Perils and Pragmatics of Critique: Reading Barack Obama Sr.’s 1965 review of Kenya’s development plan (2010)

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Seminar Date
March 24, 2010
Obama Sr's 1965 critique of Kenya's development plan reads today (April 2009) as remarkably shrewd and prescient--shrewd in its efforts to navigate the perilous political differences among the major figures and forces of the day including Jomo Kenyatta, Tom Mboya, and Oginga Odinga, as well as the false securities of ideologies, in this case the messy, irresolvable debates over the relative values of African socialism, African tradition, and capitalism. . .prescient in its warnings regarding gratuitous privatization of productive resources and public goods; excessive disparities in wealth; and uneven regional development. Indeed, he makes an almost forgotten case for the African state (and for good governance, progressive taxation, and effective regulation of private investment). The 1965 article is an improbable yet extraordinarily acute rehearsal of the best critiques of structural adjustment (and its privileging of the private sector against the state) in the 1980s and 1990s and of the failures of unregulated capital in our present decade. In a time of spirited animation of big ideas in the first decade of African independence, Obama Sr. offered his readers a lesson in the promise of pragmatics in the address to the difficult challenges of economic and political development, nationally and globally. – David William Cohen (15 April 2009)
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