Ideas & Debate

Kenya needs social vision that removes inequalities

CROWD

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Summary

  • In a couple of the Tiger countries, Social Visions were additionally developed as a shared future picture of society as an inter-generational whole, not just sectors like education or health.
  • What this Geriatric Bill tells me is there’s a bigger picture here; and it’s more than the answers it offers.

Which was the local news headline or two – I am no journo so I mean cover or inside pages - that got you interested in the actual story this week? A political 2022 election headline in the dailies? Something on the Supreme Court’s hearing of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) appeal? Let’s leave out the fun in contemporaneous arts, culture, history, sports or entertainment for now.

Let me come to Business Daily readers, because this paper always has policy-legal and economics-business-finance stories of interest; “aha!” and “gotcha” news-pieces and “wow, I didn’t know this” news insights. Leaving out op-eds, columns and commentaries, this heading slapped me in the face.

“Government retirees from critical areas to be rehired in Bill”.

Huh? To quote its opening, “civil servants in critical areas such as health, security and education will be tapped back to work on a post-retirement employment programme, if MPs approve a new Bill”. It gets better. Titled the Geriatric Bill 2021, it aims to offer voluntary or non-voluntary (that is, forced) post-retirement employment to older members of society in those three, and other, areas in public service.

Apparently, if it becomes law, it “implements” Article 57 of the Constitution which covers the treatment of older members of society. The bill appears to have been sponsored by, if my understanding of our 2022 political formations is right, an MP who today speaks from the side that is the “ruling party in opposition” (that is, the “non-handshake” side). No, you can’t make this up if you tried!

The story appeared on Wednesday, and a BD editorial the next day asked terribly pertinent questions about the loss of youth employment space in public service, while quietly noting that retired public servants are often publicly seen as being at the more privileged end of older members of society.

Even before we contemplate this geriatric idea, the existing civil service workforce is already roughly twice the age of its private sector equivalent and we fail to get this disconnect in a modern world, before we get to pension implications. About young people in the public service, the official point usually made by veterans is youth have “know-what” without “know-how” or “know-why”.

It doesn’t help that succession planning in public service mirrors its process and systems shortfalls. But there is also the real-life observation and experience that many retirees don’t retire well once back in the village.

Further, and speculatively from my experience working in public sector reform, it is highly instructive that the three functions identified are the only ones still allowed to freely hire in a period of recruitment freezes and retrenchment. Tellingly, it is not beyond belief to think that, in Kenya’s current fiscal state of direct Bretton Woods supervision, this is a “back door” to finding low cost skills when you can’t hire.

I might need my own adult education on this, but in a perverse way, this bill takes me back to my 1990s “déjà vu” civil service reform moments given our fiscal cliff of the time (without the debt treadmill).

In today’s moments, I wonder if one flaw in our current socio-economic thinking is we have lost the essential construct – from our culture and tradition – of society, community and household as an inter-generational contract of progressive rights and responsibilities that runs through everyone’s lifetimes.

Which also reminds me of a government planning chief who once told me years ago – in the face of donor “prioritization” demands – that everything is a priority; because it is collective, not individual.

And mostly because of this, three broader questions emerge which are not simply relevant for 2022 but our future. What is the inter-generational state of our society?

This should be our starting question; and it is an inequality one we ignore. I may be wrong, but I have a sense that this is part of the East Asian success that we aim to emulate. As a success of society, not just economics and GDP.

Inter-generational inequality as one of a complex super-matrix of four opportunity inequalities I observe and perceive; the others being gender, geography and exclusion/other discriminations.

Think of middle-aged (35-60) as the privileged (at generational level), and children, youth and older persons less so. Which is why the Constitution provides specific protections for the last three in Articles 53, 55 and 57.

From this first question, we may then inquire into the inter-generational state of our politics and our economy, particularly in a place where the two are so closely intertwined.

And why our revolutionary step-change moments are always incomplete. Is it because our politics and economics lacks a societal dream? Or put differently, why old politics and old economics need old government in perpetuity?

Think of the Constitution as our policy-political-legal guide and Vision 2030 as our development blueprint, with the former superintending the latter, and not the other way round. Do these take us to a vision of society?

In a couple of the Tiger countries, Social Visions were additionally developed as a shared future picture of society as an inter-generational whole, not just sectors like education or health.

What this Geriatric Bill tells me is there’s a bigger picture here; and it’s more than the answers it offers.