Candid Conversations on the Kenyan Polity

Candid Conversations on the Kenyan Polity

Candid Conversations on the Kenyan Polity

By Sitati Wasilwa

Parliament buildings in Nairobi.                        Image: Courtesy

Progress? Stagnation? Or a combination of both? Just what description suits the state of affairs of the Kenyan Republic 53 years after independence? I am not in the business of being the jury and the judge at the same time but I endeavour to present an analysis on the insincerity, machinations, dogmatism, disillusionment, disparity, unfairness and hopefully the positives that outrightly define and deeply describe the Kenyan polity.

There is a common narrative in the public domain and more specifically in the developmental circles regarding the similar state of socio-economic affairs between Kenya, the Asian Tigers and the Tiger Cub economies in the 1960s, 70s and a better part of the 1980s. Available information indicates that these economies’ challenges were similar to Kenya’s in terms of the level of infrastructural development, absolute and relative poverty rates among other socio-economic indicators. No doubt that these Asian economies took off while Kenya, a peer country at that point in time, is still trying to find a balance on the developmental scale.

In cognisant of the developmental differentials between Kenya and these Asian countries in terms of the socio-economic complexities and dynamism, it is still relevant and fundamentally important to thoroughly interrogate and investigate where the rain began beating us. In any case, some degree of harshness is required when evaluating a country which at one time was classified as a peer economy to the Asian economies. Is it that Kenya’s progress, as envisaged at the turn of the independence period, been hampered by certain intrinsic factors, internally and externally?

The Wabenzi Culture

Members of the civil society protesting against corrupt leaders.
Photo: Courtesy

The big man’s syndrome, the so-called wabenzi, augmented with the get-rich-quick schemes since 1963 have often dragged Kenya’s potential to be an economic powerhouse in Africa. The various administrations and/or regimes that Kenya has had since attaining her independence have one common denominator; corruption/embezzlement of public financial resources.

The administrations of Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel Moi are a summation of 39 years of cronyism. I strongly hold the view that Kenya would be a different country, in positive terms, were it not for the malfeasance exercised during Jomo’s and Moi’s regimes as the presidents of our Republic.

One of the notable ideals that underpinned the struggle for Kenya’s clamour for independence was indeed the maxim of economic independence in which all the Kenyans irrespective of their ethnic, racial, gender or ideological orientations were to be guaranteed equal economic rights. The Jomo Kenyatta administration had the mandate of institutionalising the independence manifesto in which economic rights were to be keenly observed.

The treachery that was employed by the Republic’s first administration under the leadership of Jomo Kenyatta engendered a wicked culture in the country’s public administration system. It was then that personal interest was placed above public interest/service hence the entrenchment of the culture of amassing wealth without any metric of accountability being taken into account.

There is no doubt that Jomo Kenyatta and his cronies furthered the challenges of the land question in Kenya which had initially been perpetuated by the colonialists. The land question remains unresolved in this country since then as the Republic has lacked a bold political leadership to right the wrongs committed over 50 years ago.

These economic crimes, of the illegal accumulation of wealth, were engineered by honchos in the Kenyatta administration who were either politicians or individuals who had strong political connections with the highest office in the land.  This is the point in time in which Kenya’s politics was poisoned whereby it became the absolute pathway to richness. Moi’s administration exacerbated the situation for 24 good years.

The culture is still in place and perhaps the situation has even intensified. Across the country, more than 90% of all the candidates for the various political offices have only one main agenda; to utilise the opportunity of occupying a political office to accumulate wealth.

Selective Application of Justice

Kenya’s Judiciary.                                                     Photo: Courtesy

Despite the reformations that have taken place in the country’s justice system, more needs to be done as far as the observation of the doctrine of the rule of law is concerned. The principle of fairness and equality before the law changes tune depending on how deep one’s pockets are or how well he/she is politically connected.

It is evident in this Republic that the economic and political elite are treated differently than other citizens even when some members of the former group are found to have planned and executed criminal offences especially the economic crimes.

The lords of graft who steal millions and billions of shillings are hardly locked up behind bars compared to the high number of petty offenders who continue to fill up the prisons. A good number of the officers within the justice system ranging from judicial officers to law enforcement officers have oftentimes been bribed to delay the administration of justice. These deliberately occasioned delays in prosecution and jailing of the corrupt wealthy and mighty (The big fish) in Kenya has always been an incentive for the increase in the rate of corruption.

The selective application of justice has all along punctured the country’s economy; it is an incentive for the politically connected individuals to steal public resources which would otherwise have been invested in viable infrastructural projects. As a matter of fact, how can serious private investors have confidence in the government if economic crimes aren’t punished heavily? This is a concern for the private investors with regard to property rights.

Haunted by the Ghosts of the 1960s

Pupils in a congested primary school.
Courtesy: Standard Media

At the turn of independence, the then government was focused on eradicating three notable challenges; poverty, disease and ignorance by institutionalising viable economic policies, establishing an effective healthcare system and setting up an efficient education system. As a matter of fact, a national blueprint, African Socialism and its Application to Planning in Kenya, was drafted to fast-track the process of achieving the targets set by the then government.

Unfortunately, the development plan was never fully implemented and the same fate faced the subsequent policy frameworks formulated to improve the living standards of the citizenry as I illustrated in a previous article. Significant strides have been made in the course of the last 50 plus years of independence but there is a lot that needs to be done to tackle poverty, improving healthcare and the education standards.

As much as there has been progressing in the education sector, the government must be committed to improving the conditions especially in most of the public primary schools. These schools have a poor teacher-pupil ratio, dilapidated facilities and a chronic shortage of learning equipment. I am longing for the day that most members of the political elite, the upper-middle class and the wealthy will take pride in enrolling their children in public primary schools.

