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Ideas & Debate

The legacy that awaits Uhuru

President Uhuru Kenyatta
President Uhuru Kenyatta. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Our American-inspired “handshake” gave us a chance to return to “good”. That the new language from the (cleverer than we think) Trump administration proposes a refreshing “journey to self-reliance” that trumps (no pun) serial “tree hugging” signals the current, and terribly interesting, state of the world.

Everyone’s scared about post-Deng China’s increased global influence. Deng Xiao-Ping did simples; he cut poverty in China by half in a decade. It was a transformative do-it-yourself effort. To the World Bank, he said, “build it first, show us how to do it, and we’ll do the rest”, as a former senior World Bank staffer, then Transparency International founder, once explained to me in an earlier life.

Today, we watch NatGeo on TV for the most amazing engineering feats humanly known. And we know that China’s Huawei is winning the global 5G race. It starts with national belief. Self-reliance, anyone?

Between Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew and our money-worshipping Church leaders we have no idea about the role models that inspire a Jubilee Administration taking political/economic lessons from the Chinese Communist Party. This is the trouble with unprincipled leadership. Recycling failed leaders is our thing.

The consistent appointment of school buddies and political rejects to our State-owned enterprises and global embassies might be the first start in defining President Uhuru Kenyatta’s legacy in 2022. Why?

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Well, let’s consider that the best thinkers in Kenya already speak about a post-2022 national agenda.

Because 2022 debate is being forced upon us, let’s delve into what Mr Kenyatta might hand over to his successor. Let’s go “ceterus paribus” (keeping behaviour at today’s constant).

Six legacy points come to mind.

First, the utter and complete lack of a “big picture” that begins with the people. Policy first, not projects and procurement. Proper economic planning, in a developmental sense, not short-term, businesslike, strategic plans that are more paperweight than purposive or practical. Then, an actual service culture that doesn’t keep Kenyans in endless queues for (admittedly quick at the end of the line) service. Queuing theory anyone? Finally, a sensible fiscus, which leads us to the second legacy point.

The best way to describe Kenya’s monetary-fiscal state is that our monetary (CBK) chaps have tried, endlessly, to manage the fiscal (Treasury) people. Our four key economic prices — exchange (our foreign value), inflation (our local value), interest (the price of money) and wages (pay for labour) are always more threatening than promising. It’s all down to reckless fiscal policy; which is now a debt overhang.

Who wants to pay taxes to an unaccountable state? If it’s painless and seamless, as I’ve said before, there’s a slight chance. If it’s all spent on a privatised state that can’t regulate schools, or maintain ferries, no thanks.

Who is supposed to pay for endless government neglect and incompetence? Not me. But, let’s resist our public anger around nonsense that reflects a government that doesn’t get it.

Moving forward from our “monetary-fiscal” tail, there’s the question of the “economic dog” that it’s wagging. Lacking serious economic planning in our leadership, it’s no surprise that national Ministries, Departments and Agencies laugh off stuff like the (devolved, not national) “Big Four” agenda.

If our Sh11 billion Presidency measures itself on Cabinet memos drafted, Sh140 billion Interior looks at police dogs trained, and we still have central budgets for devolved Health at Sh96 billion, Infrastructure at twice that, Energy at around Sh80 billion, and Agriculture at Sh50 billion, we are not serious.

The whole point of devolution was to settle basic governance arrangements first, then move to local economic development At which point the own-source revenue discussion might have better emerged. A county-based commerce, industry, trade and export agenda might have arisen.

We didn’t, and it hasn’t. That’s legacy point number three.

Number four is simpler and more global. An individualised prosperity agenda without nationwide human progress negates the concept of peace as its balance. A national security agenda that disrespects the justice system, and therefore human rights and freedoms, never works anywhere.

That might be beyond our Jubilee administration’s thinkspace.

So, back to basics. “Big Four” suffers four big problems. We refuse to fix food security. We can’t offer the drugs and other medical support required for universal healthcare. We will not be taxed for housing if we already have houses in “shags” (upcountry).

And we won’t create SME jobs, given our “big business, not private sector” proclivities and preferences.

In short, without a rethink, “Big Four” is designed to fail. On purpose or by accident is a good question.

If that’s legacy point number four, then number five should worry us more. Beyond GDP, every great nation thrives on a “balance sheet” of hard and soft capital. Infrastructure, Land and Finance versus Knowledge and Human Capital (people) and Social Capital (community).

What does ours look like? Terribly unbalanced.

Sixth, Mr Kenyatta leaves us with a resignation to bad behaviour. Public corruption, impunity and waste, private drug dealing and wildlife poaching, the un-securitisation of Kenya by rogue police and endless church contributions as the latest in “wash” money laundering. Nobody in jail. All calm, no peace.

With this legacy, can Kenya really afford another 10 years of Jubilee? Bite me first.

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