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Corruption in Kenya and the Scarcity Mentality

The Daily Corruption Spread
Is the perception of a resource scarcity to blame for corruption? 
A number of resources on the pre-colonial state of the factors of production in Kenya all conclude with similar findings.

There was a lot of “idle” land, probably by design or because of nature. The population was low, and there was a lot of forest coverage in the main population areas.

What is certain though was that there was a lot of disease and pests which affected animals, crops and people alike. This especially decimated animals stocks,  made farming a challenge and in effect, checked the growth of animal, farmland and people.

It was a challenge to farm in forests, and it was even more challenging to rear livestock due to issues like mosquitoes, tsetse flies and the once infamous rinderpest.

Nature probably had her plan for how the state of things would continue playing out. Whatever this plan was, we will never know,  for the colonisation of Kenya rudely disrupted this arrangement.


First, the colonialists introduced medicine for crops, animals and people before closely following this stellar act with the introduction of modern farming techniques alongside mandatory possession of the vast tracts of previously “idle” land in the highlands.

As a direct result, the years 1920 to 1932 would see the number of cattle in Kenya double from 3 million to 6 million, which again was double the human population of 3 million.

The explosion of the number of cattle in the country brought with it the challenge of overstocking, which had not been experienced before. While the population appeared wealthy if you looked at the average cattle ownership, the cattle were found to be malnourished and barely able to support their offspring, let alone the human population.

This contrasted with the situation in Australia, where cattle rearing and export was a major economic activity, despite the country’s ownership of less than 3 million head of cattle.

Besides overstocking,  white settlement coupled with the improving quality of life in Kenya would lead to other challenges by the time the country got its independence in 1963.

Factors of production such as land were concentrated among a few whites with most of the population being reduced to the provision of labour and sharing a sliver of the economy.

This situation introduced the concept of scarcity, which was first evidenced by issues such as overstocking of cattle.

The economic concept of scarcity states that people with a scarcity mentality believe there is not enough for everyone, which eventually leads to the conclusion “I’d better get mine while I have a chance because it won’t come again.”

The Kenyan population had first undergone a period where they would helplessly watch as disease and pests wiped out crops,  livestock and people. They were now in a period where this was no longer the case, but rather than there being an abundance of resources,  the majority of the resources were owned by a few people, resulting in an artificial scarcity.

Even after independence, the distribution of resources has still not been uniform, with the majority of the population growing up in settings where there isn’t much and sacrifices have to be made.

You school barefoot, eat a staple meal of maize and beans and have to forego lots of other essentials.

As a result, when we encounter abundant resources, our reaction is to stockpile these resources for ourselves in case there is a shortage. After all, we are used to there being shortages.

Thus, individuals joining government have the impulse to stockpile resources under their control,  including land, billions of shillings and the like.

The equivalent here is being told that milk,  sugar,  flour and rice will not be available for purchase in the next one month. There will be a stampede as people rush to buy as much of these as they can and pile them in their houses.

In this situation, people will tend to hog much more of milk, sugar,  flour and rice than they need, even if they are assured that at the end of the 1 month period, there will be an abundance of these commodities.

Better to be safe, than to be sorry.

We can, therefore, expect that it will take many years (how many?) for the populace in Kenya to have the confidence that resources are not going anywhere. Until then,  we can expect our survival instincts to take over every time we have access to power and national resources.

After all,  whenever a conflict breaks out over resources like water or minerals, it is never because the resource does not exist,  but rather because there is a perceived shortage.

Until 2011, Filene Basement, a wedding gown retailer in the US ran an annual one-day sale known as “The Running of The Brides”. For one day every year,  the store would discount wedding dresses selling them at less than 10 percent their usual price. And every year, there would be a scramble as brides-to-be and their maids wiped racks clean in the first few minutes after doors opened.

It was observed that some would leave with more than one wedding gown,  yet all you need in a wedding is one gown.

The same can be observed of corruption in the Kenya. Those with access to power can be seen leaving with more land,  cars and bank accounts than they would need in their lifetime.

It is all down to a scarcity mentality.

Addendum:

The Guardian in a piece on the assassination of an infamous Spanish politician notes that the country is stricken by rampant corruption and nepotism. Lack of a fully functional national retirement provision is identified as a contributing factor. Individuals rely on the family net; hence there is a propensity to divvy up public resources amongst one's family and friends.

Coincidentally, Kenyans have to rely on their family and community for issues ranging from medical assistance, various cases of insurance and for help after retirement (assuming that everyone has a proper job).

Bibliography:
  1. Overstocking in Kenya - The East African Agricultural Journal, Volume 1, 1935, Issue 1
  2. Conservation Plans in Kenya - Historical Development of Resource Use Planning in Kenya http://ossrea.net/publications/images/stories/ossrea/env-kenya-part-2.pdf
  3. Production Systems in pre-colonial Africa - Erik Green 
  4. Reference (Stephen Covey on the Scarcity Mentality )




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