COVID-19 Pandemic: Disheveled Economies, Disarrayed Polities & the Future By Sitati Wasilwa

What matters? Welfarism? Free markets? Democracy or just efficient governance systems? Individualism or communalism? The essentialism of the COVID-19 pandemic cannot be underestimated.

The COVID-19 crisis has raptured globalization, disheveled economies, disarrayed polities and reorganized societies on massive scale. Pristinely, a global economic recession is looming.

Economic recessions or crises have always led to fundamental change in politics and thence a revision of the social and economic policies adopted to transition to the next chapter. The COVID-19 pandemic manifests itself as a social, political and economic crisis.

Socially, norms and routines have been altered. People are forced to adjust to unfamiliar lives: working from home; no more feeling of camaraderie from social gatherings; for others, it’s doomsday with their jobs wiped out by the monstrous virus; for some, readjusting to realities of life in the countryside is the new normal; and certainly, worries about the fate of tomorrow dominate our lives than ever before.

Politically, the frivolous nature of greedy politicians has been exposed. Politicians are now familiar with policies and terminologies of a functional healthcare system. State capture by big business is in plain view; financial bailout programmes are mainly targeting large corporations and not small and medium-scale enterprises. Democracy and authoritarian classifications no longer matter. It is how efficiently governments around the world respond to the crisis.

Economically, it’s evident that people should matter more than profits and this ought to be the primacy of policy. Global supply chains are disrupted. Organizations are scaling down their operations and unemployment is set to rise. Living standards are bound to fall and manacles of poverty are primed to handcuff more people. Developing countries are set to rack up more debts. In short, the COVID-19 pandemic has orchestrated a reversal of economic gains.

A Reflection of the Past

History matters, and it matters a great deal! In modern world history, economic crises or pandemics of human nature have often led to political, economic and social reforms. For instance, the deadly Spanish flu that ravaged parts of the world between 1918 and 1920 occasioned public healthcare reforms.

According to Laura Spinney, the aftermath of the Spanish flu prompted governments to adopt policies seeking to provide healthcare for all. Spinney notes that the post-Spanish flu period saw Russia become the first country to establish a centralized public healthcare system, a policy imperative adopted by some Western European countries. Such a healthcare system was fully financed by a state-run insurance scheme. Creation of Sweden’s modern welfare state is significantly credited to the depredations of the Spanish flu.

Across the Atlantic, the federal government of the United States of America opted for employer-based insurance schemes as part of the post-Spanish flu healthcare reforms. In Canada, the topsy-turvydom created by the Spanish flu pandemic led to the establishment of the federal Department of Health in 1919 with the state playing a primary role in advancing public healthcare.

Although information about the origin of the Spanish flu is still unclear, the first official cases were recorded at USA Army’s Camp Funston in Kansas. Large-scale mobilization of troops during World War I is thought to have catalyzed the spread of the flu.

A report published by the Federal Bank of St. Louis in 2007 documents about the economic effects of the 1918 Spanish influenza such as closure of grocery stores, an increase in drug store activities, a rise in demand for beds and mattresses, long hours of work for physicians, and closure of mines among others.

Despite the fact that the report entirely focuses on the American state, its praxis on the significance of the nexus of the 1918 Spanish flu and a modern-day pandemic is engrossing.

Africa also bore the brunt of the Spanish flu with a research study highlighting that in the coastal region of Kenya the virus paralyzed administrative operations, created food shortage, occasioned commercial losses and overstretched the healthcare sector. In South Africa, the flu led to the death of 300,000 South Africans representing 6% of the total population.

In an article published by Reuters Magazine in 2013, Begley warns of how a flu pandemic could trigger a global recession. The news feature is based on a 2008 World Bank report highlighting that the SARS pandemic of 2009 shredded global GDP by $33 billion.

