Nearly ten years ago a Norwegian teacher of philosophy, Jostein Gaarder, wrote a book meant to explain the less than popular subject of philosophy to a teenage girl. The book Sophie's world became an international bestseller. What makes the book so interesting is that the author succeeds in making his pupil become extremely keen in searching for answers to questions which are ignored by most people.
Last year this same author contributed an article to a book devoted to the World Hague Peace Conference. In this article, once more, he poses a number of "burning questions" which he feels need to be asked at the turn of the new millennium. These questions are: "What change of consciousness is needed? What is sustainable wisdom? Which qualities of life are the most important? Which values are sustainable? What is a good life? And not least: What kind of mass mobilization is needed - and possible - in the "global village?" He goes on to question how an "ethics for the future" can be internalised and become a driving force for a new political direction.1
In this issue of WAJIBU on "economics as if people mattered" we are really asking these same questions. For it is simply because we have failed to come to terms with the questions which were quoted above that the economic aspects of life have assumed such an extraordinary importance in our public life. The fact that our "economy is in the ICU" as we often hear, is not just the result of a bad economic policy but of the failure to draw up a development policy which is based on moral principles; in other words, on the premise that the welfare of people¾all people¾must be the primary consideration when drawing up public policies.
What would change in our country if a people-centred economics were to be practiced? I can think of a few things:
A "food first" policy would place the emphasis where it belongs: on the need to feed our own people before we think of exporting French beans and flowers elsewhere. Priority would be given to the development of the rural areas and to the creation of employment there so that the exodus to towns would be slowed down. Roads would be constructed and maintained there so that surplus food can be transported to markets instead of leaving it to rot in the fields.
When it comes to the distribution of common natural resources, the needs of the disadvantaged would get "affirmative action". As a result, water supply to hospitals would take priority over the irrigation of flowers for export; zoning laws would be amended so that the poor could live where there is space instead of being relegated to overcrowded and unsanitary environments.
People-centred economics would see more attention being given to the optimum development of our vast human resources at all levels. If this were done, we would no longer need to import outside experts, thus saving the country vast sums of money. Primary education would really be free, secondary education affordable and university administration would be delinked from politics.
If people were at the centre in our development policy, disadvantaged areas would finally be given proper emphasis in development: schools would be constructed there, cattle dips built or rehabilitated and health centres would have doctors as well as affordable drugs. Finally, a people-centred development would give much greater attention to the care of our environment: we would no longer see our forests raped, our rivers polluted and our cities choked in garbage. We would think of our children and grandchildren and not take away their means of livelihood.
So what is the most urgent change needed in the social/political/religious area so that economics can start to be practiced as if people mattered? I asked my good friend, Fr. Kizito, to give an answer to this question. His answer is on the next page. You will see that he is not very optimistic about positive change coming our way soon. And he attributes this to a weed called "greed" the extirpation of which he considers the work of a lifetime.
I tend to agree with him. However, in spite of that, we do not give up hope in the seeds of change. Read his article and you will notice that he is busy watering such a seed. And perhaps that is all any of us can do: sowing the seeds of change, watering those seeds and helping to pull out a few of the weeds of greed in ourselves - and hopefully - in society. Perhaps we may then yet live to see the day when economics will be practised "as if people mattered."
G. Wakuraya Wanjohi
1. As quoted in TerraViva, issue 38 (April 2000)
ABOUT OUR CONTRIBUTORS
Professor Peter Kimuyu is an Associate Professor of Economics and a Senior Research Fellow with the Institute of Policy Analysis and Research. An energy economist by training, he has a continuing research interest in the utilisation of commercial energy, efficiency of power systems, the dynamics of enterprise development, industrial economics, and ethical issues related to economics. He is a member of the New York Academy of Science.
Mokeira Masita is one of the young writers who won in the essay competition organised by WAJIBU last year. She is a student at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa and also does volunteer work with Ungana, the Young Friends of AMREF.
Sam Mwale is a graduate of Nairobi, East Anglia, and Oxford universities. He is an independent policy analyst currently attached to the Institute of Economic Affairs. He writes widely on public policy issues locally and regionally. He can be contacted at email@example.com
Lucy Oriang' is an associate editor at the Nation Media Group. She writes widely on social, especially women's issues. She recently attended the UN Special Assembly on "Beijing plus Five" in New York.
Fr. Renato Kizito Sesana needs little introduction to people living in Kenya, many of whom are familiar with "Fr. Kizito's notebook" in the Sunday Nation. In spite of his African name Fr. Kizito hails from Italy. He is a priest by vocation and a journalist by avocation. He has lived in Africa for many years and has been involved with youth activities for most of those years. He is a former editor of New People.