Ideas & Debate

Three key issues for our next leadership


Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party leader Raila Odinga addresses a rally in Eastleigh on August 30, 2014. PHOTO | FILE



  • For every 2022 election watcher, we have a lovely thinking battle between “handshake” and “hustler”.
  • The latter working from Plan A, the former mulling Ideas A to Z, with Plan A to C in the works.
  • The traditional Level One approach to this battle for the presidency is that it is all about tribes and regions.

In an unusually mid-week homily to Kenyans, unannounced presidential candidate and erstwhile opposition leader Raila Odinga concludes thus “we must fix the country, fix its systems, fix its politics then fix its economy”.

In retort, announced presidential candidate and current Deputy President William Ruto posits that “there are no problems with Kenyans, we have a problem with the economy… Kenyans have no problems with one another”. Which comes first, democracy or development?

For every 2022 election watcher, we have a lovely thinking battle between “handshake” and “hustler”. The latter working from Plan A, the former mulling Ideas A to Z, with Plan A to C in the works. The traditional Level One approach to this battle for the presidency is that it is all about tribes and regions.

The Level Two hustler argument, in its current incoherence, seems to speak to an intergenerational move away from identity. There is no fresh Level Three perspective that expands this to wider horizontal inequality.

Yes, we are all hearing about “doing good for all Kenyans” from both sides of the two or three-horse divide. But there is a real sense in which the inequality lens isn’t shining brightly enough in our political noise-making. Think public versus private education and health, or infrastructure.

Or access to other basics, like food, or good jobs, decent income opportunities and sustainable livelihoods. Or proper shelter, clean water and working sanitation. Throw in inequalities over the right to participate in public affairs, or to live, love and work within the time and space of secure public places and private spaces.

In a functioning democracy, inequality must be part of the debate that gets us our next great leader.

There is, of course, the Covid-19 factor in all of this. As shared by a friend, a pre-Delta variant April 2021 piece in the Economist magazine spoke to the optimistic idea of post-pandemic booms. In simples, three interrelated observations from history.

First, a demand-side spending boom as savings are unlocked. Second, a supply-side innovation disruption around doing things differently. Third, a socio-political change moment. What would that look like in Kenya, she asked?

On the first, the spending boom would need to start with the casino economy at the top to create a virtuous (top-down?) circle for the currently struggling middle-class bubble.

On the second, innovation is Kenya’s DNA, we are as survivalist as we are opportunistic. Our trouble across the micro, small and medium enterprises sector that runs Kenya’s daily bread and butter has always been markets, not finances. On the third, I speculated that, for every Arab Spring, there will one day be an African Summer.

It’s coming. It will locate itself in our third economic level; the “kadogo” precariat for whom “bottom-up” excites.

The question for our next great leader must be, how will you build back better? The handshake sounds like a return to business as usual, the hustlers offer “toss out the baby with bathwater” re-build rhetoric.

Then there’s the “c-word” — corruption. We tend to focus on corruption in the public sector while playing innocent with all manner of shenanigans that drive private sector bonuses and share options. Let us stick with the public sector, since that’s our taxes being nicked left, right and centre.

Are we making progress? Public statements speak loudly to discoveries and recoveries, and a couple of convictions. Private behaviour and lifestyles confirm otherwise.

The Ease Of Doing Business Index, which ignores the corruption, is more important for us than the Corruption Perceptions Index or the larger Global Competitiveness Index. Between looters and grabbers; looters, rent-scrapers and dividend collectors; looting, grand and petty corruption, we will find every leader running to lead us in 2022.

The reverse angle I have argued in the past works from a UK Institute of Government (IoG) 2015 offering on campaign manifestos at the time.

Five priorities, from which the four that most interests are the role of government as policy, economy, fiscus and service.

Stealing policy, because corruption is theft, is state capture. Nicking the economy is the result of bad mega-investment.

Grabbing the fiscus is the grand larceny about “budgeted corruption”, Kenya Revenue Authority property moguls and misdirected spending. Merchandising public services starts with police road tolls that willfully ignore instructions from above.

My unusual take is the way to fix corruption is to work around it, not to confront it. If I expand this thinking — back to that IoG think-piece — into four imperatives for our incoming great leader…to wit, “address long-term, complex social and economic challenges whose costs and benefits cover decades (policy), achieve sustained economic growth over the long term (economy), reduce the budget deficit and control public spending (Fiscus) and improve the effectiveness and efficiency of public services”.

By this thinking, our next great leader might articulate his or her stance on graft as a proactive policy moment, not an endless legal adventure.

But, mostly, if you’re not talking about addressing inequality, building back better from Covid-19 and thinking differently about fixing corruption, you’re not on my radar screen. I’ll expend my energy thinking about my next governor, MP, and most importantly, MCA.