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Chris Kirubi and the gospel of seek ye first wealth and all...

By Andrew Kipkemboi | Jun 20th 2021 | 3 min read

Chris Kirubi. The private sector should seek to influence policy. [Courtesy]

A few days after President Uhuru Kenyatta was declared the winner in the August 2017 General Election, and as the opposition mulled their next move, there was an urgency especially from the business community to get over the elections and get the country running again.

The risks posed by the electioneering period had eroded the gains in business and the owners of capital feared that any more political push and pull would torpedo the economy. They were right.

And so one morning, we were called into an impromptu meeting by our then Standard Group CEO Sam Shollei. In the boardroom, we found Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry officials and prominent city businessmen. Among them was Chris Kirubi, who seemed to be the one leading the group. You could see the frustration in the man. “Tone down the political rhetoric, it is killing business and the economy,” he told us.

Our retort - as the public watchdog - was: At what cost to the democracy do we tone down? Whereas we were seized of the damage the prolonged period of politicking was doing to the economy, we also appreciated that looking the other way as the democratic process got desecrated (already, NASA was protesting against voter theft) would be costly in the long-term politically, economically and socially.

During the meeting, Kirubi confessed to us that he had told Uhuru to reach out to Raila, and added: “I am looking for Raila Odinga as well.” He didn’t tell us for what, but we guessed it all had to do with accepting the results.

But how were we to shepherd the country along a narrow path of “accepting and moving on” like in 2013? Well, the president’s victory was annulled two weeks later.

At the intersection of politics and business, you won’t find mama mboga, boda boda operators or makangas. No, you will find wheeler-dealers, hard-nosed business moguls, the buccaneers whose roll of the dice in the political arena could determine who gets into what coalition with who. And we heard that at Kirubi’s funeral service.

Sadly, Kirubi’s and the Chamber of Commerce officials’ frenzied pleadings to media houses in 2017 to play down things as the country teetered on the brink were gestures without muscle; too-little-too-late attempts to influence the discussion.

Yet it spoke more of the incestuous relationship between politics and business in the country. Soon after, the NASA brigade called for a boycott of products from businesses deemed sympathetic to the Jubilee administration - a case of businesses being vulnerable to the unpredictable ebb and flow of our politics.

Yet that should not surprise anyone especially when the mantra is seek ye first the wealth and all power and influence shall be added unto thee; it was not an isolated case of mixing business with politics.

Historian Charles Hornsby decries “the commercialisation of the State and the limited capacity of the bureaucracy to execute policy.” In Kenya: A history since independence, Hornsby says Kenya remains “vulnerable to the distorting effects of clientelism and predation”.

The private sector should seek to influence policy, not just for their businesses and enterprises and investment, but for the common good. Good, sound policy will no doubt spur development that fosters growth that in the end ensures that the prosperity pie passes around because it leads to rapid poverty reduction. Investors, innovators and entrepreneurs are forever looking for a place to put their money.

Their voice on such vices as corruption, wealth inequality, health and education system (from which they draw manpower) and climate change should be loud enough. It is no guesswork that businesses thrive where there is social order and the rule of law.

In other democracies like the US, the voice of private sector titans carries considerable weight as long as it protects the common good. That is how a lot of them came together to push back against President Donald Trump’s “alternative facts” in the aftermath of the 2020 elections.

-Mr Kipkemboi is Partnerships and Special Projects Editor, Standard Group 

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