Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Neo-Luddism under Raila Odinga

Politics is one of the professions where one has to put aside his education credentials and sense of self worth to survive. It is the only profession where Kariuki Chotara could floor Prof. Anyang’ Nyong’o in a debate on economics. It is for this reason that our academically enlightened politicians have to downgrade their abilities to fit in. That is exactly what Hon. Engineer Raila Odinga did to win the support of tea pickers in Rift Valley.

Raila Odinga promised that if elected, his government would safeguard the interests of the manual worker by preventing the use of technology. He pledged to use his first executive order to ban private tea estates from using machines to enhance productivity.

“Tea companies using plucking machines to deny Kenyans jobs will not use them at all starting January,” he said.


Raila Odinga is a mechanical engineer for crying out loud! He owns factories that use cutting edge technology to maximize profit by increasing productivity. Yet he is promising to use presidential powers to bar private businesses from utilizing technology!

Raila’s rhetoric is akin to that of the Ludite movement in Britain. This movement was against industrialization because they feared that workers will be replaced by machines. They were particularly against sewing machines. They wanted factories to use the good old thread and needle that had existed for many centuries. This movement destroyed property and led to a massive loss of lives. It is a shame that a man who wants to be president of Kenya has picked inspiration form the 19th centaury.

The Ludites will drop back to death if the saw the extensive use of robotics in the textile industry. The rudimentary sewing machines that they opposed in the early 18th century are no match for current technology. What is important to note is that humans still have jobs. In fact Kenyans are migrating to Britain to help take care of the excess jobs that may be available.

Raila is being the flip-flopper that he is. He tells people what they want to hear. Recently while addressing university students he promised to create quality jobs for them by creating a high tech Kenya. He accused the current administration of creating Jua Kali jobs to absorb jobless university graduates. But now he is promising to create an economy where technology is used sparingly to create more manual jobs!

I had an opportunity to listen to Raila’s brilliant ideas when he visited New Jersey early this year. Raila wondered why Kenya still lags behind yet countries like Korea and Malaysia that were in the same class as Kenya in the 60s are far ahead. Raila made that argument a key point in his vision for Kenya.

"The other country that fascinates me is South Korea and I believe the development models of these countries, can be replicated in Kenya," he explained.


Raila has asked this rhetorical question at every given opportunity.
The South Korea that fascinates Raila thrives on technology. The countries policies are not geared towards creating more menial jobs as Raila is suggesting. Korea has heavily invested in education and research. The country also promotes free enterprise unlike the command system that Raila wants to institute in Kenya. These policies have enhanced the productivity and attracted giants like Microsoft that recently opened a research and development center in Korea. This means Koreans will have more high quality jobs that pay well.

Economic Giants like the USA have very high productivity due to technology. This means the USA spends less to produce more. The USA also invests in high end jobs while outsourcing tedious menial work to countries like China, Kenya, and others. In China, they are trying to graduate from menial labor to high tech. This will lower pollution levels while creating quality jobs for the masses.

Raila should have no reason to fear that technology will deny Kenyans jobs. The machines will need to be fixed when they break down; be operated; be programmed etc. All this will require human labor. The graduates who are picking tea will instead utilize their skills to exploit the technological advances that may be brought in when the fiber optic link to the global telecoms network is complete. The fear for technology is unfounded and being used for political expedience.

Raila’s kaeni vile mulivyo politics will not add any value to our country. His populist policies will get in the way of development. Last but not least his anti-enterprise policies will send us back into the command economy that drove people into poverty. No president should force businesses to utilize 1st century technology in the name of creating menial jobs. That is how dictatorship creeps in.

By the way: in the spirit of Luddism, Raila’s Energem, Spectre International, etc should dismantle all their conveyer belts. Raila should then go to the street and hire all jobless people and ask them to replace the conveyor belts. I know he may not be willing to do that because it will lower productivity. But what if Kibaki used executive powers to tell Raila’s factories how they should be run? Will Raila be amused?

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