On 1st of October, Thursday of this week, I happen to have participated in an intellectual discourse and discussion on social media, twitter to be specific, under the hash tag #Economy 254 . I have to say that it was one of the most insightful and thought-provoking engagements that I have seen over social media given that this new communication dispensation has been used by individuals to share and spread negative information.
The treatise involved Kenyans voicing their opinions on the state of the economy and most importantly what bottlenecks are slowing down our economic growth and the probable solutions to these teething problems. What I learnt is that many Kenyans are literally aware of the current economic situation; an economy where the common folk are enduring lots of hardship to access various basic needs and where the political class and other elites control most of the resources.
It is a well-known fact that Kenya’s economy is the largest in East Africa but it is also one in which the level of income inequalities and disparities is very high. The genesis of this is of course our economic system which is capitalism. But Kenya’s capitalism can be further categorized and classified as “crony” capitalism where a secluded group of elites control much of the economic resources. It is somehow astonishing to realize that 20% of Kenyans control 80% of the economic resources and 80% of Kenyans can only be able to control 20%.
Sometime last year, our economy was rebased and in simple terms this implies the recalculation of the GDP by including other sectors which earlier on were not included. With the rebasement, the effect is that the GDP went up and in Kenya’s case, we joined the league of middle-income economies. Statistically, our economy can be classified as a lower middle-income economy but the economic situation on the ground doesn’t reflect that which is on paper. In any case, methinks that the criteria used to categorize countries as lower, middle and higher income economies needs to be reviewed. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank should restructure the method with which they use to make such categorizations.
For Kenya to be a truly middle-income economy where the citizens can also feel the impact of a growing and developing economy, then one thing has to be changed; the political pattern and the general political structure. From the discipline of political economy, we cannot separate economics and politics and ultimately this is a knife and fork issue. Bad politics is a precursor and prelude of a poor economy and on the contrary, good politics brings about a sound and performing economy.
Fast- forward, our politics and political structure are characterized by two phenomena. The first phenomena is negative ethnicity and the general tribalism. It is a well-known fact that in most of our general elections especially from 1988, we have been voting on a tribal basis may be with an exception of 2002. The second phenomena is that our politics has been dominated by a small group of elites who have perfected the art of patronage politics in our society.
This kind of politics has been a major hindrance in the transmogrification of Kenya from an economy that reels from the effects of the vicious circle of poverty to one that should have the virtuous circle of prosperity. In as much as we may make various socio-economic policies to propel Kenya to be an economic powerhouse, without altering this kind of politics, then even the magnificent and well-choreographed Vision 2030 will be a dream-deferred.
Negative ethnicity and political power being in the hands of a few individuals likened to demigods are the primary factors that precipitate corruption. Why? Politics based on tribalism makes people to believe that once they have power, it is their time to be rapacious and in common logic it’s their moment to ‘eat’ before their tenure comes to an end. The political elites also promote corruption as they control most of the economic resources in the country. It is a great misfortune but the bitter truth and the harsh reality that the sanctum sanctorum of political offices and leadership can only be contested for by the economically mighty and wealthy individuals except for extra-ordinary situations.
So for Kenya to prosper economically, the institutional malaise that has embedded the political stratum needs to undergo a holistic change and transformation process. The only time that we have been close to reshaping our politics was way back in 1991/92 when multi-partyism was re-introduced, in 2002 when many Kenyans ganged up to stage a democratic revolution by sending Kanu to the oblivion and overwhelmingly voting for the Narc coalition of parties and in 2010 when we voted to have a new constitutional dispensation in place.
The above three were critical junctures that were to change our brand of politics from tribal-based to principle-based politics but this political hopefulness sooner than later, turned into political hopelessness. In the three afore-mentioned junctures, Kenyans were united to achieve a common good. In the early 1990s, there was unity among the masses to call for changes in the political environment as Moi’s regime was proving to be more authoritarian. The unfortunate thing is that the disunity among the opposition still kept Moi in power and so did the economic meltdown continue because of Moi’s master perfection of the art of crony capitalism.
Between 2003 and 2007 when the Narc government was in power, economic growth was approximately 7% which was impressive. One notable fact during this period of time is that there was some relative unity and the goal to revive the country’s economy; there was common good to attain a common goal. The level of ‘bad’ politics at this time was at a very low level. Then came the political mishap of 2007/08 with the occurrence of the post-election violence ushering in the Grand Coalition government. Evidently, the economic performance between 2008 to 2010 was dismal because of the political ideology of ‘we’ versus ‘them’. The promulgation of the new Constitution renewed the hope for national reconstruction and from that time at least the economy began picking up.
Since 2013 when we had the general election, our rate of economic growth and development has been slow-paced and this can be avowed to the tribal political groupings in the name of political coalitions. No wonder our economy is not performing as expected because the current political scenario epitomizes the apogee of the ‘we’ versus ‘them’ brand of politics. It is hence coincidental that currently there are so many scams and escalating levels of corruption from both the government and opposition sides of the political divide.
The political expedience that is in Kenya will only serve to stifle any effort made to promote economic prosperity. Thence, we need to advocate and promote a tranche of surrealism for us to wholesomely change the brand of politics and put in a system that will guarantee economic prosperity for posterity.