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Cultivating a Transformative Faith that Drives the Common Good of Everyone

The Vatican II highlighted a 2000 history of the constant teaching by the Church on its commitment to a public political life found in a variety of expressions. The involvement of the Christian to political life is one of the many expressions. It calls for men and women to be committed to service of others through a generous commitment to politics and government. One example of that selfless commitment to politics and service is Saint Thomas More, the Patron of Statemen and Politicians. His commitment to service by cultivating the right values led to his martyrdom. The church recognizes him and others yet to be known as leaders who understand and can interpret what working for the common good is all about. If done well it demands great sacrifice and martyrdom. Finding leaders who are like Thomas More is reality which, especially when elections are called and many leaders emerge as the true champions of the desired expressions of the common good.

Philosophy, economics, political science, faith aspects, tend to speak about the common good to mean common wealth, common life, general welfare, public benefits which are shared and are beneficial for all, by members of a given society (nation-state). This is what citizens desire and elect leaders who must collectively agree to share equally these common goods. This is what a democracy, a people ruling together, expects from its elected representatives.

African countries tend to be caught in election trap whenever the bells of elections start ringing. Leaders start promising basketful of many narratives on how they will improve the economic wellbeing of the people. They come up with models which are languorously and balefully sore to the eye. They will speak achieving common goods with cliches of dishonesty. Some of the discarded cliches 1970 to 1990s have been resurrected. Trickle down, top down, bottom up, people led, the wealthy giving to the poor. Select trickle-down theory. The theory explains tax breaks and benefits for the wealthy and corporations can trickle down to everyone.  The critique is that most economic policies tend to favour the few wealthy oligarchs against the majority citizens.  It is persnickety to imagine the wealthy will share their wealth for the common good of everyone. The equivalent biblical critique is the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man must eat first then share left overs with the poor. But Lazarus does not get decent left overs. He dies miserably poor. Trickle down and bottom-up economy have similar narratives. The bottom, when they reach the top tend to oppress those at the bottom and the vicious circle continues. Paul Collier discussed ‘Bottom Billion’ as a trap that makes countries in the south not catch up with the developed nations. The development trap, conflict trap, resource trap (Dutch disease trap), landlocked trap and bad governance trap. Development trap. Why would other developing countries get it right in sharing the common goods and Africa not? Collier suggested development aid could unlock these countries. But Dambisa Moyo (in Dead Aid) criticized this proposal. Like the rich man and Lazarus, any development aid may not trickle down to real beneficiaries. Most of the countries in Africa are caught in conflict trap. Collier suggested Military intervention as the answer. He cited peace keeping missions in Sierra Leone as a key example. But the conflict trap is driven by the needs, interests, resource accumulation, positions, power and ethnicity of the political elite and demands of people. The political elites will dangle carrots and sweets before electorates (Lazarus) to be elected. Once in parliament they forget Lazarus. The elected would say: now that I am in office, it is my turn to recover what I lost on campaigns. It is “Our Turn to Eat: Politics in Kenya since 1950” by Daniel Branch et al, 2010 & Nicole Wrong, 2009, “It’s Our Turn to Eat: The Story of a Kenyan Whistle-Blower”. Resource trap is a common phenomenon across the continent. A country has oil and cannot have enough fuel for its citizens. Why export crude oil then import oil for local use?

The right democracy demands that people can express what they desire as common goods delivered by those in elected office. Citizens will want a life where these common goods are given without quid pro quo, getting something in return.

The common goods the church recognizes are the promotion and defense of goods such as public order and peace, freedom and equality, respect for human life and for the environment, justice and solidarity. But also making it possible for citizens to find work and contribute to the common good in form of taxation is defense of these common goods.

  1. Which industries can local people run which can help give dignity and employment opportunities to its citizens?

Developing local led industries is a challenge for African countries today. Most countries will desire to place their focus on donor driven industries with less drive for local people led industries.  Again, picking on Kenya, like most countries across Africa, is championing TVET, the same time entry into TVET is slow. Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service (KUCCPS) shows the slow absorption of youth to TVET. In 2019 693,263 students sat their final secondary exam. Universities could only absorb 145,341 candidates who attained a grade C+ and above. In the previous year technical and vocational education training (TVET) could only absorb 500 students out of 500,000.

Yet in downtown Nairobi along Moi Avenue, River Road, Kirinyaga Road, you see many youths plying their trade in electronics, ICT, image & personality economy. Why not turn what they do into TVET by improving on the job syllabus? They can sit government trade test exams. If each county did this, then you are sure most of the 500,000 would be absorbed into the job market.

The transformation of Kenyans towards the common good of everyone can borrow from ubuntuism conscious building philosophy by enhancing a more circular model of development.  Ubuntuism means sharing the common goods with everyone on the circle. Lazarus should not wait for crumbs to trickle down from the top (rich), the bottom poor may wait to reach the top to harness resources for social transformation. But in their own creative way they can eviscerate obstacles to sharing the common goods. Kenyans ought to plan how the tax system could be transformed towards free education and free healthcare. These commons goods could remove a heavy burden from everyone.

The desire for the common goods means all people must enjoy the non-excludable benefits for the people. The church is careful in its mission to help more people become great fishermen and finding the right market for what they catch. This is symbolically possible in a democracy where people are agreeing to elect leaders who will in turn help divide that they call common goods across everyone member of society without discrimination nor favour. One way of lifting people’s dignity is by teaching them how to fish and become protagonists of the own destiny. Would this be achieved in a lower-up economy, linear economy, horizontal models of economy or better in more circular economy? Whichever model people select, the church is wary of getting leaders whose expressions do not reflect social justice and social gospel values.

Now to become a Thomas More, means you did what was right and people appreciated you. However, those whose values are crooked will not allow you to succeed. They will condemn you to death. But remember the Master too was crucified for doing good and asking humanity to spread these common good and goods across each and everyone.