Major economic crises always spark calls for reforms. Notably, the Great Depression resulted in the formulation of the New Deal which largely aimed at addressing the plight of the common Americans. In Western Europe, the economic crisis occasioned by World War II actuated the European Recovery Programme (the Marshall Plan). These two reforms laid the foundation for the Golden Age of Capitalism although Robert Reich in his book, Supercapitalism, refers to it as “Not Quite the Golden Age” since political and economic inequality was evident among women and minority groups.

The economic recession of 1973 changed the global political economy in fundamental ways. Economist and historian Marc Levinson writes that the early 1970s marked the end of the Golden Age of Capitalism with politics moving to the Right. The decline of the Golden Age resulted from stagnated productivity growth. The shift of politics to the Right resulted in a loss in social benefits such as health insurance mostly provided by governments across Western Europe among others. As such, the implications on public healthcare were significant.

The fundamental shift in the global political systems was also embraced by the Bretton Woods institutions which embarked on missions to spread the Washington Consensus gospel in Africa through the infamous Structural Adjustment Policies (SAPs).

Failure of SAPs is evident especially in public healthcare and education systems leading to revision of the Washington Consensus with focus directed to a number of policy issues including provision of social safety nets and poverty reduction.

Financial crisis that precipitated the Great Recession in 2008/2009 led to advocacy for more government intervention in the economy with calls for provision of healthcare for all especially in developed economies. The austerity measures adopted by governments following the recession were germs for emergence of radicalized political movements across the global north.

William Davies contends that the financial crisis of 2008 failed to provoke a fundamental shift in capitalism but the COVID-19 crisis is set to bring about a sea change in the systems of global political economy based on high levels of international connectedness and the spatial nature of the pandemic. Retooling of social and economic life is certain with the pandemic serving as an inflection point “for new economic and intellectual beginnings.”

A Vision for the Future

Economic and political movements will emerge after the pandemic to vouch for reformation of healthcare systems all over the world. Governments and multi-lateral institutions will have to change their priorities and increase spending on public healthcare. Therefore, universal healthcare will emerge as a policy priority for state and non-state actors.

Governments and multi-lateral institutions reluctant to embrace healthcare for all will encounter opposition from social justice movements and disgruntled members of the public.

A paradigm shift in the systems of political economy is also bound to happen. Neoliberalism is set to reform or undergo decapitation. Political and economic ideologies that fashion people over profits will dominate public discourse. Could there be a re-emergence of democratic capitalism or will social democracy be the norm? Will the Chinese political economy model inspire states?

What is the future of big business in the global economy and national politics? Reformation of the healthcare system will most likely be derailed by the Big Pharma. Big Pharma may take hostage global politics and economics. The intricacies of the medical-industrial complex could go a notch higher.

Globalization will still be fashioned by state and non-state actors as a crucial step towards economic recovery and prosperity.

Immigration to the most affected countries especially the developed ones is set to take place. The Western world may review its immigration policies and make them friendly. But this will depend on the pace of economic recovery.

Is a new world order in the offing? Too close to call but possibilities are within the horizons; evolution and dominance of the world by the medical-industrial complex and not the military-industrial complex; the dawn of a multi-polar world; dissipation of democratic ideals and enchantment of political pragmatism; and establishment of welfare states.

Sitati Wasilwa is a political economist and consultant on governance, geopolitics and public policy at Savic Consultants and a youth leader at YMCA Kenya. Twitter: @SitatiWasilwa

Is little really better than nothing when it comes to employment in Kenya? By Sharon Laura O.

Getting a job in Kenya is hard. One goes through a lot of monkey business, it ends up as a job in itself, a job for looking for jobs.

I am shocked at just the sheer volumes of young people struggling to get employment. For the record, I am not unemployed. Sometimes though, I wonder what is the point of saying you are employed if your struggles are just the same as those unemployed?

I mean, this country in the beginning of this year introduced new taxes. Talk of turnover taxes for small business. This is over and above the taxes this government levies on businesses and Kenyans. The net effect is it leaves you with little monies that actually being employed sometimes, does feel like being unemployed.

