Friday, 26 May 2017

Sonkorism versus Elitism Underpin the Capital’s Gubernatorial Race

Left to right Peter Kenneth, Mike Mbuvi and Evans Kidero.
Image: Courtesy
Touted to be one of the epic duels in the forthcoming general elections, Nairobi’s gubernatorial race presents an opportunity for key lessons to be learnt in view of the morals and perceptions of a society; the perceived ills, dissension and reality of the economy; and the cherished ideals, values and doctrines in a polity. The society, economy and polity in reference are basically a representation of Nairobi and extensively the Republic of Kenya.

The frontrunners in the capital’s gubernatorial race are the incumbent Dr. Evans Kidero and the current Senator Mike Mbuvi Sonko whose triumph will largely depend on the level of significance and sophistication that Peter Kenneth will bring into the race. Viewed from a superficial standpoint, Nairobi’s gubernatorial race appears to be a battle that will feature the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party and the Jubilee Party. With pristine insight, however, the gubernatorial race in Nairobi County is a duel that centres on the failed promises of the political elite as well as the elite individuals and the hope that the populist mantra of political leadership gives to the majority of the electorate and/or citizens.

Dr. Evans Kidero, Peter Kenneth and Miguna Miguna are quintessentially members of the elite and hence their policies and even ideologies tend to largely subscribe to the ideals and the values of elitism. Mike Sonko, the flamboyant Senator who had embraced the ruffian brand of politics until his recent nomination as Jubilee Party’s gubernatorial candidate, is a master of the populist politics and his values and ideals perfectly resonate with the thoughts and wishes of the common folk and more specifically the average Nairobian.

The elitist gubernatorial candidates have often-times chided Senator Sonko as a political leader who is incapable of steering the affairs of Nairobi County particularly in the management of the economy a notion that is widely shared among Nairobi’s elites who most of the times are out of touch with the reality. The Senator as usual continues to fire back at the so-called learned political class terming it a bunch of PhD holders who have failed to turn-around the fortunes of the capital’s residents. This jibe by the Senator of course demeans the value of academia and extensively the values of intellectualism but I have to admit that it is the bitter truth and the harsh reality.

Criticism directed to the Senator’s populist politics and the activities of the Sonko Rescue Team appear to be more than correct from an outsider’s perspective. The outsider’s standpoint in this case represents the thoughts of the elites who as I noted earlier on tend to fashion formality which has made them to be out of touch with the reality. The activities and operations of the Sonko Rescue Team can be classified as a “collection of informal policies in action" which in fact forms a basis for further research on the viability, validity and vibrancy of such kind of policies within Kenya’s economy and polity.

An insider’s perspective that is shared among the average Nairobians reveals that indeed the Sonko Rescue Team has been beneficial and one needs to take a walk to the informal and low-income settlements or get to hear from the common folk in order to come to terms with the reality. I cannot dispute the fact that the Senator has also used this opportunity to gain political currency but the factual information on the ground and the fallacious imaginations fabricated by majority of the elite are clearly distinct as day and night.

The Sonko Rescue Team is an outcome of a failed and flawed policy implementation process especially by the county government of Nairobi. If the economic heaven that Nairobians were promised by the incumbent was to happen, then I strongly believe that the Sonko Rescue Team would have been emasculated and perhaps casted to the oblivion. It is therefore the failure by the current government of Nairobi County to honor the social contract it signed with the Nairobians 4 years ago that has made the Sonko Rescue Team to be a vibrant outfit and hence presenting the Team Sonko as a juggernaut in the capital’s gubernatorial race.

Senator Mike Sonko has positioned himself as the voice of the voiceless and an advocate of the ordinary Nairobian. This is the cohort of the capital’s electorate that turns out in large numbers to vote and it is Nairobi’s populace that literally runs the city’s informal economy. The informal economy is larger than the formal economy in Nairobi and Kenya as a whole. A larger informal economy and a smaller formal economy is one of the distinctive features of a dual economy. Nairobi region contributes more than 60% of Kenya’s total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and these estimates are majorly from the recorded formal economic activities. The informal economy creates approximately 85% of the total employment opportunities generated by the Kenyan economy of which Nairobi is largely responsible for.

The consideration and inclusion of the informal economy activities implies that indeed Nairobi contributes more than 75% of the total income generated in Kenya through formal and informal means. In short, it is the Senator who comes across as having a “realistic” plan for the Nairobians who eke out their living in the informal economy. The elitist political club of his opponents in the gubernatorial race cuts an image of an enemy of the informal economy with their economic ideologies and aspirations largely coming out as illusions of grandeur.

