Populism is not some lonesome social condition. Populism controls democracy, and populism brings down and sets up autocratic regimes. It’s not conservative or progressive, capitalist or communist. It’s not necessarily based on truth. It’s knee-jerk support for – or against – individuals wielding power. Why? How is it harnessed?
East Africa gives us some insight: Ten years ago Kenya hardly had an army. Ten years ago Kenya was in incredible social turmoil, very close to a civil war. Today Kenya is a military powerhouse, rivaling the two other area powerhouses, Ethiopia and Rwanda. And today Kenya’s stable society thrives on a growing populism.
Local government expenditures in Africa hide the phenomenal growth that occurs when foreign powers fund militaries. Yesterday Kenya proudly announced that its military expenditures rose to just over $1 billion dollars last year in 2008. The Kenyans boast that these expenditures “exceed the amount spent by neighbours Tanzania and Uganda combined for the first time,” but those figures tell but half the story.
In 2008 America gave nothing to Kenya for its military. Today it’s likely around $1 billion annually, although this is almost impossible to verify: American foreign military allocations are spread all over the American budget and most is hidden in classified allocations.
So Kenya’s true military might is likely twice as bigger militarily as its combined neighbors’ defenses, not just once as bigger.
Ethiopia’s powerful military was created in the 1980s by the Soviet Union in opposition to western power’s military support of neighboring Somalia. That cold war dynamic developed right across the whole African continent. When the cold war ended the West became Ethiopia’s military paymaster justified as anti-terrorism.
Rwanda’s ridiculously powerful military, given the size of the country, was created almost entirely by the West after America and France wantonly failed to stop the 1994 genocide.
In all three cases increased militarism was quickly followed by more stable populist governments. This isn’t surprising. The huge military payments made by America, for example, dwarf any local projects. It’s one of the few sanguine examples of trickle-down economics. Moreover, the prestige created by powerful military equipment creates tremendous pride in the existing political leadership.
Kenya was in turmoil after its 2007/2008 mini-civil war. A peace brokered by the UK and USA resulted in a shared power arrangement between the two main adversaries, leaders of Kenya’s two most prominent tribes.
The subsequent 3-4 years were difficult and the country remained unstable. Something happened in 2010-2011 that turned that all around. It’s more correct I’m sure to say many things happened, but one of those things was the little mentioned Obama creation of the Kenyan military.
Anything America does however little America thinks it is, is huge in a developing country. Can we track the exponentially improved salaries of the larger number of Kenyan soldiers into new malls and better electricity?
I’m presuming that happened because I’m sure a true investigator would be able to do so. Militarism wasn’t the only prime to Kenya’s health and well-being, but it was a massive one.
Soon Kenyans were coalescing around their ageless ethnicity and the Kikuyu once again came to power. The current president is the son of the first president and for all practical purposes he’s going to be there forever.
Now what about the other side, our American side?
Well, to begin with we don’t do this altruistically. Militarism in an ideal world is not necessary. I’m stunned that ancient presumptions that militarism is just “defense” still pervade American thought.
Such rationalism is just what the relationship between populism and militarism needs. My entire 70-year old life is characterized historically by a litany of pointless American wars, with our leaders brought to power or defeated by nothing more important than their perceived support for the military.
Kenya, Rwanda and Ethiopia are spitting images of their parent.