Saturday, 26 May 2012

The Market as an Instrument of Political Control and Exploitation: Some Insights from Kenya

The vast majority of developing countries, especially on the African continent, have leapt into the new the millennium trapped in enormous economic decline. The popular diagnosis blames the self-defeating tendencies of the Third World states as the main source of the dismal economic performance. It is against this back
ground that the paper seeks to present an alternative account for the ram pant economic stagnation experienced by developing countries on the African continent. It has been motivated by the dramatic ascendancy of Afro-pessimism, which seems to conclude that the African condition is largely of its own making and, therefore, there is little or no hope for improvement. The argument of this article is that the colonial legacy has, to a very large extent, shaped, influenced and impacted on the range of post-colonial policy options for most countries within the policy frame work of the market. The pervasive market distortions that presently characterise the majority of the economies on the continent are an enduring heritage of the colonial schemes and machinations.

The article takes its point of departure from Platteau’s paradigm of the market, which contends that the Third World governments’ behaviour and excessive interference with economic activities are the source of all existing troubles. The thesis of Platteau’s paradigm of the market is that the widespread stymied growth and the gross abuse of market institutions in developing countries is a result of the absence of cultural norms and values that are congenial to the development of robust market traditions. The foregoing conviction has led to the primacy of prescribing policy measures that are intended to accord the market prominence in allocating scarce resources among competing activities in the economy. The state is seen as the villain and hence a target of reforms that are intended to contract its stake in the economy.

The dearth of discussions in the existing literature that systematically attempt to track the origin of the retrogressive tendencies of the state is, however, quite striking. While we do not disagree that the large part of the blame for the unfavourable developments can be attributed to the self-defeating tendencies of the state, we, however, argue that the scope for the systematic inquiry into the forces that have shaped the policy motivations of developing countries should be broadened to include the enduring colonial legacy. The analysis is preceded by a brief overview of Platteau’s paradigm of the market in developing countries. The account draws heavily on the experiences of Kenya supported by isolated parallels from Malawi and Ghana.

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