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Friday, April 23, 2010

The Coming "Dark Age" and the Africans Fate: Part 1

By Mwarang'ethe

To fully appreciate the core message of this piece and the next one to follow, we request the reader to start by reading the following articles:

(a) High global crude oil prices threaten to burn Kenya gains
(b) Foreign power firms reap Sh6.2bn
(c) Review cost of power, Daily Nation Editorial
(d) US military warns oil output may dip causing massive shortages by 2015
(e) Energy minister will hold summit to calm rising fears over peak oil Lord Hunt calls UK industrialists together to discuss government response to any early onset of decline in global oil production

In 1992, a Japanese by the name Takeshi Umehara warned that, "the total collapse of Marxism ... and the dramatic collapse of the Soviet Union are only the precursors to the collapse of Western liberalism, the main current of modernity. Far from being the alternative to Marxism and the reigning ideology at the end of history, liberalism will be the next domino to fall."

Few took notice of these prophetic words at that time of "end of history" as Fukuyama taught us. Now, we know that, were it not for the trillions of dollars of government’s aid in 2009, the global banking system would have already collapsed and the world would again be deep in the throes of another depression, where credit-driven demand sinks in an ocean of debt and settles on the bottom where it slowly drowns. But the collapse has not been averted, it has only been delayed. The trillions of dollars spent to postpone the day of reckoning were borrowed and soon the bill will be proffered and payment demanded for having done so. Despite the apparent resolve of those attending Davos and G8, there is no way out except complete systemic collapse. We are now at the end of the three hundred year system of economic slavery by credit and debt.

As if the monetary madness is not enough, we are now staring one of the greatest resource/energy crisis humanity has ever faced. When this crisis fully hits home, many will gnash their teeth because, it will destroy civilisation as we know it. More so, it is the disorganised nations like Kenya/Africans nations which will bear the greatest burden of the forthcoming energy crisis. Like many dismissed Umehara's warning, many will dismiss this article as just noise. However, if we get at least one person to reflect on the issues we raise, we will have done our part for the stakes have never been so high for us Africans. While at it, remember this, when Gandhi saw Indians celebrating their "independence," he told a friend. "I do not see what they are celebrating, for I see rivers of blood." The partition of India in 1948 and the blood that flowed vindicated his vision.

Now, we know that, almost all of us have been led to believe that, if only we remove this leader, if only we use aid well, if only we are less corrupt, if we have a new constitution, Kenyan will march on to become a rich nation by 2030. We deny all this as madness. We even go further and assert that, things will not get better, they will get worse. In other words, expect more corruption, crime, disorder and general decay and perhaps total state collapse. Is this not too pessimistic a view? Yes, we agree. However, if you understand the core message we are trying to communicate, you will appreciate why we are so pessimistic. However, more importantly, we hope, each one of us will play his/her part, so that we can steer this Titanic before it hits the rocks. This is crucial because our governments are not prepared for this crisis and therefore, we must prepare as individuals.

The best way to understand how a society functions and therefore, malfunctions is to understand the energy question. In other words, a well organised society is totally dependent on leaders appreciating the meaning of energy and how its distribution influences what a society becomes. However, our leadership has no clue about this issue. For this reason, we are and we shall pay a heavy price very soon. We start with a story of a nation of two prisons.

A Nation of Two Prisons

If you take a walk past Kahawa West in Nairobi, you will come across what they call Kamiti Maximum Security Prison. As you walk past this prison, you will notice the numerous security arrangements such as high walls, fences, armed prison guards, trained dogs, whistles and alarms among others. Needless to say, over 95% of the inmates of this prison are the poor Kenyans. Ignoring other interesting areas, let us now take a walk to the other side of the "green city in the sun." On this side of this city, you will find Karen, a gated community as Yankess calls them. In this area, you will see high walls, electronic security devices, armed guards, fierce dogs among other security gadgets similar to those at Kamiti. Thus, in Karen we meet the rich inmates' prison. In this self made prison, which is a mirror image of Kamiti, these inmates are running away from the dangers of the society they have deserted. Upon reflection, these two prisons tell us something. We have become a nation in which law is almost the only functioning social institution and prisons among the few remaining means of social control. The tragedy is that, this kind of social division and thereby, disorder will get worse. We explain below.

