Ideas & Debate

Ethnic math but few ideas as polls near

Voters queue to casts their ballot at Namakhele Primary School in Kabuchai, Bungoma County on December 19, 2013. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Voters queue to casts their ballot at Namakhele Primary School in Kabuchai, Bungoma County on December 19, 2013. FILE PHOTO | NMG  

At the end of the first full week of political campaigns leading towards our August general election, the increasingly noisy war of words between Jubilee and Nasa protagonists at national level has already put the country into virtual lockdown.

We expected that private sector activity, particularly new investment would slow down, as would new bank lending.

Forget interest rate caps, today’s safe money in the middle of Kenya’s pre-election heat is in lending to a government already befuddled by a food crisis going haywire, and a nursing strike that’s emerged at just the wrong time.

Outside of paying suppliers and debt, as well as angry public servants, national government is apparently also in a lockdown. Senior civil servants tell me there’s no decision-making going on at the moment.
Counties are officially closed for business. Other than salaries, IFMIS was shut down for all payments by the National Treasury on May 31. No such rules for national government, of course.

We still have roughly 60 days to the election itself. That is a two-month economic lull. It is potentially also two months of negativity feeding into how we decide on our next crop of leaders.

Forget the management science about “learning organisations”, we simply aren’t a “learning nation.”

We should be celebrating our ability to learn through open exchanges of ideas and experiences based on clearly articulated election manifestos, except that everyone’s playing “chicken” with theirs.

Therefore, Jubilee continues to tout its achievements, no doubt boosted by completion of the first phase of the SGR project — because, future operations aside, project completion matters in Kenya.

Nasa seems to be offering regional blueprints tailored to their understanding of the prevailing local issues.

At presidential level, outside of the main protagonists, we’ve heard nothing from the “fringe candidates.” They’re probably waiting for the televised Presidential debate that will likely entertain without either educating or informing the voter. At county level, the politics of cash and clans prevails.

Let’s take a walk on the wild side and imagine the sort of issues we were hoping would not be the subject of debate.

We could start with my favourite litany of the “bread and butter” needs of Kenyan households — food, basic rights (education, heath, housing, water), jobs, democratic participation and public safety and security. What are the alternative campaign positions, and who has the more credible delivery offer? No idea.

Alternatively, let’s look at individual Kenyans’ top five concerns over the past few years according to opinion polls; the cost of living, unemployment, hunger, poor leadership and corruption and general crime and insecurity. These concerns represent Kenyans’ lived experiences — so where’s the debate?

Which side of the political divide offers better prospects for shared prosperity and human progress in a macro-environment of peace?

Who proffers the better application of the underpinnings of peace as the balance between security, justice and rights?

Where does one find greater comfort in a potential leadership that views the constitution as a roof, not a floor – and national virtues and values as our real developmental foundation?
For those thinking about which side is capable of running the more effective government, who offers the better (or best) promise around inclusive and innovative economic growth, fiscal responsibility, pro-people policy focused on human, not simply material, well being, efficient and effective government and a global leadership stance in our increasingly multi-polar world? OK, that’s about national leaders.

So, in your local county, which governor choice offers the greatest prospects in terms of county investment attractiveness, jobs-led economic development, responsible fiscal innovation and a social accountability contract with the people based on the best principles of human development?

We are heading into a highly competitive election built on a belief in strong personalities and ethnic numbers rather than a faith and hope in the necessary duality between smart ideas and sound principles.

With many of our leading economic indicators now in ‘south-bound territory”, can we really afford another 60 days of negative campaigns?