The Kwasi Kwarteng affair
By Femi Olugbile
For a few moments, he had stood at the dizzy height of British politics, where he had always wanted to be. He was the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the proud occupant of Number 11, Downing Street, a dividing wall, and a mere heartbeat away from the Prime Minister’s office. It had seemed he could do no wrong.
Even when things began to go awry within a few hours of the announcement of his ‘Mini Budget’ – an in-your-face’ doctrinaire affirmation of the sanctity of right-wing ‘Trickle-Down’ Economics and the unassailable right of the rich to the fruits of their labour, so that they could invest and lift the poor, he held his nerve, and was the epitome of calm.
‘I’m going nowhere’, Kwasi told a journalist who accosted him concerning his future, a few hours before a now-panicky Prime Minister Liz Truss instructed him to fall on his sword.
One of the things that WhatsApp has done for Nigerians is to unleash a creativity that can sometimes be fiendishly cruel. Within hours of his sacking, a post was circulating in Lagos, showing a photo-shopped image of a dapper-suited Kwasi Kwarteng exiting Number 11 Downing Street, carrying his possessions in a ‘Ghana Must Go’ bag.
Akwasi Addo Alfred was born in London in 1975. His parents had immigrated from Ghana as students. His father was an economist with the Commonwealth Secretariat, while his mother was a practising barrister. He was an only child, a brilliant, precocious one. He attended Eton College on scholarship. In 1993, he matriculated into Trinity College to study Classics and History. So brilliant was he that he won double First-Class honours. He next studied for a year at Harvard University as a Kennedy Scholar, before eventually earning a PhD in Economic History from Cambridge.
His working career consisted of writing a column for the Daily Telegraph newspaper and working as a financial analyst in the City of London. He also wrote and co-authored several books.
In his life’s journey up till that point, he had followed the path of the most distinguished among the British gentry. The picture painted of the early Kwasi, perhaps true, perhaps apocryphal, was of a good-looking young black man bestriding the corridors of Cambridge University in his tweed suit, cigar in mouth. He identified totally with the Tory upper class Englishman brand, and his proven brilliance earned him a place in its front-ranks.
In 2010, Kwasi won election into parliament as Conservative member for Spelthorne. Under Theresa May, he got his first Ministerial appointment in the quaintly named Department for Exiting the EU. Having supported Boris Johnson in his successful leadership challenge, he was appointed Minister of State, and later Secretary of State, in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
But it was really under the leadership of Liz Truss, a close friend who was obviously in awe of his brilliance and boundless self-confidence, that Kwasi came into his own. Expectedly, as soon as Liz Truss became Prime Minister, Kwasi was named Chancellor of the Exchequer, with the fate of the British economy firmly in his hands. It was the moment Kwasi had been living for.
Barely two weeks later, he announced a ‘Mini Budget’ that could have been written to win a debate on ‘Who is the toughest ‘survival of the fittest’ Adam Smith Tory of them all?’ at the Pitt Club at Cambridge University. He would, Kwasi announced, cut the basic income tax rate, abolish the 45% tax rate for high income earners, freeze energy bills, and abolish Health and Social Care levy, among other measures. He disdainfully refused to allow the Office of Budget Responsibility to assess the impact of his measures on the Economy before going live with the biggest package of tax cuts in half a century of British life.
The rest is history – the braying of the newspaper mob, the near-collapse of the British pound, the panic in the financial sector, and all over society. Liz finally mustered the will to let her friend go. A few days later, Liz herself was to fall on her sword, shorn of her defining ideology, and her defining ideologue.
Many black people in the UK are not crying in their cups at the fall of ‘Emperor Kwasi Kwarteng’, despite the fact that this is the closest an African has come to becoming Prime Minister. There seems to be a popular belief that black people like Kwasi, and Kemi Badenoch, have no business in the Conservative Party. Rather their ‘natural’ home is the Labour Party, where they should support ‘black’ causes. Their voices should be heard loudest on ‘Windrush’ and ‘Black Lives Matter’. Indeed, some prominent voices are working hard in the black community to shame and ‘de-market’ them.
Should all Africans in the diaspora be automatically corralled into supporting grievance-driven ‘Leftist’ causes, or is there a legitimate right for the African abroad, like everyone else, to form his own independent political opinion, whether it is ‘right’ or ‘left’? One Asian Labour party member, at the height of the imbroglio over Kwasi’s ‘Mini Budget’, described the Chancellor as ‘Superficially Black’. The Freudian Slip merely buttressed the wide-spread expectation is society that black people should always be ‘Labour’ and ‘Woke’. But that itself is a limiting, and racist assumption. By the same token, General Colin Powell, and a whole host of high-achieving black people in Europe and America, who are Conservative, would qualify for the derogatory label ‘Superficially Black’. Are they, really? An increasing number of black people in the diaspora are asserting their right to choose their allegiances and refusing to be defined or boxed in by grievance politics, even though they acknowledge that many things have been done wrong in the past, and that some of the ills, such as racism, are still very much around today. They deserve to be accommodated, if not embraced, and certainly not derided, by their own people. Their contributions in breaking previously forbidden grounds may well be the fillip needed to break all glass ceilings and open all doors to ultimate achievement for Africans in the diaspora. As the Yoruba, and several other people say, there is more than one way to skin a cat.