How to get Kenya moving forwards, not backwards

Revisit the Constitution and stay in touch with reality for solutions to fiscal problem and bad leadership.

President Uhuru Kenyatta (right) and his deputy William Ruto. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

IN SUMMARY

  • Mostly, our hard-fought Constitution envisaged transformational leaders, not brokers or hustlers.
  • Huduma (service) centres were supposed to replace government desk jockeys.
  • Instead, they added to bloated national and county government payrolls.
  • We are tired of a 2017 where almost 1,000 campaign rallies were held across a political divide that now doesn’t exist.

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Three things are obvious from recent politics that impact our perennial socio-economic miasma. First, Kenya is in serious fiscal trouble. The papers might not say it, but our debt service to China, with little yet in financial and economic returns to Kenyan citizens, could kill us. At big picture level, our Sh 2.5 trillion budget for 2018/19 with revenue collection a trillion less is at best democratic theft at work.

Second, we lack economic ideas. That’s why we celebrate Safaricom’s #ticker:SCOM Sh55 billion profit driven by Sh46 billion in M-Pesa revenue in a year in which we lost a percentage point in GDP growth. Flows and stocks, people! M-Pesa simply moves money faster, it doesn’t make Kenya better or richer. It doesn’t address the productivity challenge the World Bank calls us on, every day, all the time.

Third, we will not grow with transactional leaders. In other words, our future leadership choices must be about people with serious local logic and patient worldviews based on policy intent, not the grand panjandrums and noisy nabobs most clever at looting and grabbing who deliver electoral victory based on ethnic scare-mongering. I suspect a clean census in 2019 will reorder our numbers, though.

Mostly, our hard-fought Constitution envisaged transformational leaders, not brokers or hustlers.

The prognosis on such leaders isn’t good. We are back to our usual “stupid moment”. Handshake, Big Four and “the apology” now redacted to public debate between “referendum” and “Uhuru Succession”.

Welcome to “silly” Kenya — great potential, average results. Plus-six per cent GDP growth before 2022 will be a shock; 10 per cent growth is nowhere in sight. There are two ways to change this failing picture. The first is to accept that not every Kenyan needs a government job. Our Constitution requires that taxpayers must fund the “willy and nilly” of 416 national legislators, almost 2,500 county legislators and a national and county government in the order of half a million-plus people with jackets on their desks, and service delivery not significantly better than our pre-2010 days.

Huduma (service) centres were supposed to replace government desk jockeys. Instead, they added to bloated national and county government payrolls. The policy solution for the handshake team is simple: revisit Schedule Four of the Constitution and remove contradictions in a way that affords county governments the “(wo)men, money and machines” to deliver, while federating national government.

But that’s all paperwork. Kenyans are tired of paper promises. We are tired of a 2017 where almost 1,000 campaign rallies were held across a political divide that now doesn’t exist. No flood-driven Kenyan is interested in Nairobi debate about “dynasties” vs “hustlers’. Here’s a point to ponder. Our terrible 2007/8 post-election violence led to 1,300 lives lost and 600,000 Kenyans displaced (300,000 of whom spent years in ramshackle IDP camps). Last year, almost four million Kenyans in a third of our counties faced starvation, because we didn’t get rain. This year, the Kenya Red Cross says we’ve lost more than 100 lives, and seen almost 300,000 people displaced because it rained. Reportedly, two-thirds of our counties (32 out of 47) can’t deal with rain!

How do we support people who don’t understand that our fundamental developmental problem is not a freedom from fear, but a freedom from want? How is it that our political leadership is incapable of understanding that human security goes beyond police, to issues such as food, health and livelihoods?

Why is it that our political leaders refuse to accept our “original sin” — the independence moment when supposed freedom fighters became bureaucratic capitalists? How do we tolerate a country where living standards range from Costa Rica to Congo?

Those big agendas — “handshake plus Big Four” recognise that this is not Kenya’s “happy-clappy” moment. Yes, Kenya is growing faster than the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, but, so what?

The best thinkers in Kenya (not me) observed a long time ago that we are not “one big blob” — producer subsidies to one area would affect consumers in another.

So here’s the second proposal for the handshake team. If we could do 1,000 political rallies in one year, we can visit all counties in one month, before the 2018-2022 Medium-Term Plan and 2018/19 budget are released. Let our “leaders who love us” do a “Thelma and Louise-style” road trip across Kenya.

As to what they should observe, I will share in the coming week. Frankly, as a Kenyan, Kenya makes me tired. As one chap put it to me 15 years ago, “we’re like Christiano Ronaldo playing in the Sunday League”. “Plus ca change, cest la meme chose” (the more we change, the more we remain the same).

Or as every Jamaican parent might say “who cyah hear, muss feel” (If you don’t hear, you must feel).

I’m feeling it.

Kabaara is a management consultant

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