The Crisis of Our Time

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The Crisis of Our Time

The world will long note and long remember the wake of the Arab Spring. Tunisia sneezed and the rest of the world began to catch a cold. We watched as a wave of revolution and riots spread to Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Syria and even Greece. This unrest, made us more aware of a deeper fissure- the Global Economic Crisis. The spring made us more aware of the grave impacts the crisis would have on us. And most of all, it made us question if we are strong enough to survive it; if our political and social frameworks are strong enough to survive as well.

The Global Financial Crisis, just like the Great Depression, has cast a great shadow on the world. From 2008, we have witnessed unprecedented failures of businesses, slowed-down economies, downward spirals in both economic activities and consumer wealth. Millions are losing their jobs, their source of income. Commodity prices have hit an all-time high. The cost of living has soared. Families are experiencing hard times. Many in developing nations are living below the poverty line, with barely enough to survive.

According to The Levin-Coburn Report (2009), “The crisis was not a natural disaster, but the result of high risk, complex financial products, undisclosed conflicts of interest; and the failure of regulators, the credit rating agencies and the market itself to rein in on the excesses of Wall Street.” Many measures are being put in place to restore economic stability. Some seem to bear fruit such as bail-out plans and fiscal stimuli plans. Governments are employing means such as interest rate cuts to help borrowers. We are in an age of austerity, which seeks to lower spending whilst reducing the amount of benefits and public services provided and increases taxes to pay off debt. Our deepest concern is not just the state of our economies but also the state of our nations.

The strand of politics

The strands of politics, society and the economy are tightly intertwined. It is impossible to pull out one without breaking the others. When the economy bleeds, politics will bleed as well.

Nations are as strong as their politics. Where there is a strong and just government, there is a strong nation. The economy has the greatest stake in political authority. Nations with great wealth and resources, the production and consumption of goods and services will flourish only if a good government is in place.

The Global Crisis was the cause of massive unemployment in the world. This is a dire state. Majority of the unemployed are young people. In Kenya, even young graduates are unemployed. Many resort to working in areas outside their field of study. Some of the chosen work is manual labor with low returns that are not enough to meet the costs of living. Lacking a stable source of income leaves one depressed. It takes away that sense of dignity and the joy of fulfillment. Young people out of work can easily be rallied to a radical cause.

They can easily challenge their energy to an uprising. They can be rallied to demand for their rights and their welfare. Unemployment was a key cause that triggered the Arab Spring. People who have persevered under regimes that do little for their, know when it’s time to stand up for their rights. They will not allow the political authority to hard press them on every side.

In addition, inflation was a global reality. The cost of fuel and the cost of food have sky-rocketed. Developing countries, particularly those in the African continent have been worst hit. The gap between the rich and poor widens amid the crisis. Living comes with a high price tag on it. The output of goods and services produced by the labor and property has decreased. Falls in trade have been induced by low demand of goods and services. What was once deemed basic is now a luxury. Growing up, 10 Kenyan cents meant much to a little girl. Today, they are left to gather dust in history as the shilling keeps struggling against the US Dollar.

Inflation and unemployment contribute greatly to class struggles. There are distinct lines drawn between the rich and the poor; the haves and the have-nots. There are those who live in want while others live in surplus. The stark differences in class are what lead to revolution. Nations such as Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen have seen revolutions that rocked the entire world. A class that has been trod down will fight hard to have its stake in society. The recession also opened our eyes to the lines of class that had been drawn. For that gap to be bridged, the cost was high. Lives were lost. Blood was shed on our streets. In urban areas, where the crunch was most-felt, there was an upsurge of demonstrations, protest camps and civil resistance.

Industrial action was the order of the day amongst many professionals in Kenya this year. There was much clamor for increased wages from varied sectors such as the Public Service Vehicles, to Health Care and even Education.

Hard economic times put pressure on nations and their governments. They call for strong leaders with strong policies and practical solutions. The world’s most powerful nations are now grappling with the task of reviving world economies. The European Union is grappling with Greece’s decision to pull out of the Union. The age of austerity is not something that many want to accept. For some, it seems to be a precursor of depressed economic growth.

The politics card is well played by those who oppose reigning governments. Politicians and leaders who cannot put efficient measures in place will lose their ground among their people. We have seen civilian governments replaced by military ones. The people demand for change in regime. The present one lacks the muscle to sustain the economy. The 2012 American election is largely pegged on economic policy. It will be the single-most important deciding factor on if there will be a transition in the government of the USA.

The economic crisis also shed light on the corruption of many governments. It was the failure of our economies that showed us the want of leaders who would manage state resources well. In the African continent, debt is a constant shadow yet we have so many resources to sustain ourselves. This was also a crisis for national politics. We realized that unless there was a change in our leadership and systems of administration, we would continue to fail and fail badly.

The Arab Spring was characterized by civil disobedience, online activism, rebellion, riots and uprisings. This was an acid test for the present regimes. There are those who responded with violence, aggravating the situation. In Egypt, many protestors lost their lives- a price too high to pay.  Politicians will be judged by their ability to respond to the people’s call for a change in regime, for democracy, for human rights, for free and fair elections. People must have faith in their governments. And governments must not fight against their own people.

Moreover, unemployment has seen a rise and rise in crime and insecurity. The authorities are grappling with lawlessness like never before. Governments have a hard task to make sure their nations are a safe haven especially for Foreign Direct Investment.

Last but far from least, the crisis has seen a great wave of migration. Many people have left their homes in search of a better life, employment and opportunities. Some are successful enough and remember the nations they left behind. There is also a lack in leadership when educated minds do not take the opportunity to lead when their nations call for them.

Now more than ever, we are seeing a radical shift in our political framework. So much is at stake. Power must be wielded and wielded well. Our economies must recover. The solutions to our problems may be hard to achieve. But at least they are there. There is a great gap between the world as it is and the world as it should be. With the faith and courage that we can muster, we will cross that great divide.

  1. for background insights on the Arab Spring
  2. Local Kenyan Dailies on current events