Let us start by saying this. Human survival or life is all about three things. These are, TRANSFORMING, EXCHANGING and DISCARDING energy. It follows that, our ability to survive is totally dependent on our ability to maintain a constant flow of energy. To enable our survival, our culture serves as an instrument for the withdrawal of energy from the larger environment. However, at this point, let us keep this in mind. It is impossible for us to create or destroy energy for the amount was fixed from the beginning to the end of time. In this sense, we work for a living, we buy stuff, and we throw away stuff or exchange them for other stuff. This is what the energy flow line and all economic life is all about.

Following from above observation, we can now see that, economic and political institutions just like a machine are energy transformers. Their sole objective is to facilitate the flow of energy through a society. It therefore, follows that, the way work in a society is allocated (ENERGY TRANSFORMATION), the way the energy is divided between people, groups, tribes, constituencies etc in a society (ENERGY EXCHANGE), and the way the wastes are disposed off at each stage of energy flow (ENERGY DISCARDING) determine the social, economic and political nature of disorders that surface in a given society. The way to understand this is to see that, a man in Muthaiga uses more energy (TRANSFORMS and EXCHANGES) than a man who lives in Dandora. But, the waste (ENERGY DISCARDING) from Muthaiga ends on the Dandora man's door and the associated disorders.
Here is something else to keep in mind. Although we cannot destroy energy, any time we transform energy - matter, we lose some of it. Losing does not mean destruction. It only means that some of that energy becomes disorganised, dissipated and therefore, unavailable for future use by man. Thus, what we call pollution (Dandora dump site), is nothing but disorganised energy that is unavailable to man. It follows that, the faster we use the available energy, the faster the dissipation and disorder that results. In other words, every time we use the available energy, it creates disorder somewhere in the surrounding environment. And, if you doubt, isn’t true that, the more waste you discard in Muthaiga, the more disorder the Dandora man experiences. However, with time, this disorder keeps on moving closer to the Muthaiga man as well.

This is the crux of the matter. As we use all cheaply available energy, we are forced to go for more expensive energy as society becomes more complex. Consequently, the more easily available energy is used first. That’s why we started with trees. We have finished then. Then, we moved to more difficult and heavily polluting coal. Thereafter, we moved to oil which can allow complex industrial society as we have today, but, is more expensive than coal. Nuclear is even more expensive and dangerous than oil. Of importance to note is this. As energy becomes more expensive to extract from the environment, the costs associated with all of the transforming, exchange and discarding processes along the energy flow line continues to rise. For instance, in 1950, it cost the energy equivalent of one barrel of oil to find 100 barrels of new oil. Now the same investment yields 5 barrels. Simply, as the first link shows, as oil becomes more expensive, prices rise for the producer and the consumer which leads to rising cost of living.

Note this one please. At the energy cost increase, at the same time, the accumulating disorder resulting from past energy flow adds additional economic, social and political costs, which further increases taxes/prices for all of us. If you doubt, count the cost of cleaning the Nairobi River and the cost we must pay one day, to clean Dandora or reclaiming Mau. If you doubt this, sample this: "Two Kenyan towns have received a total of Sh1.7 billion from the French Government to help them manage their waste.... Mr Mudavadi said his ministry had also tabled a proposal to the cabinet seeking permission to engage the private sector and other development partners in the relocation of the Dandora dumpsite."

In other words, it will take more money to pay for the complex technology needed to extract and process the remaining energy. This will be happening even as we need more money to manage all disorders which result from dissipation of energy in the past as well as today. In other words, inflation will spill faster and faster as we go forward. This is so because; energy is the basis for all economic activity. Thus, when costs go up at the source, they are passed to the consumer in terms of high prices as the cost of exchanging energy between institutions, people, groups, sectors rise. Do not forget that, the taxpayer is called upon to fund more cleaning of the disorders as well. If you doubt, check the NEMA's budget.

