The argument for economic democracy before political freedom

Wednesday November 8 2017

Guests at the Marina Bay Sands hotel in

Guests at the Marina Bay Sands hotel in Singapore look over the city-state's financial district from a rooftop swimming pool. 5.5 million Singaporeans with a GDP of $297 billion (2016) and a GDP income per capita of $54,000 are worth much more than the 170 million East Africans with a combined GDP of $155 billion and GDP per capita of only $911. FILE PHOTO | AFP 

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Will the different brands of “democracy” practised in the region achieve an East African political federation, or is it another political hibernation characteristic of most African countries?

Burundi thus has “anarchical winner-takes all democracy.”

It lacks a strong man like President Paul Kagame of Rwanda to create the kind of political and security environment that allows maximum production of goods and provision of services, in order to be able to collect some taxes to run the state. Rwanda has a “status quo democracy” to guard against a repeat of the genocides of 1959 and 1994.

Tanzania has “a socialistic inward-looking democracy” wary of the greedy capitalists especially from neighbouring Kenya whom it suspects of a desire to grab its land.

Tanzania sees Kenya as the hub of global capitalist exploitation with more than 200 multinationals of which 20 have Nairobi for regional headquarters.

In addition, the Tanzanian leadership venerates Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, their founding father. The Tanzania leadership knows that if Nyerere were still alive he would have asked President Robert Mugabe and President Yoweri Museveni to step down as he did President Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia.

Accordingly, the Tanzania leadership may not be keen to be politically yoked with Museveni, whom they see as a dictator.

Uganda has “a voter-buying democracy.” Once President Museveni spends his hundreds of billions of obsolescent Uganda shillings to get the changes he wants in the Constitution that get him elected every five years, he has no obligation to give service to the voters because they have sold their souls to him in the first place.

Kenya has “an inclusive economic democracy” that holds that as people become prosperous they became more united and democratic as well.

The fundamental point with an inclusive economic democracy is that it has to deliver services and goods in order to be popularly elected.

The unfortunate thing with the Kenya and Tanzania type of democracy is that their political democratisation is at the same level with their economic democratisation, which should not have been the case in the first place.

The corollary way is to first and foremost a consolidated “economic democracy” before opening up for “recalcitrant political democracy.” This is what took place in Europe, the US, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore and many Southern America countries like Argentina and Brazil. 

At this level of “economic democratisation,” the political leadership tends to be intolerant of recalcitrant political voices or political freedoms, in order to consolidate a strong economic base. But at the same time the political leadership enforces sound “economic democracy” that allows merit to steer the economy to greater economic and development heights.

This is the type of “economic democracy” President Kagame is enforcing. While Kenya under the previous regimes of Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel Arap Moi (1963-2002) consolidated economic democracy, which has made it the largest economy in East Africa, it lacked the benefits of “tolerant democracy” as in Tanzania. On the other hand, while Tanzania deepened its tolerant democratic culture it lacked capitalist economic benefits. 

But now that Uhuru, Magufuli and Museveni face some sort of “defiance democracy” with Raila Odinga rebranding his opposition a“ Resistance Movement,” things can only get worse.

So how can the five East African countries use their various forms of democracies to “Singaporise” their countries in particular and eventually transform the region into a “Five Tigers Economy”? 

The starting point is for each country to give maximum attention to the kind of inward-looking economic development Tanzania’s President John Magufuli is focusing on. The growing internal political discontent in Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda makes the dream of regional political unification unattainable.

At the same time it makes more economic sense to build internal economic capacity of producers and consumers. This is what leads eventually to economic take-off. 

Lee Kuan Yew went on to prove that the 5.5 million Singaporeans with a GDP of $297 billion (2016) and a GDP income per capita of $54,000 are worth much more than the 170 million East Africans with a combined GDP of $155 billion and GDP per capita of only $911.

Frequent political agitations did not stop Thailand from becoming an economic power exporting more than it imports. So Presidents Kenyatta, Magufuli and Museveni should take heart. The most important thing is now for them to concentrate on internal economic consolidation and less on the dream of political unification of East Africa.

The first liberation war is to get rid of the “beggar mentality,” which is the main problem of all African countries.

There are three source of financing government obligations: (1) Fair taxation (2) Borrowing domestically and (3) Printing of money to fill the gap, horripilation about inflation notwithstanding. The earlier the leadership of any country masters the art of “money creation” the faster it “Singaporises.”

Teddy Sssezi-Cheeye is a journalist and publisher of Uganda Confidential. [email protected]