystified it simply means that a possible war between haves and have-nots that the intra-elite conflict instigates.
The author of the hustler narrative, Deputy President Ruto identifies four dynastic families (Kenyatta, Odinga, Mudavadi, and Moi) as the cause of all societal problems in Kenya. He refuses to acknowledge he is the political orphan of the Moi dynasty.
He refutes the scientific wisdom of the OXFAM report that states that 8,300 billionaires and multimillionaires own assets equals to what the rest of the population of 48 million own.
Now that is the comprador bourgeoisie that can be characterized as the dynasty/monarchy. And without a doubt, the Deputy President along with other black, white, and brown dynasties are part of that class.
He is not calling for a class war between Kenya’s working people and the middle classes against the comprador bourgeoisie, the dynasties/monarchs/walalahai/Mabwenyenye who are multi-racial and multi-ethnic and who rule this country with their foreign masters.
The Deputy President is not calling for that class war, but a war against competing dynasties who are grouped in BBI, NASA, and the One Kenya Alliance.
He is inviting Kenyan youth to join in that war with a promise of a budget of 30 billion Kenya shillings to set them up in the so-called wheelbarrow economics!
If we go back to 2008 and ask ourselves who sowed the seeds for the post-election violence (PEV) we know it was the ethnic barons representing their cartels and the comprador class in their struggles to capture political power.
Unable to reach a consensus on how to protect their collective interests they used their evil genius in the politics of division to declare war on the people of Kenya. We still face this danger, more so because no alternative political leadership exists to warn Kenyans of the dangers they face if they are duped to participate in this intra-elite war. Already, we can clearly hear the war drums being beaten.
What the Kenyan youth must do
The 2019 national census told us that 75% of our over 48 million population comprises youth aged under 35. It is the youth who have borne the brunt of the denial of their material interests: education, water, land, national resources, housing, work, sanitation, health, food, and security. Without these public goods available to the youth we cannot talk of their human dignity.
Of course, the youth are not homogenous, but the majority are not the offspring of the 8,300 billionaires and millionaires. We are talking here about the daughters and sons of working-class and middle-class Kenyans. It is this youth that the elite have been able to divide on the bases of ethnicity, religion, region, race, generation, gender, clan, class (where the elites have successfully convinced these youth that their problems are caused by their parents who in reality subsidize the failings of the government and the ruling elite), and sports.
It is also this youth, particularly those who come from the working classes that are used as cannon fodder for the intra-elite battles through bloody handouts that do not result in any of their material interests being realized.
It is on the basis of the history that I lay out here, and the potential for war in 2022 that I call upon Kenya’s youth to do the following:
- Demand that IEBC immediately complies with the Constitutional decree to register every youth who is over 18 to vote in 2022 election;
- Support the parties that the youth are forming on the basis of their interests and ensure they come into power;
- Refuse to vote for the baronial elite parties that have shown in the last 58 years they cannot give the youth of the working classes human dignity;
- Absolutely refuse to be divided along the bases I have stated and stay focused on their material interests, particularly the right to work which is the basis of their humanity dignity;
- Refuse to be recruited in ethnic and other criminal militias to be deployed to kill fellow youths in the country;
- Solidly support the implementation of the Constitution and join movements that call for Linda/Tekeleza Katiba/Protect and implement the 2010 Constitution;
- Vote out the elite and their factions of Kieleweke, Tinga Tinga, Tanga Tanga, One Kenya Alliance, Wipa Wipa, Fodi, Fodi, all Dynasties including those calling themselves Hustlers;
- Demystify and expose the cruelty and inhumanity of laughing at the working people, the real hustlers, by endangering their lives in a war among the elite;
- Promote peace among fellow Kenyans and save the Motherland from warmongers and ethnic barons who are the causes of war amongst Kenya;
- Join in struggles can seek alternative political narratives to those of theft, corruption, banditry economy, leadership by agents of foreign interests, politics of division, politics of foreign and national exploitation (Wavuna Jasho ya Wavuja Jasho), politics of incurring national debts against our collective national interests;
- Understand clearly how elections are rigged today; through the capture of institutions implicated (IEBC, the Armed Forces, the Treasury, cartels, the Judiciary among others), use of Public Relations agencies, and Artificial intelligence (for example algorithms) that we are now familiar with;
- Ensure that you focus on the MCA seats so that challenges can come from the grassroots; and
- Defend the Motherland and its people.
