By Peter Mutua
“Ivũ ĩthei ĩiĩ ndũũ.” (An empty stomach accommodates no friendship) - Kamba Proverb
I took a tour of the Land Rover Kenya showroom recently. It was a fantastic experience, an opportunity to see for myself what the world of luxury cars has to offer. The Range Rover Vogue, Sport and the newly introduced Land Rover Evoque – whose target clientele is the rich, upwardly mobile, modern women. Just so that you know, the Evoque has a feature that allows the car to parallel park itself.
We live in a fast paced world in which a great number of us, particularly those in family businesses, are caught up in a frenzied quest to acquire more and more property at any cost. And for good reason. Opportunities to make money abound, especially for those with an inclination towards business. Consumer goods such as the different brands of Range Rover are on offer as rewards to those who excel in gaining riches.
However, as we go about the business of getting rich faster, family businesses need to remember that there are those who will not or cannot make great amounts of money. An average of 46.6 per cent of all Kenyans, (18.64 million people) live in poverty (defined as living on an income of less than $1 per day). Turkana County (they of the recent oil strike) has a poverty rate of 92.9 per cent.
When one takes into account these statistics it is clear that many people in Kenya are teetering on a nutritional knife-edge on which the battle for survival is fought daily, with dire consequences for those who lose a fight.
This disparity, between the rich and poor, is not unique to Kenya. In August 2011, gangs of youths in the United Kingdom engaged in a spree of violence, arson and looting. This situation of an uprising in a developed country that shocked the world given that the only parallels we could draw were with the rebellions of the disposed in Tunisia, Egypt and Algeria.
So what happened in England? Why did the youths react so viciously with the authorities? Why did they destroy what was, in essence their own property? How come this situation caught the government and the rest of society completely unawares?
The Kamba’s of old have an answer based on their observations over eons. “Ivu ithei ĩĩĩ ndũũ” – an empty stomach has no friends. That if any person is left with nothing to lose, there can be no expectation from society that this individual will react positively to any overtures that do not address their present, pressing needs.
While the British youths did not literally have empty stomachs they were, relative to other members of the society, extremely poor and deprived. What erupted in that country was an outburst of hopelessness and despair by a segment of the population that felt that their future was bleak, their lives meaningless.
The truth, according to those who live in these communities and work with the youth, is that these sentiments had been brewing for a long time. However, they were largely ignored by the politicians who imagined that the government had done all it could for those who were determined to change their own lives and that anyone still in poverty had themselves to blame for their condition. The folly of this train of thought was brought home to them in 2011.
The leaders of family businesses need to recognise that of all the business segments and categories, they have the most to lose in the event of a societal uprising. The leader should keep a finger on the pulse of the surrounding community (starting with family members and moving outwards).
He/she should be keen to observe for signs of desperation and hopelessness and to deal with them at the earliest possible stage, if with nothing else, by speaking words of hope to the affected individuals.
While the leader cannot solve every societal problem, he/she can make visible efforts to address them either singly or by engaging other likeminded individuals. Community members will resonate with any attempts made to address adversities that face them.
The pursuit of wealth should not blind the leader of family business from the community’s needs.
The leader of family business must always have a finger on the pulse of the businesses surrounding the community.
The leader of family business must speak hope to people in desperation.