For many years, Africa has been described as a peasant economy and one that is unsustainable by social scientists focusing mainly on the modes of production and consumption by farmers.
This peasant farmer concept, as elaborated by the English historian E.P. Thompson, was based on the works of previous 18th-century authors, who felt that economic and moral concerns were increasingly drifting apart.
Thompson’s work reminds us of the moral economy of the poor in the context of food riots in England. During that time, the peasants were peacefully protesting the then political culture ingrained in feudal rights to decide the prices of essential goods in the market. They wanted a traditional “fair price” that could support the community rather than the “free” market price. They also wanted large farmers to consider the community first before disposing of their surplus at higher prices outside of the villages at a time of need.
In an effort to find a sustainable solution to peasant moral economy, anthropologists have tried to enhance Thompson’s idea of a non-capitalist cultural mentality using the market for its own ends in subsistence agriculture. For example, in Southeast Asia it was established that the model could not work due to peasants’ risk-averseness to the extent that they could not allow new technologies or new seed variety to improve their output.
Some studies concluded that peasants were in general traditionalist and that was seen as their weakest point that capitalist (feudalists) leadership used to flood the markets with imported cereals even at the times of community’s harvest.
Nowhere is this moral decadence more pronounced than in Kenya, especially in maize, the country’s stable food, which has now become a political crop. Virtually every year, farmers could be queueing at the National Cereals and Produce Board to sell their harvest when the rich are importing cheap and often contaminated maize into the market.
These immoral practices are rampant in most African economies due to lack of proper social and economic organisation. The political class under the guise of preserving African cultural practices take advantage of the situation to exploit the poor through their crony capitalism.
While many developing countries are eradicating poverty from their midst, especially in Asia, African countries are not reducing poverty to levels that were envisaged by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
Seeing what is happening in the continent, Kenya included, we can argue that the current peasantry economic model, which has a primary reliance on self-produced food and some aspect of market economy espoused by many African economies, is not working. This also includes the socialist approach that Tanzania, for example, has espoused. We therefore need to change our economic models.
The foundations of these ideologies were laid by the founding fathers of the African states but were never advanced by the current crop of leadership. In the current political discourse, ideology is a foreign concept. Yet we know that ideology plays a critical role in determining how people make decisions.
Without ideology, it is virtually impossible to know the beliefs, principles as well as the kind of decisions those aspiring to lead the country would make. The absence of ideology deprives people of the lenses through which they can see the future.
Politicians therefore should have some principles and beliefs that will assist the electorate to predict their mode of production.
But in Africa, the current trajectory of social and economic organisation still looks bleak. No matter how much one wants to be optimistic about the continent’s future, the absence of ideology means Africa will continue to be bombarded with different ideas that end up up to nowhere.
In the words of Lewis Carroll, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” Most likely it will be a place you never desired.
African leaders must therefore give their followers their model of production.