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Why being born with luck or lack gives no one an advantage

The Hustler-Dynasty narrative has led to divided opinion, with some believing that belonging to either of the nations has an advantage over the other. However, truth be said, neither has any advantage over the other: whether born with a golden spoon in your mouth or a slave, both have challenges, though different.

 I was born into a very humble family of Japuonj Joseph Ogola Ongira. He was a catechist and earned 15 USD per month – that is 180 USD annually. He had 11 children with one wife. That was a household of 13 living in a small shelter in Kibera. My parents died without a bank account or degrees. In this context, I would qualify for a hustler. The opposite is true of the dynasties. President Uhuru Kenyatta was born in 1961: two years before his family moved to State House. Raila Odinga was born in 1945 at the Anglican Church Missionary Society Hospital, in Maseno, Kisumu District to Mary Ajuma Odinga and Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, the latter who was at that time a teacher in Maseno High School, and later served as the first Vice President of Kenya under President Jomo Kenyatta for two years before going to opposition. William Ruto was born in 1966 in Sambut village, Kamagut, Uasin Gishu County to Daniel Cheruiyot and Sarah Cheruiyot. Gideon Moi was born in 1963 and by 1964 his father was the Minister of Home Affairs, and later ruled the nation for 24 years. I seek not to compare myself with them. Rather, I would like to lay it bare and remind my fellow Kenyans that all of us, whether born with luck or lack, has the potency to climb the social mobility ladder. However, no one has an advantage over the other in this.

Social mobility is the movement of individuals or groups in social positions over time. It can be vertical (from one socio-economic level to another or horizontal (from one position to another within the same social level). Most commonly, it refers to the change in wealth, social status, health status, literacy rate, education or other variables of individuals or families. It can be intra-generational (where one changes status within one’s lifetime) or inter-generational (when children attain a higher or lower status than their parents). A high level of intergenerational mobility is considered praiseworthy and can be seen as a sign of equality of opportunity in a society.

From that perspective, in spite of being born with lack (hustler), I have achieved more than my parents – with bank accounts and degrees, a few businesses and assets, and more pay than my late parents. My son Matisse, on the other hand, despite having lost his mother at 6 weeks, was born with luck (at Aga Khan), gets the best health-care, education and parental care. However, the challenge with his luck is: how easy is it for him to achieve intergenerational mobility – such as 3 undergraduate degrees, 2 master degrees, a PhD from an Ivy business school with several professional certifications when he is still under 30 years? Though he may appear to be lucky, there are many hurdles in his social mobility journey.  

Like me, Deputy President William Ruto has achieved social mobility in spite of being born with lack (hustler). The challenge goes to his children, who have been born with luck. It is harder for them to get to where he is than it was for him to get where he is now.  President Uhuru Kenyatta may not even achieve what his father achieved: the first President, the first Prime Minister, and the Father of the Nation. Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga has only tried to accomplish what his father started but has not yet reached the status of his father who was a Ker (a title previously held by the fabled classical Luo King, Ramogi Ajwang’), Vice-President and founder of Multiparty democracy in Kenya.

In conclusion, whether born with lack or luck, we all equally have a steep mountain to climb. Seemingly hustlers have a better chance to social mobility than those born with the golden spoon in their mouth. Yet both need to climb the social mobility ladder. This is because, as one climbs the social ladder, the type of resources required to propel one to the next level are the scarce type. For instance, to be a cabinet minister requires less scarce resources than to be deputy president as we can have as many ministers as the president desires. There are far scarce resources required to be president than to be deputy president since the president can create two deputy president positions but it’s very unlikely to have two presidents. In that regard, let both the hustlers and the dynasties work towards their social mobility: none needs more sympathy than the other. Both those born with luck and those born with lack need to work equally hard, whether one starts from an advantaged or disadvantaged position. Ironically, an advantaged point of departure may lead to a disadvantaged destination, and vice-versa. For example, when you begin a 200-meter race in lane 6, you seem to be ahead. However, you have to sprint very fast to stay ahead since the one on lane 1, though behind, has a shortcut. The deputy president coming from an athletic community understands better this analogy.  

Being born in the hustler or dynasty nation in itself does not help. Our concern, each of us, should rather be: how can I achieve a social status higher than my parents? And how can I change my social status within my lifetime? A thought: when a hustler attains higher social mobility, is he still a hustler? Let’s focus on creating an opportunity for both the hustler nation and the dynasties in achieving their Social mobility.

Author avatar
Fred Ogola
Dr. Fredrick Ogola serves as the Chief Executive Officer of the Wanafunzi Investment Unit Trust Fund. He is an accomplished global executive in the consulting, information and financial services industries, with a proven, entrepreneurial track record in all aspects of running both large and small global businesses. He is the Academic Director MBA programs, Director of the Institute of Strategy & Competitiveness and Senior Lecturer of Strategy and Decision Making at Strathmore Business School. He is also Director Strategy and Investments of Property Reality Company and also Sits in the Board of the Arch Diocese of Nairobi Health Board. Dr.Ogola is a Part-time Professor of IESE Business School, the Leading Business School in Executive Education in the world. He also holds a Visiting Professor Position of University of St. Gallen, the Best University in German-Speaking Europe. He is a consultant on strategy formulation, Strategy Execution, and Change Management. Dr. Ogola holds a PhD in Management Science and Innovation with a focus on Strategy and Execution from ESADE Business School Barcelona Spain. He is a member of the European Business Ethics Network (EBEN) and the European Academy of Business In Society (EABIS). He has advised several SMEs in Structuring their management processes and setting their governance structure across East Africa.

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