On Saturday, I attended a public debate whose theme was Hali Ya Uchumi and was hosted by Mathare Social Justice Centre. Its goal was to discuss the state of our economy. What was impressive was that the panelists David Ndii and Kwame Owino, two leading economists, were the ones driving this public discussion about the mismanagement of our economy deep in Mathare slum.
If one would like to feel the country’s pulse, public barazas provide that avenue and this was clearly witnessed during the meeting between farmers and Senators in Uasin Gishu last week. Majority of Kenyans are convinced that economic management is on its deathbed.
Therefore, as economists we have a task on our hands to shape sober public conversations about our current economic problems.
Back to the Mathare discussion, there were a few take homes I wish to share.
First, after attending the event I was more than convinced that we need to relook at how we do our budgetary process, especially the posh and serious folks at Treasury, they need to move around and interact with real issues affecting Kenyans.
Mathare is the second largest slum in Kenya - that should give a rough picture about its population density, according to locals who aired their views, the number of toilets accessed by the public can be counted on one palm, the drainages are clogged, at the same time they are buying water at Sh50 every day.
For any policymaker, no matter how much you open access to hospitals without solving this prevalent water and sanitation problem, you are not dealing with the real problem. The problem even becomes bigger when you factor in the 60 per cent of Nairobi’s population who live in informal settlements with little access to water and sanitation.
So, implementing the much-hyped Universal Healthcare under the Big Four agenda with little investment in preventive primary healthcare is to climb the tree from the top. The Sh1 trillion bullet SGR train and Sh380 billion eight-lane super highways mean nothing to Mathare dwellers.
Second, Mr Owino managed to give an overview of the economic problem (the tax and debt dynamics) we have in the simplest form for the average person in the room to consume. Dr Ndii then took o ver and brought out the bigger political problem tied to our economic problem in a thought-provoking discussion.
Just like when you get into your first philosophy class, you never get out the same, that was the case for many participants. The conversation had been shaped by questions raised by leaders of the internally displaced persons on how they can seek justice and reclaim their properties back after their forceful evictions in 2007 and some in 2017.
Dr Ndii instead chose to present the genesis of their problem and he noted that Kenya, to date, continues to run a very exploitative political system inherited from the colonial administration where the state is only there to protect and preserve status quo that serves the interest of the few elites at the expense of the majority’s working poor.
Just like how Kwame Nkurumah in his work ‘‘Philosophical Consciencism’’ foresaw, African nations post-independence problem being the political chicanery he referred to as neo-colonialism - leaders divided from their people and instead of providing true leadership and guidance informed at every point by the ideal of the general welfare, leaders come to neglect the very people who put them in power and incautiously become instruments of suppression.
The parting short to the attendees was that the forces of mediocrity and evil have been fighting to death in the corridors of power of this country.
Unless the average voter fervently demands for better governance, calls for political accountability as well as efficient management of public resources to liberate the country from the current shackles and manacles of its power-thirsty and corrupt political elites, Kenya will remain a failed project that forever eats its own children.