Of food, fuel and a lesson in values

We are living through dramatic times yet again. A ruthless war started by Russia against Ukraine has created or exacerbated a domino effect of crises — food, energy, and poverty. And Africa is on the receiving end of it all. Or are we?

Is this the moment to complain and wait or the time to reassess our agency and rethink our alliances? Kenya is braving these difficult times standing tall. Economic growth this quarter has surpassed pre-pandemic levels. Formal and informal jobs creation is at a six-year high.

However, having braved the pandemic, we are subject to the vagaries of global trade bottlenecks and inflation patterns. Food and fuel prices are increasing the suffering of our poorer citizens.

Throwing election into the mix makes the situation feel inflammatory and fragile. And feeling fragile one is tempted to look for quick fixes, expedient alliances, short-term solutions.

And yet, if anything, this moment teaches us against this knee-jerk reaction. The realpolitik approach made Europe excessively dependent on Russian fossil fuels. Ease of access to these resources made Europe disregard blatant violation of human rights inside the country and encroachment on neighbouring sovereign states.

The price of compromise on values is now costing dearly in global dislocation and, worse, in human lives.

The global dislocation we are living through is the result of the acquired wisdom that compromising of values sometimes can help us ride through difficult times and, somehow, we will make it all right later without losing either ourselves or the benefits the compromise allowed us to accumulate in the short term. And it all works until it comes crashing down.

As a nation you wake up one day and you realise you are dependent on another state that is acting in a way that is antithetical to your core national values and your response cannot be strong and decisive because your economy depends on the goods that looked so lucrative and economically expedient a day ago. The cost of getting out of this conundrum is huge. Europe is living through this awakening as we speak.

Where does it leave us? Africa in general and Kenya, in particular, are entering a period of enhanced strengths. We are demographically vibrant, we are getting our governance right, we are growing economically. We are increasingly seen as a desired economic and political partner by a very diverse set of states.

What should be the core vector of our alliances under the circumstances? To answer this question, we should go to our values. As a nation we paid a dear price for independence, post-colonial development and growth, for falling into the trap of authoritarianism and for climbing out of it.

We are not perfect by far, but we are facing an election where we do not know who the winner will be, and that is the most basic hallmark of democracy.

We have a Judiciary that can speak truth to power, we have decentralised counties that have political, administrative, and fiscal ability to drive their own development. And our President can open a paper in the morning and read varied, often unflattering views on how he is doing.

These are the precious things you start valuing for real when they are endangered. To shore them up we should seek alliances with the nations valuing the same things. We can have deep disagreements on many issues and concrete actions and policies, but we should know that we share the bedrock of values and aspirations for our peoples.

These aspirations should centrally include respect for human life and dignity, democratic contestation, changeability of those in power, enhanced opportunity for all.

And yes, we should seek stable and secure relations with all nations. What we should not allow ourselves to be is to become viscerally dependent on those who do not share these very few core values.

Otherwise, we may wake up one day and discover that our advancement in the sphere of IT connectivity and opportunity has become a digital prison, that the state power is not supported by the will of the citizens but by outside authoritarians will.

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