Let’s fix our politics for economic growth

The World Bank says the Kenyan economy will expand by 4.7 per cent, 0.5 per cent lower than previous estimates.

The bank blames poor rains and growing insecurity as the main causes of our slackening economy and estimates that growth will remain depressed into 2015, lagging behind its East African neighbours.

The government, however, projects economic expansion to be 6.4 per cent in 2015, which is still way below the 10 per cent we had envisaged in Vision 2030. But this may be a perpetual dream if we do not fix our politics.

Like most developing countries, our politics are without ideology. And when we adopt any form of ideology, we pursue it blindly to the detriment of the citizenry.

Perhaps the best example to illustrate my point is Venezuela. Like Kenya, Venezuela is a country blessed with abundant natural resources. Geographically located on the northern coast of South America, its land mass is almost twice as large as Kenya.


With a population of approximately 30 million, Venezuela is considered a state with extremely high biodiversity. The country enjoys habitats ranging from the Andes Mountains in the west to the Amazon Basin rainforest in the south, through extensive llanos plains and a Caribbean coast. Like Kenya, it is simply a tourist paradise but its politics have held her back.

If natural resources were the pillars of stability, then Venezuela, with the largest proven oil reserves on Earth, would be the most stable country in the world.

Although its gross domestic product per capita stands close to $13,000 (Sh1.14 million) or 13 times that of Kenya, its citizens cannot find toilet paper. Inflation has soared above 60 per cent.

Essential commodities have disappeared from the shelves. The crisis is precipitating poverty and insecurity. Politicians are trading blame.

Confidence in political parties collapsed in 1998 and saw the emergence of communist leaning Hugo Chavez as president.

Chavez’s populist policies of expropriating property without compensation saw capital flight from the country, forcing the government to enforce strict currency controls.

We are about to lose confidence in our political parties, that is if we have not lost it yet. Most parties are simply personality veneration. There is no internal democracy to mitigate against adulation. Opposition politicians criticise without giving any tangible alternatives.

Yet many issues linger. Youth employment, for example, is a critical cog to realising sustainable security. If our people are politically polarised, we cannot meaningfully address issues around land management to enhance food security. We are blinded by selfish greed at the expense of the poor.

Like Kenya, Venezuela changed its constitution in 1999. It was drafted by a constitutional assembly that had been created by popular referendum and adopted the same year, but it was primarily promoted by the late Chávez as a Bolivarian constitution.

He asserted that the supreme law was ideologically descended from the thinking and political philosophy of Simón Bolívar (Venezuelan military leader who was instrumental in revolutions against the Spanish empire) and Bolivarianism (a political doctrine that enjoys currency in parts of South America, especially Venezuela).

A similar pattern is emerging in Kenya where individuals are hoping to constantly influence constitutional changes to suit their own agenda.

Constitutional changes, however, will never be the answer to our problems. Everything we need is in our heads. Tolerance, for example, cannot be legislated.

And we have done it before not just here at home but internationally. At the height of the Cold War, our founding president Mzee Jomo Kenyatta pursued a centrist ideology joining the non-aligned movement (NAM). NAM was a group of states that were not formally aligned with or against any major power bloc.

In politics, centrism defines a political position that involves acceptance of a balance of a degree of social equality and inequality whilst opposing changes that would result in a significant shift of society either strongly to the left or the right.

On a number of occasions, voters identify with moderation for a number of reasons, including pragmatic, ideological or otherwise. This is what has kept many countries united.

Some of the countries where centrist ideals have led to stability include: Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand and United Kingdom of today as well as Nordic countries.

Ross Perot, a former Independent US presidential candidate in 1992, almost destabilised US politics by garnering 19 per cent of the popular vote with his centrist ideals.

Greek philosopher and scientist Aristotle once said: “The only stable state is the one in which all men are equal before the law.”

The writer is a senior lecturer at University of Nairobi and a former PS, Ministry of Information and Communication.