A time for transformation
If we go back to the elections of 1963 and 2002 it is clear that there are elections that cannot be rigged. In both elections the voice of the majority was clear. That voice could not be reversed. It could not be revoked.
The powers that be, the colonial government and the Moi-KANU dictatorship respectively knew what would be the consequences of rigging those elections.
The voice of the majority in 2022 must be the voice of the Kenyan youth. Giving this country a political chance to implement different economic, social, cultural, spiritual, and cultural narratives that subvert the status quo is the result of our poverty.
It is true that our elections are about money, big money. What Kenyans should remember is that the first people’s representatives in the 1950s were financially supported by the people themselves.
There is absolutely no reason why this cannot happen again and our people see the need to invest in alternative politics that will be anchored on their collective humanity.
My dear Kenyan youth, all I can think of under these suggestions I have made to you is a clarion call to action, to transformation, to fundamental change in this country, to the protection of the Motherland by all means necessary, including death! I believe this is the reality that has to be said.
We must think of freedom and emancipation from forces that enslave and divide us. We can start this patriotic dialogue by putting in place a political leadership that cares about your humanity, a leadership that you participate in directly and not as proxies.
This article was first published by Africa Uncensored, an independent media house set up by Kenya’s finest investigative journalists.
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Education in Rwanda: A Long Walk to the Knowledge Economy
If Rwanda is to attain its stated ambition to become of a middle-income country by 2035 driven by the knowledge economy, then it must inject significant investments in the education and related sectors.
Rwanda has shown commitment to bring improvements to its education sector. The development of Human capital that involves the enhancement of the education and health sectors was one of the main pillars of Rwanda’s development programme launched in 2000 to transform the country into a middle income state driven by the knowledge economy by 2020. Many developed countries joined in to financially support Rwanda to fulfil its development ambitions.
But while Rwanda did not meet its target to transform into a middle-income state by 2020, it has nevertheless made progress in the education sector that should be recognised. The country has now near-universal access to primary education with net enrolment rates of 98 per cent. There are also roughly equal numbers of boys and girls in pre-primary, primary and secondary schools in Rwanda. Compared to other sub-Saharan African countries, Rwanda has made great improvements in the education sector based on the gains made in primary school gross enrolment, out-of-school and retention rates and considering that the country came out of a genocidal civil war in the 1990s. Those of us living and travelling across the country can also see that the government of Rwanda has built more schools across the country to address congestion in classrooms.
However, education in Rwanda is faced with serious challenges which, if not addressed, the country will not attain its ambition to become a middle-income by 2035 and a high-income by 2050. The World Bank’s comparison with middle- and high-income countries, to whose ranks Rwanda aspires to join, shows that Rwanda lags far behind in primary and lower secondary school completion levels.
The gains made in education are not equally distributed across Rwanda. There are, for instance, wide disparities in lower secondary education by income and urban–rural residence. Whereas lower secondary school gross enrolment ratio level is 82 per cent in urban areas, it is only 44 per cent in rural areas. Moreover, transition rates between primary and lower secondary education are 53 per cent in urban areas, and 33 per cent in rural areas. School completion is 52 per cent among the richest quintile while it is 26 per cent among the poorest. Any future development strategy is unlikely to succeed if it does not provide basic equality of opportunity for all in Rwanda.
The standard of education in Rwanda is another major challenge. At the end of Grade 3, 85 per cent of Rwandan students were rated “below comprehension” in a recent reading test, and one in six could not answer any reading comprehension question. In my view, the quality of education has been partly affected by the abrupt changes in the language of instruction that have taken place without much planning since 2008.
