Why Jubilee will rue the missed opportunities

“It’s the economy, stupid,” read a sign hung in former US President Bill Clinton’s campaign headquarters in 1992. This was to keep people focused on what the central theme of the campaign was. Such was the importance of the state of the economy then that it became one of the determinants of who would be president. Today, the phrase remains a reminder of a central issue or goal.

Many presidential candidates’ world-over romp home on the promise of ability to turn the economic fortunes of a state for better. In fact, President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto first campaigned on the promise of double-digit economic growth. Their second term is now hinged on a transformative concept dubbed the Big Four Agenda. Touted as a pathway to spur the economy, it is centred on affordable housing, food security, affordable healthcare and manufacturing, as its key components.

Whilst the intentions of the president are indubitably noble, in the minds of many Kenyans, they remain precisely that; noble intentions with no corresponding movement to actuate them. Where there is a disconnect between aspiration and fulfilment, it is probably caused by incompetence on the part of those charged with delivery. Economic growth is a derivative of competence. When the wrong people get jobs that require some degree of intellectual acuity to deliver, the whole country suffers the limitations of such people.

Unfortunately, there is a growing public perception that the Jubilee administration has departed from the growth script and appointed public officers on considerations other than competence.

There are accusations, not without merit, that tribalism, nepotism and cronyism are largely the determinants of who holds key positions in government.  And there is a world of difference between the competent and the unqualified.

The determinants

For instance, when Cabinet Secretary (CS) Fred Matiang’i, a career educationist, ran the Ministry of education, the systemic rot that had characterised the ministry was minimised to tolerable levels. Because he understood the sector, he routed out cartels that had infiltrated the supply chain and ensured the integrity of both exam administration and results. But with his departure from the Education ministry, the cartels are now back with age and level inappropriate books that are a “must buy” for parents. Further, a new system has been rushed through that no one seems to comprehend. Not even the teachers charged with its execution.

American author John C. Maxwell hits the nail on the head when he says, “everything rises and falls on leadership”. Nowhere is this seen more clearly than at our national treasury where, in the words of Dr Mbui Wagacha, a policy analyst, we need “to guard against a debt burden that may harm the country’s macroeconomic stability.  The World Bank, in the 2018 Country Policy and Institutional Assessment (CPIA), says that Treasury “lacks adequate staff, clear leadership and accountability.”

Disperse power

President Kenyatta has attempted to fix the inadequacies of his CSs. His nuclear option has been to have the indefatigable Dr Matiang’i superintend over all the CSs. It is still too early in the day to gauge the efficacy of that strategy. The second fix is to advocate for a referendum that ostensibly, will disperse power from a central figure, to other national leaders.

In the minds of many Kenyans, these are merely fig-leaf approaches to cover the failures of incompetent leaders.

To them, the problem is not the constitution but rather, some of those charged with executing it. Many of these have eviscerated the same constitution and may be unfit for public office. By his own confession, the man in charge of Nairobi County is a convicted felon and a jail-breaker.

How he fits in with the integrity dictates of Chapter Six of the constitution is baffling.  Even now, it is claimed that no less than four envoys are yet to take up their diplomatic postings overseas as a result of probity gaps that are unresolved.

This catastrophic policy of rewarding failures with diplomatic postings may be what informs the skewed balance of trade Kenya has with most of its major trading partners.

While Kenyans now enjoy relative calm after last year’s “handshake” between political adversaries, the economy belies the true state of the nation. Its current condition is a stinging indictment on the calibre and capabilities of those tasked with managing it.

Until it is fixed, there is every danger of creating a political tempest through talk of constitutional amendments.

Fix the economy and half of Kenya’s problems disappear. After all, there will be only one yardstick by which the Jubilee administration will be judged. It’s the economy, stupid!

 Mr Khafafa is Vice Chairman, Kenya-Turkey Business Council.

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US President Bill ClintonPresident Uhuru KenyattaWilliam RutoBig Four AgendaFred Matiang’iChapter Six of the constitution