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November 12, 2010 / Dan Whipple

Kenya and anticolonialists

Henry Morton Stanley

Henry Morton Stanley, with one of the Africans he left alive. Courtesy Russell E. Train Africana Collection, Smithsonian Institution Libraries.

There was a little kerfluffle a few weeks ago when Dinesh D’Souza accused Barack Obama of being an anticolonialist and having a Kenyan sort of outlook on life. The theme was picked up by another great thinker of our age, Newt Gingrich, who thought D’Souza’s analysis was so cogent that a meeting ought to be held. This is high praise, indeed.

It’s unclear to me why being an anticolonialist is an insult. D’Souza, president of New York’s King’s College, seems a little confused himself about what anticolonialism is, exactly. He writes in “How Obama Thinks,” his Forbes magazine article: “Anticolonialism is the doctrine that rich countries of the West got rich by invading, occupying and looting poor countries of Asia, Africa and South America.” This description is about ninety degrees removed from anticolonialism, but let it go. D’Souza says elsewhere in the same piece, “I know a great deal about anticolonialism, because I am a native of Mumbai, India.” We’ll just have to take him at his word.

Anyway, anticolonialism essentially means that people who live in a place ought to be able to determine their own political, cultural and economic future without being invaded, or having their hands cut off because they don’t haul out the rubber fast enough (like the Belgians did in the Congo), or be driven from their own land out into the waterless desert until 75,000 members of an 80,000-member tribe are dead from thirst (like the Germans in Namibia) and other stuff like that that the European colonialists did in Africa to amuse themselves.

The original colonialist in Africa, Henry Morton Stanley, introduced himself to the residents of Uganda by slaughtering 133 unarmed men. “We had great cause to feel gratitude,” Stanley wrote. Then he held a festive parade along the shores of Lake Victoria “flags flying gaily in union with a most animating scene.” Stanley perpetrated this atrocity because some locals on Bumbireh Island had pulled his hair. Honest-to-god. And it wasn’t even his real hair. He was wearing a wig.

So if “anticolonialism” is the worst they can do, Obama’s career should survive.

D’Souza has a good deal more to say. If, after reading the article, you can figure out what his point is, please email me with an explanation. Or maybe I’ll have to wangle an invitation to Newt Gingrich’s meeting. But we will leave the baffled readers of Forbes to their own devices in order to get on to the point of this post, which is Kenya, and the further post-colonial injustice it is subjected to as the whipping boy of free market conservatives when they ought to be praising it to the skies.

It’s clear from his article that Dinesh D’Souza’s been to India (heck, he was born there), but I can’t tell for certain whether he’s ever been to Kenya. I think not. If he had, he might not be so free tossing around the names of proud tribes as if they were insults. But I’ve actually been to Kenya. In fact, I’ve lived here for more than two months, which by internet standards is practically the time it takes a proton to decay. We can all agree that, on the Forbes/D’Souza scale, this makes me an expert.

Kenya is a world-class incubator for conservative capitalist theory. It should be studied carefully by everyone who considers herself a free market economist or political theorist. Kenya has instituted just about every economic tool conservatives love. Everybody in Kenya is a capitalist without brakes. Everybody is wanting to get rich, planning to get rich, working hard to get rich. I know a couple of Kenyan cab drivers who would make wonderful invitees to Newt’s meeting. In fact, I’ve got a great idea! Newt and Dinesh could hold it in Kibera!

Furthermore, Kenya hasn’t instituted hardly any of the pesky anti-capitalist stuff that free marketers hate so much. There’s no regulation to speak of. There’s no welfare, so social safety net. There’s no minimum wage. Environmental protections are not enforced. The transportation systems are privately run. All the secondary schools are private. Many of the police are private. In fact, I can look out the window of my house at a force of six askari, all of whom are paid by the compound we live in—that is to say, by us.

The market is so free that in Kenya, you don’t even have to own land in order to sell it to someone else. You can just tell them that you own it, then sell it to them. There is nowhere to search the chain of title because that requires government regulation. People who own vacant land chain signs to trees there, notifying people that the land is “Not For Sale.” That’s the title search.

The labor market is free. The other day a Chinese contractor shot and killed eight workers because they weren’t going fast enough for him.

The health system is mostly private. A hospital recently refused to discharge several women who had just given birth because they couldn’t pay their bills, which averaged a little over $20 each. The average Kenyan is dead before age 58. Fifty-two of every 1,000 Kenyan babies dies at birth. Another 74 die before they reach age five.

If you want to get a drivers license or a resident visa, you have to stand in long lines, because this is a government service, and no one wants big government. So the service is lousy.

Limited government. Bad roads.

No one drinks the water from the tap. Clean water is a government service. If people can’t afford bottled water, they boil the tap water for five minutes.

Technologically, Kenya is very hip. Internet connectivity is available and reliable. The only people who don’t have cell phones are those who are already dead.

Dinesh D’Souza said in an NPR commentary that all the developing world needs is a really free market capitalist approach to life: “The solution is to recognize that prosperity does not come naturally, and that both institutional structures and social values must be favorable in order for poverty to be eradicated. If people in Barbados, Bombay and the Bronx want to be prosperous they should establish free market institutions, embrace modern technology, and cultivate the bourgeois virtues. This is easier said than done, but if it is done, then perhaps there won’t be any more poor people left in the world.”

C’mon down, Dinesh. Quit dissing Kenyan anticolonialists. Kenya is your free market in all its feral glory.

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4 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. chas / Nov 12 2010 4:11 pm

    keep it up mzungu…enjoying your posts immensely.

  2. Dan Whipple / Nov 12 2010 4:20 pm

    Thanks, Chas. Log into Skype once in a while so we can talk to you.

  3. Dan Neal / Nov 13 2010 12:27 am

    Whipple – Sharp analysis and funny. The time to think is serving you well.

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