Any future development strategy is unlikely to succeed if it does not provide basic equality of opportunity for all in Rwanda.
Learning levels in basic education remain low in Rwanda. Children in the country can expect to complete 6.5 years of pre-primary and basic education by the age of 18 years. However, when this is adjusted for learning it translates to only about 3.8 years, implying that children in Rwanda have a learning gap of 2.7 years. This is a concern.
Education in Rwanda is also impended by high levels of malnutrition for children under 5 years. Although there have been improvements over time, malnutrition levels remain significantly high at 33 per cent. Malnutrition impedes cognitive development, educational attainment, and lifetime earnings. It also deprives the economy of quality human capital that is critical to Rwanda attaining its economic goals and sustaining its economic gains. In 2012, Rwanda lost 11.5 per cent of GDP as a result of child undernutrition.
Because of low learning levels and high levels of malnutrition in children under 5 years, Rwanda has consistently ranked below average on the World Bank’s Human Capital index since 2018, the year the index was first published. HCI measures which countries are best at mobilising the economic and professional potential of their citizens.
If Rwanda is to develop the competent workforce needed to transform the country into a knowledge-based economy and bring it into the ranks of middle-income states, the government must put significant public spending in basic education. This has not been the case over the past decades. According to the World Bank, Rwanda’s public spending on primary education has been significantly lower than the average for sub-Saharan African countries with similar coverage of primary school level as Rwanda. This low spending on primary education has translated into relatively modest pay for teachers and low investment in their professional development which in turn affects the provision of quality education in Rwanda. The government recently increased teachers’ salary but the increment is being eroded by, among other things, food price inflation in Rwanda.
Malnutrition impedes cognitive development, educational attainment, and lifetime earnings.
Going forward, Rwanda’s spending on education needs to be increased and allocated to improving standards. Considering that the underlying cause of the high rate of malnourishment in children is food insecurity, the government needs to spend more on the agriculture sector. This sector employs 70 per cent of the labour force but has received only 10 per cent of total public investment. Public investment in Rwanda has in the past gone to the development of the Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions sector rather than towards addressing pressing scarcities. This approach must be reviewed.
Increasing public expenditure in education and connected sectors should also be combined with strengthening accountability in the government institutions responsible for promoting the quality of education in basic schools and in promoting food security and livelihoods in Rwanda. This is because not a year goes by without the office of the Rwanda auditor general reporting dire inefficiencies in these institutions.
Strengthening institutional accountability can be achieved if the country adapts its consensual democracy by opening up the political space to dissenting voices. Doing so would surely enhance the effectiveness of checks and balances across institutions in Rwanda, including in the education sector, and would enable the country to efficiently reach its development targets.
No Imperialist Peoples, Only Imperialist States
Adam Mayer praises a new collection, Liberated Texts, which includes rediscovered books on Africa’s socialist intellectual history and political economy, looking at the startling, and frequently long ignored work of Walter Rodney, Karim Hirji, Issa Shivji, Dani Wadada Nabudere, A. M. Babu and Makhan Singh.
Liberated Texts is a magnificent, essential, exciting tome that feels like a bombshell. This incredibly rich collection is a selection that is deep, wide, as well as entertaining. The book focuses on twenty-one volumes from the previous one hundred years, with a geographical range from the UK, the US, Vietnam, Korea, the Peoples Republic of China, the Middle East, Ireland, Malaysia, Africa (especially East Africa), Europe, Latin America, and the former Soviet Union, focusing on books that are without exception, foundational.
The collection is nothing less than a truth pill: in composite form, the volume corrects world history that Howard Zinn’s The People’s History of the United States offered for the sterile, historical curriculum on domestic (US) history. The volume consists of relatively short reviews (written by a wide collection of young and old academics and activists from every corner of the globe) but together they reflect such a unified vision that I would recommend Liberated Texts as compulsory reading for undergraduate students (as well as graduates!) Although the text is a broad canvas it speaks to our age (despite some of the reviewed book having been written in the 1920s).