I know of a single parent who takes home 4000 thousand Kenya shillings per month net salary. With it she is expected to feed, clothe and protect her 2 year old. The current state of economy forces Kenyans to do and be everything so as to make ends meet.

I always wonder, what if this single parent taking home Ksh. 4000 monthly quits her job, how will she survive?

Come to think of it, this is the mentality that we are forced to have. We have been conditioned to think that ‘little is better than nothing’. We are encouraged to stick with it because uncertainty of unemployment is too great.

Employers, meanwhile have learned to take advantage of this dire state of affairs. They know Kenyans will take what is being offered. Economy is bad, they tell us and something is better than nothing. So for those people who think are lucky being employed, including myself, news flash, we actually are not. I am not saying that you should quit your jobs. No. I’m only saying we live in a selfish society where the state and our laws have utterly failed to protect its citizens. We the people, have found ways of going round the problem, we have several sources of income to sustain our families

The frustrations for young people don’t end here, welcome to the home of contradictions where you study for field A but get work in field Z. I mean, each year Kenya produces thousands of graduates whose majority end up tarmacking for years and years. By the time they get a job that they studied for its seems too late as companies want higher degree or more skills. If you decide to go back to school and get this higher degree, you again seem to be too overqualified. Now this is a monkey business that needs to stop.

Recently, I went to a government building to run some errands. To my surprise, all the desks that I went to for assistance were being manned by old folks. May the good Lord forgive me but these are our grandparents who are meant to be enjoying their retirement. I enjoyed the slow service, a process that could have taken 30 minutes took 3hrs.

Most of our institutions are run by people who maybe had a certificate and as time went by, they did not see the need to go back to school. So if one goes to seek employment with the hope that their degree will be a plus, they will get a rude shock because, people at these places feel threatened by ones qualifications. They think their jobs will be taken away from them. That is why old people keep dominating while the youth keep tarmacking.

So let us face it, the economy is bad. The government is worsening the situation by taking more loans. I do not know about you but at this rate, where we are heading as this current state scares me.

Written by Sharon Laura O. 

A Glimpse of the National Youth Council (Amendment) Bill 2019 By Anita Otieno

The National Youth Council Act of 2009 establishes the National Youth Council (NYC) in law. The Council comprises several members from the Ministry in charge of youth affairs, and eight youths elected by the youth in a formal set-up. The purpose of the National Youth Council is to give a voice to the youth of Kenya in a bid to have an inclusive body in the political, social and economic matters affecting the country.

A Bill, the National Youth Council Amendment Bill (2019) was introduced to Parliament to amend some provisions of the NYC, Act. Among other proposals, the Bill proposes changing the format of membership of the Council. NYC comprises 8 youths elected by the youth. The Bill proposes to change this set-up to 9 youths nominated by the Cabinet Secretary. This proposal, if passed, will undermine democracy within the Council, limiting the voice and participation of the Youth in governmental affairs.

The proposed composition of membership of NYC will curtail the very essence of the Council. The Council as is, promotes independent participation of the youth in the Council. Having the members nominated by the Executive, rather than elected by the public, undermines the independence of the youth members and that of the Council as a whole.
In a number of the most democratic countries, the members of youth councils or the equivalent entity, are elected by other youth democratically and voluntarily. The Norwegian Children and Youth Council for example, has its members elected by members of other youth organizations. The Commonwealth Youth Council also has its executive members elected by other youth.

Why then, would the Kenyan Parliament propose nomination of youth members into the Council by the Executive? Is there foul play? Do they have malicious intentions? The most probable answer would be that Parliament, through the Executive, wants to have a hand in the affairs of NYC. They intend to suppress the democratic factor of the Council, thus limiting the functions of the Council.

Should the proposed amendment go through, then the Youth of the country may no longer count on the Council to carry their concerns independently. Further, the Youth will not have confidence in the affairs of the Council and will generally doubt their integrity.