Party affiliation and tribal arithmetic are key factors that will determine the outcome of who will win Nairobi’s gubernatorial race but my bet is on Sonko to carry the day due to the failure of the political leadership of the incumbent. Nairobi is a cosmopolitan region and just like last time when the majority decided that Dr. Kidero was best suited to be the Governor than the battle-hardened Ferdinand Waititu, this time round the metrics will be based on the mega promises of the elite and the aspirations of the Sonkorism school of thought.

And by the way, some elites hold the opinion that the Senator’s lackluster performance in the Senate in terms of intellectually contributing to debates and drafting bills dwarf his ambition to be the next Governor of Nairobi County. But the reality is how many voters think of the debates and bills fronted by their representatives in Parliament when voting? Or rather, how many voters religiously follow the Parliamentary proceedings so as to know how intelligent their representatives are? In fact, majority of Nairobians voted for Mike Sonko as the Senator in the last general elections without considering how well or poor he was going to contribute to the Senate proceedings. The triumph of Sonko in the gubernatorial race will be an epochal moment and perhaps it’s time to taste new waters. The ultimate decision rests with the voters.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Of the Wagging Tail & Kenya’s Food Politics

Maize flour on the shelves of a supermarket.
Photo: Courtesy
For the common folk and the underclass of Kenya’s populace, their lives have literally been thrown into chaos following the on-going increase in prices of some of the commodities that are largely consumed by the households. The continuous rise in the prices of such commodities is said to be as a result of a number of factors depending on which side of the political divide you associate with and how knowledgeable you are as far as understanding the Kenyan economy is concerned.

Of course most of the supporters of the current regime and the not-so-insightful individuals relate the price increases to the perceived ‘natural’ forces of demand and supply backing up their arguments with explanations of how the market is adjusting itself naturally to the prevailing economic conditions. On the other hand, the associates of the other side of the political divide and a good number of Kenyans hold the view that perhaps the upward spiral of prices is the outcome of the activities propelled by the robber barons and a systemic failure of the current administration to fulfill its promise of lowering the cost of living for the majority of the Kenyans.

As to whether both political camps are correct or not, is for you to figure out as each is in the business of justifying its rhetoric with ‘facts’ with the end being to gain political mileage. The political class is part of the economic chaos and this will be evident later on in this article. With economic insight, it cannot be disputed whatsoever that the forces of demand and supply are responsible for the current increase in prices of some of the basic commodities. The crux of the matter, however, is the exact nature of these perceived forces of demand and supply in view of the continuous rise in the prices of commodities. Are the forces truly natural as posited by one school of thought as highlighted in the previous paragraph? Or are the forces largely artificial?

With the acknowledgement that depressed rainfall levels in 2016 led to a significant decline in the total yield of maize, sugarcane, rice and wheat, economic wisdom dictates and extensively reveals that the current situation is largely a creation of the proprietors and rent-seekers of the underworld economy. These are the robber barons and the cartels that are alive in the country. In the world, the activities and operations of any society, polity or economy are under the control of the cartels and the interest groups irrespective of whether an entity cherishes and embraces the ideals of capitalism, the values of socialism or a hodge-podge of the two systems.

In his book, Naked Economics, Charles Wheelan an economist and public policy analyst likens the operations of the cartels and interest groups in an economy to the tail wagging the dog. Yes, the tail wagging the dog and not the dog wagging the tail. This illustrates just how powerful the cartels are and such is the case in Kenya. The presence and vibrancy of the cartels in the economy is a strong indication of market failure which calls for government intervention in the economy especially in the production and distribution of the basic commodities including food.

A holistic look at the Kenyan price conundrum leaves a lot to be desired in the general management of the economy and most importantly the implementation of the relevant and existing economic and/or agricultural policies. Reflecting on the maize and sugar “shortage” in the country, a number of fundamental questions and concerns need to be posed and raised at the same time: how effectively and efficiently are the existing agricultural policies being implemented? Is it possible that the political leadership in Kenya tends to ignore the advice given by government agencies as part of the mitigation measures? How efficient is the absorption of funds set aside for the food security programmes and projects? In what way do the cartels outsmart the political leadership? Or is the political leadership in Kenya a conduit for the cartels?