Each review is by default, a buried tresure. The writer of this very review is a middle-aged Hungarian, which means that some of the works and authors discussed were more familiar to me than they would be to others. For example, Anton Makarenko’s name was, when the author grew up in the People’s Republic of Hungary, a household word. Makarenko’s continued relevance for South America and the oppressed everywhere, as well as his rootedness in the revolutionary transformations of the Soviet experiment, are dealt with here marvellosly by Alex Turrall (p. 289). In loving detail Turrall also discusses his hero the pedagogue Sukhomlinsky’s love for Stalinist reforms of Soviet education (p. 334).
There is one locus, and one locus only, where death is given reign, perhaps even celebrated: in a Palestinian case (p. 133) the revolutionary horizons are firmly focused on the past, not on any kind of future. The entire problematic of Israeli society’s recent ultra right-wing turn (a terrible outcome from the left’s point of view) is altogther missing here. Yet it is difficult to fault the authors or editors with this (after all, they painstakingly included an exemplary anti-Nazi Palestinian fighter in the text, p. 152) but it might be in order to challenge a fascination with martyrdom as a revolutionary option on the radical left.
In every other aspect, Liberated Texts enlightens without embarrassment, and affirms life itself. Imperialism is taken on in the form of unresolved murders of Chinese researchers in the United States as a focus (p. 307), and in uncovering the diabolical machinations of the peer-review system – racist, classist, prestige-driven as it is (p. 305).
The bravery of this collection is such that we find few authors within academia’s tenure track: authors are either emeriti, tenured, very young academics, or those dedicated to political work: actual grassroots organizers, comrades at high schools, or as language teachers. This has a very beneficial effect on the edited volume as an enterprise at the forefront of knowledge, indeed of creating new knowledge. Career considerations are absent entirely from this volume, in which thankfully even the whiff of mainstream liberalism is anathema.
I can say with certainty regarding the collection’s Africanist chapters that certain specialists globally, on African radical intellectual history, have been included: Leo Zeilig, Zeyad el-Nabolsy, Paul O’Connell, Noosim Naimasiah and Corinna Mullin all shed light on East African (as well as Caribbean) socialist intellectual history in ways that clear new paths in a sub-discipline that is underfunded, purposely confined to obscurity, and which lacks standard go-to syntheses especially in the English language (Hakim Adi’s celebrated history on pan-Africanism and communism stops with the 1950s, and other works are in the making).
Walter Rodney, Karim Hirji, Issa Shivji, Dani Wadada Nabudere, A. M. Babu, Makhan Singh are the central authors dealt with here. Rodney is enjoying a magnificent and much deserved renaissance (but this collection deals with a lost collection of Rodney’s 1978 Hamburg lectures by Zeilig!) Nabolsy shows us how Nyerere’s Marxist opposition experienced Ujamaa, and Tanzanian ’socialism’. Nabudere – a quintessential organic intellectual as much as Rodney – is encountered in praxis as well as through his thought and academic achievements in a chapter by Corinna Mullin. Nabudere emerges as a towering figure whose renaissance might be in the making right at this juncture. Singh makes us face the real essence of British imperialism. Nabudere, Babu and even Hirji’s achievements in analysing imperialism and its political economy are all celebrated in the collection.
Where Shivji focuses on empire in its less violent aspect (notably NGOs and human rights discourse) powerfully described by Paul O’Connell, Naimasiah reminds us that violence had been as constitutive to Britain’s empire, as it has been to the Unites States (in Vietnam or in Korea). An fascinating chapter in the collection is provided by Marion Ettinger’s review of Richard Boyle’s Mutiny in Vietnam, an account based entirely on journalism, indeed impromptu testimony, of mutinous US soldiers tired of fighting for Vietnam’s landlord class.