There is a general feeling of loss of confidence on the government’s focus on youth affairs in the country. Allowing the government further control on youth affairs will be therefore undesirable and will extinguish the youth’s hope on making a difference in the country’s affairs. It is therefore imminent and important that Parliament does not consider the controversial clause on changing the NYC, but rather leave it as it is.

By Anita Otieno

Issue Brief on the Proposed Amendments to the National Youth Council Bill 2019 by a Consortium of Youth Serving Organisations

Introduction
Article 55(b) of the Constitution mandates the state to take measures for the youth have opportunities to be represented and participate in political, social, economic spaces. Further on, in preparation for Africa’s youth bulge and succession planning, cognizant of best practices of the Commonwealth Youth Council, East Africa Youth Commission and Africa Youth Commission, article 55(b) necessitates an urgent move to harness the youth demographic dividend for economic prosperity of the nation.

Rationale
The National Youth Council’s mandate in fulfilling the above was structurally watered down by the amended bill of 2019 which shrinks further the democratic space of young people. Therefore, the YSO Consortium consisting of 50 national and grassroots organizations reviewed the provisions of the National Youth Council Bill 2019 and harmonized it into a memorandum with the following key provisions informing the 5-point agenda;

  1. Professionalization of Youth Work. Kenya is one of the commonwelath countries without a national-level policy that regulates, protects and promotes youth work as a distinct profession despite its significant youth bulge. To resolve this, we propose that the NYC will define the youth work profession model and work the MoPSYGA and other relevant stakeholders to establish locally relevant policies, procedures and mechanisms to accredit youth workers.
  2. Youth mainstreaming. The NYC will nominate youths into decision making bodies such as boards, agencies and other public institutions and organizations. They will also coordinate the youth agenda into national policy processes including youth mainstreaming, youth data and evidence based policy making , youth volunteerism and other relevant national development policy processes by public institutions and organizations.
  3. Structure and functions. The structure of the Council envisaged in the Bill transforms the Council into a national outfit that does not have any county presence. To address this, we propose the establishment of the County Youth Council, provide for its functions and powers. Secondly, the functions of the Council in the 2019 amendment bill are watered down and do not capture the spirit of a youth representative body and therefore we recommend the incorporation of functions in the 2009 Act with a few amendments.
  4. Corporate membership and resource mobilization. NYC funded from public coffers is hindered by lack of resources. We recommend having corporate membership as a mechanism to mobilize resources as such, Youth Serving Organization will be accredited as corporate members and will pay a subscription fee to remain in membership (provides resources and sustainability, representation) for a designate period.
  5. Capacity building. For the National Youth Council to transform, there must be a change in ways of engaging, therefore deliberate attempts must be mad to build capacity of council leaders to understand their role and repercussions of not executing their duties effectively.

Conclusion
In the interest of young people of the republic of Kenya, the memorandum proposes solutions to the loopholes in the 2019 Amendment Bill and seeks to gain the support of members of parliament, the initiator of the bill and citizens of good will.

By:Youth Agenda, ActionAid, PAWA254, Africa Youth Trust, Governance Pillar, Siasa Place, Nairobi County Network, AYLF, Global Platform, Young Democrats, My Leader Kenya, UJANA Africa, Red Cross, YOBBA, Activista, Nairobits Trust, Go Green, Y-Act, Emerging Leaders Foundation, World Healers Foundation, Nairobi County Youth Network, INUUA, ODBS Foundation, Youth Alive Kenya, Youth & Success Association, Akili Dada, Dada Power and Youth Senate-Kenya.

For access to the National Youth Council (Amendment) Bill 2019, check the following link:

http://www.parliament.go.ke/sites/default/files/2019-03/National%20Youth%20Council%20%28Amendment%29%20Bill%2C%202019_compressed.pdf

Siasa Place is an NGO formed 2015 that aims to create an enabling environment for women and youth mainstreaming into our body politics.

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