The ship with the maize imported from S.Africa.
Photo: Courtesy
At the inception of the Jubilee administration in March 2013, promises were firmly made on how Kenya would be the foremost food secure country not just in the Eastern African region but the entire continent of Africa. It was at the backdrop of these promises that the idea of irrigating one million acres of arable land was mooted and conceptualized with the outcome being the Galana-Kulalu Food Security Project. Over Kshs.10 billion have been allocated to this project over the last four years but the trickle-down effect is yet to be witnessed by majority of the Kenyans. From my perspective, the below par performance of the Galana-Kulalu Food Security Project is majorly due to two main factors: there is a high possibility that the feasibility studies conducted to ascertain the viability of the Galana-Kulalu project were poorly done at the expense of gaining political capital; secondly, the funds allocated each financial year towards the financing of the project are poorly absorbed due to financial bureaucracy and corruption.

Kenya prides herself in being the most advanced economy in the Eastern Africa region but in a country where affordability of the basic commodities is a preserve of the haves illustrates just how cards are being shuffled under the table. Maize is Kenya’s staple food and any right-thinking citizen would expect that the political leadership would rise to the occasion to cushion the average Kenyan against any shortage that might be experienced. Towards the end of 2016, the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) issued early warnings on the La Nina effects responsible for the depressed rainfall experienced in most parts of the country. The Executive and Parliament responded by stating that the necessary measures have been put in place to ensure that there is a constant supply of maize. This is hence a situation that the political leadership was well aware of not now but last year.

It is from such information from the NDMA and other agencies that the cartels began positioning themselves strategically; they hatched schemes to create an artificial shortage of maize. In fact, having known that last year’s total production of maize fell in the country from 43 million bags to around 37 million bags, the cartels were smiling all the way as opportunities to import maize were in the offing. It should be noted that Kenya has over the years been importing maize and maize flour from countries such as Uganda, Tanzania and even at one time from Malawi. Acknowledging the principle and concept of comparative advantage in trade between nations, it is comical for a country like Kenya that has a high agricultural potential to be importing a food crop like maize.

Fast forward, the ‘shortage’ of maize apparently forced the government to import maize and this came after the tax exemptions on maize and wheat imports as per the Budget Policy Statement presented by the Cabinet Secretary of The National Treasury in the National Assembly in March this year. Conflicting reports have been issued by some of the senior government officials on just who is importing the maize and the point of origin of the imported maize. Initially, reports issued by the government stated that maize was to be imported from Mexico with the importing entity solely being the government. Later on, it emerged that the maize was to be imported from South Africa by three private companies. Conflicting information and communication is a strong indicator that perhaps things are not adding up and it is from such that you can be able to detect the machinations of the cartels. As a matter of fact, the consignment of maize that has just been imported was apparently ordered late last year by the importing firms.

Packaged sugar on sale at a supermarket.
Photo: Courtsey
Turning to sugar, savage politics and economics shaped by the cartels continue to haunt this industry. At the moment, a 2 kg packet of sugar retails at approximately Kshs.400. Still there are some people who believe that the natural forces of demand and supply are fully responsible for the current shortage! The discipline of Economics, however, gives leverage to individuals to present different arguments and belong to different schools of thought hence the commonality of the phrase “on the other hand…” In August 2015, there was a heated debate around the country following the deal signed between the current administration and the Ugandan government to import sugar from Uganda. Kenya’s demand for sugar exceeds the local supply and this necessitates the importation of sugar but the supply deficit has never been chronic.  How then is it possible that most of the sugar companies excluding Butali Sugar Mills and West Kenya have been closed for regular maintenance? If so, then what informs such action that is devoid of any form or kind of strategic thinking? Let’s forget about the regular maintenance stuff because it has been happening year in year out. This is the strong hand of the cartels busy at controlling the economy.

The poor performance of the sugar-milling factories seems to be more of a political issue than an economic issue. The sugar industry has been politicized resulting in vague resuscitation programmes such as the common bail-outs from the national government. The sugar industry is under the manacles of the cartels and the latter strongly dictate which sugar-milling company is to be bailed out or not.

Fundamentally, the current economic chaos that is yet to morph into an economic crisis is as a result of an inconsistent political leadership. A consistent political leadership, both at the National Assembly and the Executive, would ensure that the formulated agricultural/economic policies such as the Agricultural Sector Development Strategy and Vision 2030 are implemented as expected and would also viciously fight the cartels. Political leaders and other experts should not be talking about seeking for long-term solutions because there are existing economic blueprints whose implementation is erratic and inconsistent. The cartels in the Kenyan economy fashion the vicious circle of poverty and are sworn enemies of the ideal virtuous circle of prosperity. The tail (cartels) has successfully wagged the dog (Kenya).

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