Many readers of this anthology will identify with those veterans (since the collection appears in the English language) perhaps more than with East Asia’s magnificent, conscious fighters also written about in the book. Even in armies of the imperialist core, humanity shines through. Simply put, there are no imperialist peoples, only imperialist states.
Zeilig’s nuanced take on this important matter is revealed in Rodney’s rediscovered lectures. Also, the subtlety of class analysis in relation to workers versus peasants, and the bureacratic bourgeoisie profiting from this constellation (p. 219) brings to mind the contradiction that had arguably brought down Thomas Sankara, Burkina Faso’s anti-imperialist president who nevertheless found himself opposing working class demands. Rodney’s politics in Guyana invited the same fate as Sankara, as we know.
Nabolsy’s review on Hirji’s The Travails of a Tanzanian Teacher touches on very interesting issues of Rodney’s role especially in the context of Ujamaa and Nyerere’s idiosyncratic version of African socialism. Nabolsy appreciates Nyerere efforts but analyses his politics with great candour: Ujamaa provided national unification, but failed to undermine Tanzania’s dependency in any real sense. The sad realization of the failure of Tanzania’s experience startles the reader with its implications for the history of African socialism.
On an emotional and personal level, I remain most endeared by the Soviet authors celebrated in this text. So Makarenko and Sukhomlinsky are both Soviet success stories and they demonstrate that this combination of words in no oxymoron, and neither is it necessarily, revisionist mumbo-jumbo. Their artificial removal from their historical context (which had happened many times over in Makarenko’s case, and in one particular account when it comes to Sukhomlinsky) are fought against by the author with Leninist gusto.
Sukhomlinsky had not fought against a supposedly Stalinist education reform: he built it, and it became one of the most important achievements of the country by the 1960s due partly to his efforts. The former educational pioneer did not harm children: he gave them purpose, responsibility, self-respect, and self-esteem. The implication of Sukhomlinsky and Makarenko is that true freedom constructs its own order, and that freedom ultimately thrives on responsibility, and revolutionary freedom.
As this collection is subtitled Volume One, it is my hope and expectation that this shall be the beginning of a series of books, dealing with other foundational texts, and even become a revolutionary alternative to The London Review of Books and the New York Review of Books, both of which still demonstrate how much readers crave review collections. Volumes like Liberated Texts might be the very future of book review magazines in changed form. A luta continua!
This article was first published by ROAPE.
We Must Democratize the Economy
In the UK, prices for basic goods are soaring while corporations rake in ever-bigger profits. The solution, Jeremy Corbyn argues, is to bring basic resources like energy, water, railways, and the postal service into democratic public ownership.
On Thursday, December 15, the Royal College of Nursing went on strike for the first time in their 106-year history. Understaffed, underpaid, and overworked, tens of thousands of National Health Service (NHS) nurses walked out after being denied decent, livable pay rises. Hailed as heroes one year, forced to use food banks the next, nurses’ wages have fallen more than £3,000 in real terms since 2010; three in four now say they work overtime to meet rising energy bills.
People will remember 2022 as the year that the Conservative Party plunged this country into political turmoil. However, behind the melodrama is a cost-of-living crisis that has pushed desperate people into destitution and the so-called middle classes to the brink. We should remember 2022 as the year in which relative child poverty reached its highest levels since 2007 and real wage growth reached its lowest levels in half a century. (Average earnings have shrunk by £80 a month and a staggering £180 a month for public sector workers.) These are the real scandals.
For some MPs, this was the year they kick-started their reality TV careers. For others, this was the year they told their children they couldn’t afford any Christmas presents. For energy companies, it was the year they laughed all the way to the bank; in the same amount of time it took for Rishi Sunak to both lose and then win a leadership contest, Shell returned £8.2 billion in profit. SSE, a multinational energy company headquartered in Scotland, saw their profits triple in just one year. Profits across the world’s seven biggest oil firms rose to almost £150 billion.
