State capture: A debate

State capture: A debate

By Kisemei Mutisya

Before 2016, few politicians and policymakers did not understand the idea and meaning behind state capture until the Zondo commission in South Africa was formed by president Cyril Ramaphosa to investigate the former president Jacob Zuma and the Guptas kleptocracy. The debates that ensued and the findings of the Zondo commission brought to light the meaning and essence of state capture.

In general, state capture is informed theoretically by at least three dominant theories- Neoliberalism, new institutional economics, and Marxism. Neoliberals assume that state capture occurs because policymakers are inherently corrupt and use state power and resources for patronage and rent-seeking. Markets are considered the most efficient forces of supply and demand that ensure the availability of capital and resources.

Markets left on their own give an outcome that is not influenced by anyone. Self-regulation is considered a solution to the allocation of resources. The new institutional economy believes in state intervention to address market distortions or failure. The assumption is that the state must play its traditional role and intervene in the economy to correct market failures. Ideally, that role is played by a developmental state that ordinarily must lead development.

State capture, according to this school of thought occurs or is orchestrated by lobby or private sector groups or a distributional coalition to increase market share or manipulate policy. Corruption or state capture occurs when rent seekers or policymakers have a common aim of social extraction.

Marxists assume that the state is always under the control of a dominant class, group or coalition and as such the state is under perpetual capture. A state is assumed to be a cohesive force or an instrument of the dominant class. The Gramscian view is that state capture occurs because of the ongoing struggle between different capitalist factions to influence economic and social policy within state institutions. The aim of intra-capitalist factionalism is to create divisions among workers.

Most recently, similar debates started in Kenya as to whether Kenya state is captured or not. Whereas state capture in Kenya has a long history, state capture has certain segments and targets including the legislature, executive and the judiciary and as such could be occasionally, partially or fully captured.

Kenyan state has been fully captured from its colonial roots and that capture matured from 2013 when the legislature became an extension of the executive together with regulatory agencies. Under Uhuru Kenyatta regime, politicians, bureaucrats, senior civil servants and corporate magnets accumulated wealth through methods considered illegal and primitive without facing any sanctions with the intention of capturing or retaining power through an electoral process.

Since independence in 1963, corruption has been rewarded with power while honesty is punished as a lesson against the primitive accumulation of resources through the state.

The executive has struggled to punish or deter graft but as usual, corruption carries no sanctions nor does it have consequences. Strategic institutions have been captured by the executive and legislature making local capture lucrative. Whereas Kenya conducts elections regularly after every six years, the question of state capture has not received the attention it deserves and more often than not, the systemic rise of official graft and slow pace or lack of prosecution suggests a fully captured state.


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