As the cost of energy rises, the wage earners get hit. Yes, wages may seem to rise, but, real purchasing power falls and will fail to keep up with the rising cost of living. The growing gap between wages and real purchasing power reflects the money that is diverted from labour bill to pay for the increased costs of maintaining energy flows in the society. (Foreign Power Firms Reap Sh6.2 bn ). How this works is very simple. As each institution tries to maintain its existing profit levels in a rising energy cost environment, they reduce the wage component. When those who earn wages are getting less purchasing power in this environment, it means one thing. They are unable to meet their energy needs, i.e. food, clothing, health care etc. In other words, energy flow through the human systems begin to slow down as more energy (money represents energy expended, but, our Babylonian system does not work this way), is diverted to the maintenance of economic institutions and machinery responsible for the energy flow itself.

This is another key point to note. Given the way the energy flow is set up, some individuals, groups and classes are located at the periphery of the transforming and exchanging process because of the way the system allocates jobs and distribution of income. Interestingly, as we see in Dandora, although these groups miss in transformation and exchange process, they get involved in the discarding process. You can also see this in the international context because Africa is the dumping site for toxics as we saw in Ivory Coast a few years ago. This puts Africans, whether rich or poor in the same class. Consequently, as the disorders mount, the poor class are the first to feel the pinch. This is so because; more and more of these poor guys are thrown off the energy flow line so as to compensate for the tightening economic conditions.

As more people are cast out of the energy flow line, the governments will step in and provide for their energy needs in terms of welfare and other benefits. Unfortunately, as energy price goes up which is aided by how faster we deplete the easy supplies (this is rampant under the global free trade regime which USA has forced on the world), the more people will lose jobs, or, in words of energy, will be cast off the line of energy flow. As this goes on, governments will get even larger to take care of the victims of tightening energy crisis. Do not forget that, many of these victims will turn to crime to get their share of energy. To combat this every increasing crime, the governments will enlarge security machinery and other associated costs like courts. Off course, to pay for these enlarged services, tax payers must pay more whether the payment is postponed via debts, it does not matter. As we pay more taxes, the more private enterprise will be collapsing under the weight of unbearable taxes.

Unfortunately, as the governments grow in size, as well as energy companies, they will end up using more energy (money) for their own maintenance, thereby, increasing tax burden while decreasing the energy flow for human consumption. For this, just watch the American military expenditure and how it is bankrupting once a wealthy nation. We shall come back to this later. This diversion of energy away from the people and towards maintenance of enlarged corporations and governments will proceed until the entire social mechanism crashes.

In other words, to "solve" the disorders occasioned by rapid energy dissipation, which is a result of how we have organised our societies, we will expect the usual response. In this sense, we will deploy more control or regulatory agencies like NEMA, more judges and better armed police. All this will lead to more centralization of power at the top. When these centralised bodies are unable to cope with the mounting social and economic disorders, they will go burst. When they do, we will create even bigger ones to contain the disorder (we see Obama giving Fed more powers). If you doubt, read history on how civilizations collapse. In the next piece, we will show why Africa will be a poverty and war ravaged continent as we enter the final game in hydrocarbons saga which brought us first and second world wars. This is because there is an intensifying scramble for African energy by both Asian and Western nations which will be fighting tooth and nail to capture the remaining oil on the African continent to maintain their high energy flow societies at the expense of Africans.


Anonymous said...

Mwarang'the said

....unknown to your SMALL & IGNORANT MIND, we are engaged in SYNTHESIS of specialised disciplines. As such, your arguments are dismissed as rubbish.

Tell them Prof tell them. You are the alpha and omega of all things intellectual. Nani kama wewe. Amen.

Anonymous said...