Tackling the cost-of-living crisis means offering an alternative to our existing economic model — a model that empowers unaccountable companies to profit off the misery of consumers and the destruction of our earth. And that means defending a value, a doctrine, and a tradition that unites us all: democracy.
Labour recently announced “the biggest ever transfer of power from Westminster to the British people.” I welcomed the renewal of many of the policies from the manifesto in 2019: abolishing the House of Lords and handing powers to devolved governments, local authorities, and mayors. These plans should work hand in hand, to ensure any second chamber reflects the geographical diversity of the country. If implemented, this would decentralize a Whitehall-centric model of governance that wastes so much of this country’s regional talent, energy, and creativity.
However, devolution, decentralization, and democracy are not just matters for the constitution. They should characterize our economy too. Regional governments are demanding greater powers for the same reason an unelected second chamber is patently arcane: we want a say over the things that affect our everyday lives. This, surely, includes the way in which our basic resources are produced and distributed.
From energy to water and from rail to mail, a small number of companies monopolize the production of basic resources to the detriment of the workers they exploit and the customers they fleece. We rely on these services, and workers keep them running, but it is remote chief executive officers and unaccountable shareholders who decide how they are run and profit off their provision. Would it not make more sense for workers and consumers to decide how to run the services they provide and consume?
As prices and profits soar, it’s time to put basic resources like energy, water, rail, and mail back where they belong: in public hands. Crucially, this mold of public ownership would not be a return to 1940s-style patronage-appointed boards but a restoration of civic accountability. Water, for example, should be a regional entity controlled by consumers, workers, and local authorities, and work closely with environmental agencies on water conservation, sewage discharges, the preservation of coastlines, and the protection of our natural world. This democratic body would be answerable to the public, and the public alone, rather than to the dividends of distant hedge funds.
Bringing energy, water, rail, and mail into democratic public ownership is about giving local people agency over the resources they use. It’s about making sure these resources are sustainably produced and universally distributed in the interests of workers, communities, and the planet.
Beyond key utilities, a whole host of services and resources require investment, investment that local communities should control. That’s why, in 2019, we pledged to establish regional investment banks across the country, run by local stakeholders who can decide — collectively — how best to direct public investment. Those seeking this investment would not make their case with reference to how much profit they could make in private but how much they could benefit the public as a whole.
To democratize our economy, we need to democratize workplaces too. We can end workplace hierarchies and wage inequalities by giving workers the right to decide, together, how their team operates and how their pay structures are organized. If we want to kick-start a mass transfer of power, we need to redistribute wealth from those who hoard it to those who create it.
Local people know the issues facing them, and they know how to meet them better than anyone else. If we want to practice what we preach, then the same principles of democracy, devolution, and decentralization must apply to our own parties as well. Local party members, not party leaders, should choose their candidates, create policy, and decide what their movement stands for.
Only a democratic party can provide the necessary space for creative and transformative solutions to the crises facing us all. In a world where the division between rich and poor is greater than ever before, our aim should be to unite the country around a more hopeful alternative — an alternative that recognizes how we all rely on each other to survive and thrive.
This alternative is not some abstract ideal to be imagined. It is an alternative that workers are fighting for on the picket line. Even before the nurses went on strike, 2022 was a record-breaking year for industrial action. Striking workers are not just fighting for pay, essential as these demands are. They are fighting for a society without poverty, hunger, and inequality. They are fighting for a future that puts the interests of the community ahead of the greed of energy companies. They are fighting for us all.
Their collective struggle teaches us that democracy exists — it thrives — outside of Westminster. The government is trying its best to turn dedicated postal workers and railway workers into enemies of the general public — a general public that apparently also excludes university staff, bus drivers, barristers, baggage handlers, civil servants, ambulance drivers, firefighters, and charity workers. As the enormous scale of industrial action shows, striking workers are the general public. The year 2022 will go down in history, not as the year the Tories took the public for fools, but as the year the public fought back. United in their thousands, they are sending a clear message: this is what democracy looks like.
This article was first published by Progressive International
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