In Summary
  • It seems that our pursuit of human rights and democratic ideals is slowly impeding our ability to industrialise.
  • In the past five years, we have witnessed strikes in several sectors in the pursuit of labour rights.

On August 2010, Kenyans hailed the promulgation of a new Constitution with the hope that it would heal most of the nation’s problems.

Given our history of human rights abuses, we wanted a dispensation that would protect individual human rights and, therefore, the wide Bill of Rights as espoused in the Constitution.

However, it seems that, in focusing on civil and political rights at the expense of economic development, we may have swung the pendulum too far.

LABOUR INDUSTRY
There aren’t many countries that have undergone an economic transformation or industrialisation within a framework of liberal human or democratic rights.

In fact, most of those that industrialised early — such as Britain and the United States — did under harsh labour conditions with workers toiling for long hours under poor environmental conditions for low wages.

The ones that industrialises more recently — such as Japan, the Asian Tigers or even China — have done so under similar conditions and within autocratic regimes.

WORKERS' STRIKES
In Kenya, it seems that our pursuit of human rights and democratic ideals is slowly impeding our ability to industrialise.

In the past five years, we have witnessed strikes in several sectors in the pursuit of labour rights, with many seeing their demands met.

What we fail to understand, however, is that as a country’s labour rights and wages increase, it chases away investors, who must seek the cheapest means of production in order to recoup their investments.

This is why many manufacturing jobs in the US, for example, relocated to Asia and Latin America, where labour is cheaper and there are fewer environmental laws.

DEVELOPMENT PLAN
Since the 1980s, Kenya’s manufacturing sector has declined due to implementation of the World Bank’s Structural Adjustment Programmes (Saps).

By the mid 1990s, most of the industries created after independence had collapsed.

This decline has continued despite Kenya’s implementing a development plan in 2007 that envisions the country being industrialised and becoming a middle-income economy by 2030.

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