Healthy dose of pessimism but off base. The sun is the primary source of energy on earth. Therefore earth will continue to have plenty of energy until the sun shuts down. Your concern, reasonably, should be on methods (technologies) of harnessing sun's energy and not on the end of energy.

Anonymous said...

As usual Phil posts this smart analysis from Mwarangethe and then goes back to his drinking den aka jukwaa where together with his moronic buddies they praise molasses raila and his party of thieves all day.

Typical of some Kenyans.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Mwarangethe for this masterpiece on energy and power/control struggles. I have become a faithful pupil of your 'eye opening' articles. I am ashamed that so many things happen right under our noses and we dont seem to see.

Thank you sir.

Kumekucha Prefect

Phil said...

Blogger Anonymous said...

As usual Phil posts this smart analysis from Mwarangethe and then goes back to his drinking den aka jukwaa where together with his moronic buddies they praise molasses raila and his party of thieves all day.

Typical of some Kenyans.


I do not suppose that your intention is to compel me to comment on articles published in this blog do you?

So, looking at your comment, what value have you added?

Your obsession with 'Phil' is now turning cultist. You may want to follow and worship me on to twitter and facebook too!

I am aware you are so eager to read from yours truly, but my mission here and elsewhere is not to sooth your curiosity nor provide you intelligence to take to your political masters.

Endelea kusema na kuota.

Mwarang'ethe said...

Anonymous said...
Healthy dose of pessimism but off base. The sun is the primary source of energy on earth.


It is true that, the sun is the source of energy. However, you miss the whole point. If you look at Nairobi transport system, it is "designed" (actually, we have no design) to operate on cheap liquid oil.

When that oil is no there, Nairobi will descend into chaos. The only way to avert this coming disaster is to completely re - design our economy.

But, are we even thinking about? How much money will it cost? Will we do it before the oil runs low?


Your concern, reasonably, should be on methods (technologies) of harnessing sun's energy and not on the end of energy.


You are right about technology. However, these technologies will be expensive and more so, will require a complete redesign of our economy.

As we ask above, are we even thinking about this? If you analyse the 2030 plan, it is based on transport systems reliant on cheap oil. However, as we will make clear in the next piece, thats a pipe dream.

chola said...

aYou way of though make me wonder was more intelligent and wise mordent man or the prehistoric man.

Anonymous said...

"It is true that, the sun is the source of energy. However, you miss the whole point. If you look at Nairobi transport system, it is "designed" (actually, we have no design) to operate on cheap liquid oil. "

Do you mean to say your whole point is not: "the coming DARK AGE"?

"actually, we have no design..."

I hope you realize the "we" makes you at a minimum partly responsible.

I would venture to suggest as I applaud your ideas that there would be nothing wrong with you proposing an alternative design.


"When that oil is no there, Nairobi will descend into chaos. The only way to avert this coming disaster is to completely re - design our economy. "

Stark prediction but still a hypothetical one. I wholly agree on the need to revamp and redesign (including enormous new energy supply inputs)the entire Kenyan or African (why not) energy mix and total available energy production.

An redesign might include High-speed rails ala French, China Japan systems. Also, I wouldn't mind nuclear, solar power, natural gas, Hydro, etc supplements albeit at several orders of magnitude above the current levels of output.

Which beggars the question... which company(ies) in Sub-saharan Africa is/are best positioned to capitalize on these opportunities.

I also hope you realize the structure of incentives and rule of law play a huge part in the realization of such ideas.

Thus, going beyond the potential doom and gloom scenario, clear articulation of the desired road ahead may produce better results especially given the droves of young intelligent, hardworking Kenyans out there.

Randalf Ethereal said...

Wonderful read, well scripted and absolutely inspiring that kenyans have finally began reading and reasoning. However, (atleast i praised you first right? :) one huge fallacy: all studies and reports i've read to date prove that the mass production and distribution of nuclear energy costs about a tenth of the cost of simply producing fuel energies, let alone distribution and waste disposal and dealing with green house emissions. Other than that, i love the linking of the metaphors all over this piece. Good stuff.

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