Expensive progress

Expensive progress

There is an anti-establishment thought in every liberated mind, and however much the institution may attempt to impose their views on the liberated individual, such an individual remains free.

This is because the liberated individual has one issue that he or she understands: the establishment is always about control; the control of the mind of the individual, the control of the living conditions, the control of the movements, the control of the freedoms of association, the control of the freedoms of expression and all of the abilities afforded to the individual in the constitution of the state.

The political machine is an antithesis unto itself, a series of Devil’s Advocate contradictions, “Vote but don’t have a say in governance, elect a government but don’t criticise the MP…” in a John Milton Devil’s Advocate anaphoric raconteur of God’s irony of rules set in opposition, “It’s the goof of all time. Look but don’t touch. Touch but don’t taste. Taste but don’t swallow…” It is the basis of it all, the mind control type of thought that enslaved entire continents that keeps on coming back in different garb with each passing era.

There are always slaves to this type of thought, willing candidates that worship the guillotines and chains offered without noticing the depth of their gullibility. A smart looking guillotine does not mean the wearer thereof is smart: it is only a clear sign of the depth of their stupidity. Sugar-coated turd looks like cake, but only the smart ones know or can tell it is not.

Steadily and over the years, the mentality that the ground should be level for all has been taking ground only for brief whiles only to let go again. We have seen liberation movements rise only for them to lose sense as soon as the freedom fighters get into parliament. Resistance to what can be termed liberalism omnibus (for all) has become as pervasive as neo-liberalism itself. As the world becomes evermore entrenched in the grip of a dystopian world order that views the market as the grand leveller of all human relations, more and more people are being reeled by this illusion of progress.

The reality however is that a larger part of the new band of economic fighters do not have the right guns to fight and those that have the guts to fight back are cut down on the battlefields of social inequality. Lizeka Tandwa in Mail &Guardian of 2018 quotes the Chris Hani statement that covers the whole issue of the struggle between classes continued:
“What I fear is that the liberators emerge as elitists who drive around in Mercedes Benz’s and use the resources of this country to live in palaces and to gather riches.”

This statement was made well before the era of openly corrupt political tenderpreneurs who are not ashamed to use the influence of their power to further subjugate the small man into servitude by taking the morsels that come in the form of tenders available to the public. We know for a fact that those enterprising individuals that dare to make the dream for themselves have no chance against the bigger purses of those in power who are not ashamed to vie for the small government tenders available to the public.

Using fronts where the skulduggery is still respectable or being outright knaves where corruption has eaten to the core of society like it has here, the political class and the powerful seem only there to worsen the situation of the poorer masses. Driven to poverty, only vestiges of the dream of making it fade with each passing day as the finish line of success is lifted further away from the reach of the poor.

The liberation narrative of equality that began the postcolonial discussions presumed ‘a rising tide that lifts all boats’ type of approach and it led many to join the freedom narrative. It has however been shattered by the prevailing material realities of the moment that see deepening divisions between the rich and poor. The once united society is slowly developing into a security state to protect the status quo, in fact, to protect the interests of the rich classes in society.

This type of attitude sends a clear message to those who would seek to contest the imbalanced power arrangement that modern liberalist thought has wrought, in short; you have to be rich first to be a member of any veritable social group.

The reality of this is that this raises the prospect of intense conflict within the poor sections of society as the scramble for a place at the high table increases. This finds the birth of a new class of buccaneering pirates not reluctant to fleece their peers in the low classes, just so that they can buy a place where they rub shoulders with the who’s who of society. Any talk about modesty or being happy with what one has does not suffice these days; almost everyone without a brain ‘wants to make it at any cost’ without regard to the welfare of others.

As has been in the colonial days or in the preceding feudal era, one still finds that the rich will always have some type of armed force to protect their treasure. If it was knights and mercenaries in the past, one finds police and military forces employed by the state to protect the wealth of an elite minority in the current times. One can safely guess that they assume this type of protectionist attitude because it poses less of a risk than watching the reality of a more humane utopian type of liberalism that would achieve much were it to take hold on planet earth.

Talk about the golden era is just the parley in the conference of the rich and those that want to be like them. The reality is that the world would be a more interesting place to live in without the constant competition for meagre resources. That reality is however not ideal for the interests of someone that brushes their ego with banknotes and who does not understand the plight of the poor grovelling for basics. The ideal world is the one flashed on the television screens and is shared by followers on social media platforms.

The reality of the family having to live their lives eking a livelihood selling empty cans for cents does not count in the books of the ‘living’. The reality is that the ‘we and dem’ Bob Marley used to chant in the late 1970’s is at its peak; forget the political lies and the half-arsed gift, Tupac’s ‘They don’t give a f#*k about us’ is more real than the fake charitable speeches of the miseducated political charlatans promising non-existent better tomorrows and dishing out food parcels to the poor.

