Like any other oil producing and exporting countries, the economic potential of Kuwait is boundless. Wealth derived from its oil industry has the capacity to support programs or initiatives aimed at promoting broad industrialisation and economic diversification. However, bureaucracy and process inefficiency due to nepotism permeate across its business landscape and labor market, thus discouraging prospects for entrepreneurship, market competition, and workforce mobilisation.
Nepotism in Kuwait: Politics and the Al-Sabah family
Nepotism readily exists in countries and states with monarchial or authoritative regimes. Remember that Kuwait is one of the few remaining countries that maintain monarchy as a form of government.
The government remains under the full control of the Al-Sabah family since their return to power in 1991. It is currently headed by the Amir while members of the royal family and trusted political allies play critical roles.
According to The World Factbook of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, the power of the Al-Sabah family is so extensive that the Amir has the capacity to solely amend electoral law by restricting suffrage, reshuffling the cabinet, and dissolving the National Assembly.
The extent of this power goes as far as granting relatives and political allies certain privileges that are normally inaccessible to the general citizenry. These privileges are clear indicator of nepotism.
Fundamental to nepotism is the granting of favouritism or patronage to family members. Familial ties thereby serve as the basis for political power in Kuwait. Take note that members of the Al-Sabah family remain very visible in the public because they have occupied government offices and senior executive positions in companies operating within monopolised economic sectors.
According to Nathan J. Brown, author of the book Constitutions in a Nonconstitutional World: Arab Basic Laws and the Prospects for Accountable Government, the primary reason for putting these family members in critical sociopolitical and socioeconomic positions is to protect the interest of the Al-Sabah family, specifically by ensuring that there will be little challenge or opposition to their power and authority.
Beyond politics: prevalence of nepotism in Kuwait
Nepotism in Kuwait transcends far beyond the immediate relatives of the Al-Sabah family. Subjective patronage or the granting of favours and privileges among family members of appointed officials remain pervasive. The Arab Times, for example, ran a story about an undersecretary of an important government agency who allegedly installed family members as government employees as part of his scheme to amass government funds.
The Kuwaiti National Competitiveness Committee also reported in 2007 that business organisations and individuals with ties to the ruling family or appointed officials do not only receive special treatments but also meddle with decision-making and policymaking. Thy use this connection as a competitive advantage against rival businesses and individuals.
Chiadi Emmanuel of the Kuwait Times reported that ordinary citizens and immigrant workers feel that they cannot accomplish simple things like getting government-related permits without proper connections. Going through bureaucratic and lengthy processes can be discouraging.
These instances nonetheless speak of inequality driven by abusive government officials and well-connected people. The troubling part is that this inequality further results in incidents of graft and corruption, as well as injustices.
Downside: Economic implications of nepotism in Kuwait
The ruling Al-Sabah family including its relatives and political allies own and control a considerable number of established and influential businesses in Kuwait. Although the economy is relatively open, extensive ownership and control of businesses by the government and political allies lead to market inefficiency due to lack of competition—thereby stunning full economic development.
Economist Hajjaj Bukhadour argued that nepotism in Kuwait has been a considerable factor for stalling the economic development of the country. He cited business organisations controlled by the government or families related to the ruling family or an appointed official as outright examples. Accordingly, these businesses have failed to progress because managerial controls or decision-making remain within the hands of few and less diversified family members.
Nepotism also shapes the business culture in Kuwait by favouring familial ties over competencies and qualifications. Professionals without familial or political ties are prone to intimidation and discrimination.
There is no denying that nepotism in Kuwait cripples the full potential of its labour force by preventing job market competition. It also cripples the full potential of several business and economic activities by preventing market competition and promoting monopolistic business practices. In addition, because familial and social ties control the government, the entire Kuwaiti political landscape suffers from lack of diversity in thoughts and ideas that are crucial in shaping and implementing legislations, policies, and reforms relevant to improving the economy.