The conditions in the public health facilities must be greatly improved for the benefit of all the citizens. The political leadership; the Executive and Parliament, has never been fully committed to establishing a universal healthcare system in the country. The political class doesn’t even have confidence in the public healthcare system because it is ill-equipped. This has contributed to medical tourism where each year there is an increase in the number of patients travelling to countries such as India to seek for medication. The billions of shillings looted in the Ministry of Health in each fiscal year is enough to set up modern health facilities that are fully equipped with modern machinery for treating the non-communicable diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and others which are on the rise.

Tribalism: The Dark Paradise

An IDP camp following the 2007/08 PEV.
Photo: Courtesy

Negative ethnicity is real in Kenya with a good number of socio-economic and political arrangements/deliberations taking shape along the ethnic divisions. Since independence, the successive governments have been characterised with deeply entrenched tribalism as a result of the “we” versus “them” mentality. This has really worked against the realisation of Kenya as one united nation.

Kenya’s politics is largely based on ethnicity. In a nutshell, the doctrine of ethnicization of the political system is pronounced in our Republic. Just as I have noted earlier in this article, most of the challenges experienced in Kenya can be traced to the first post-colonial government and these mistakes haven’t been rectified by the successive governments.

Tribalism isn’t confined to politics but it is alive and kicking in other structures of the Kenyan polity especially regarding employment opportunities, awarding of tenders and contracts or even access to public services which all the citizens are entitled to.

Negative ethnicity has troubled our Republic and this has significantly hindered economic progress. Following the 1992 general elections, there were ethnic clashes that took place and even the 1997 elections had certain parts of the country recording ethnic flare-ups. Despite the fact that the 2002 general elections were peaceful, regions such as Kuresoi in Nakuru County experienced ethnic clashes. The mother of all ethnic explosions rocked the country in 2007 following the disputed results of the presidential elections. The 2007/08 post-election violence (PEV) was much more than the election results; the existing unfair distribution of national resources was the primary factor precipitated by the “we” versus “them” mentality.

Taking into account that the PEV was our Republic’s critical juncture in restructuring the systemic challenge of negative ethnicity, profound measures such as the formation of the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) and the enactment of a new Constitution were put in place. To ensure that there is fairness in the distribution and redistribution of national resources, the aspect of devolution was indoctrinated in the Constitution. However, the tragedy has been the failure by the political leadership to implement the recommendations of the TJRC report and this puts the country at risk of another major ethnic outburst.

Various parts of the country continue to witness occasional fighting among some of the communities. These cases are common among the Pokot, Turkana and Marakwet communities; along the border of the Kipsigis-Kisii, Luo-Nandi, Kisii-Maasai, Kipsigis-Maasai, and Orma-Pokomo among others. The fights have disrupted the economic activities in these regions.

The Economy: A Distorted & Non-Inclusive Complexity

Jua kali artisans at work.
Courtesy: Business Daily.

The economy is growing but hardly developing; the rate of structural transformation in Kenya’s economy has been extremely slow. This is why cases of extreme and/or absolute poverty continue to be on the increase. Of course, the national government and its honchos will always viciously defend the economy’s progress but their defence is anchored on the estimates of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) which is a foggy way of analysing the economic progress of any economy.

Developed and the newly industrialising economies experienced structural transformation due to the fact that their governments were committed to making heavy investments in the manufacturing sector. Kenya’s manufacturing sector currently makes up 11% of the country’s GDP compared to 16% in the 1970s and part of the 80s. This decline is largely due to the lack of bold political leadership to effectively implement the development blueprints/economic policy frameworks and also the Bretton Woods institutions (IMF, World Bank) are partly to be blamed following the fantastic failure of the Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) back in the 1980s.

At the moment our economy is faced with the twin deficit problem; trade deficit and fiscal deficit. The trade deficit has been occasioned by a large volume of imports compared to the relatively lower volume of exports as a result of lacking a vibrant manufacturing sector. The fiscal deficit has increased tremendously under the Jubilee administration presenting a possibility of a debt overhang.

The major reason why Kenya resorts to borrowing largely to finance its expenditure is because of the low levels of savings within the economy. Savings play a crucial role in financing investment projects and in due course cushioning the economy against the shocks that may emanate in the case of the externally sourced funds. Currently, the level of savings in Kenya is around 14% which is low for any economy seeking to have a strong economy.

Kenya’s economy is largely reliant on the informal sector and this has significantly contributed to the rising levels of unemployment. More jobs are created in the informal sector compared to those created in the formal sector. Unemployment is a ticking time-bomb and in any case a concern for the country’s political stability. The frustrated, unemployed “army” is a threat to national security. History has shown that economic frustrations are bound to generate political turmoil in a polity.

Food security, as detailed in an article co-authored by my colleague and me, is still a major challenge to the government fifty-plus years down the line. The successive governments have always adopted reactionary measures in approaching the issue of food insecurity and it seems learning from history has been a tall order for the country’s political leadership.

 

So, where do we stand as a country? Are we on the path to prosperity? Is the political leadership committed to transforming the country’s economic landscape? Find the right the answers.

The writer is a Research Consultant at Savic Consultants, Nairobi.

Generally, I think we as a country have made some significant milestones in terms of development since independence, however, there has been frustrating episodes occasioned by the so called the ‘political class’ in form of rampant corruption, selfishness & mediocre kind of arguments by our ‘leaders’ that has curtailed our national progress.

Your piece of work is a great analysis. Nice read!

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