There is a neo-liberalist type of thought that in very broad terms tries to ease the burden of the rich while increasing the burden of the poor. Neo-liberalist thought at its most basic refers to an emergent set of political, economic, and social arrangements that put emphasis on market relations, a recalibration of the state, and heightened individual responsibility. The modern public figure and politician are both aficionados to this new way of conning the lower classes of society into believing they are being saved when they are in all essences being short-changed.

It is true that responsibility for the rights of the citizen should be a shared affair, but the mite should not be expected to shoulder the burden of the grasshopper. Neo-liberalist thoughts of the current moment are not fair to the poorer sections of society because they expect them to be equal bearers of the economic burden when they in many essences lack the means to shoulder the responsibility. Neo-liberal thought is therefore not the right type of approach because:

In short, neo-liberalism represents the extension of market-based competition into all areas of life (Crouch 2011; Mirowski 2013). Paramount to this process is the construction of new subjects, defined by values and social practices that align with market logic (MacLeavy 2008). As they become embedded in individuals, these values also begin to appear in local level governance practices, giving neo-liberalism the appearance of being everywhere (Peck and Tickell 2002).

The social media platform has given birth to a class of virtual entrepreneur on various platforms, from Bitcoin to forex. This new type of individual is from all classes of society and many lose their hard-earned cash in an economic environment where the illusion of money and progress are sold to those individuals that find gaps in their time to engage with the virtual world of the internet. We are in the era of the so-called 4th Industrial Revolution and it promises a level playing field to all those that understand the use of the smart android device.

This is an illusion of progress for most of Africa largely due to the realities associated with it. From exorbitant data charges by communications operators to slow internet connection speeds or lack of wireless internet facilities (Wi-fi), the appearance of progress everywhere still remains limited to a larger part of the old Third World. The cost of owning one of these devices is also another impediment that is ignored in macroeconomic terms but is very real in microeconomic terms. This means that a level playing field would mean raising every type of economic activity to First World standards. Only then shall real progress begin.

Though one of the key tenets of neo-liberalism is that it ostensibly advocates for the levelling of the playing field, there are limitations to this because real economics of the current times are dependent on social interactions (networks), political connections (influence), and economic transactions (activities) that have a direct influence on the individual’s market relations.

It is usually said that each individual has an equal opportunity in advancing their status, but we know that this is not true. The elites have networks of influence to drive their economic activities, and the small man has to pay hefty bribes or pishkesh just to get a foot in the door. There are further bureaucratic red tapes to cross after the foot is in the door, and the fines of allegiance to ‘the man’ for the individual from the lower classes to gain a seat in the high councils are pretty hefty most of the time.

Though ethereal in appearance, their impact on the pocket is pretty real if one is to understand what Chinua Achebe means in his No Longer At Ease. Out of the struggles against the red tape come new habits that are concomitant to the demands of the new atmosphere.

The young innocent educated civil servant from the rural areas gets thrown into the bane of the concrete jungle and its urbane realities. In the process of becoming a city slicker, he or she has to ‘fit in’ with the crowd and pay homage to the gods that rule the new world as we see the character of Obi in No Longer At Ease.

In the novel, Obi who at first is straight as an arrow and considers himself a virtuous man is told by everyone to take a bribe to cover some of the basic expenses in his daily life. He is convinced into believing that it is not truly wrong to take a bribe as long as you know how to do it because ‘everybody does it’. He is warned that his not taking bribes would not be solving any problems because people will simply offer the bribes to others in the ‘Civil Service’. Obi at the beginning stands for what he believes. It is not until the economic burdens become harsh, until his mother dies and he loses Clara that he gives in to the culture of bribes.

This is the pattern of neo-liberalism Africa has followed to this point where the issue of corrupt officers of government has become everyday speak that is spoken of easily as one would of speak of a beer brand’s popularity. Corruption is the direct result of a neo-liberal attitude that at the end proves costly not only to the individuals engaged in it but the whole of the state, region, and continent as well.

Progress on the continent of Africa is an expensive process not only for the individual but for the state as well. The state is willing to take in donor funds without understanding the conditions attached, and the individual is willing to engage in corrupt activities without understanding the repercussions of such illicit activities. It is in the name of neo-liberal idea of a level playing field that many fall into the trap, the illusions of happiness they promise are oftentimes too hard to ignore.

What we need therefore at this point in time is the cultivation of individuals that understand that the tree can only grow from the roots and that money comes from honest effort. The lottery winnings type of mentality promised by the new mentalities of progress can only lead us back into the arms of regress where many a leader pulled Africa. Think of Mobutu, think of his thoughts, see where his country is at this point in time. Think real affordable progress.

Tšepiso S. Mothibi

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