Plunder has become a way of life for leaders

Students of economics will at some point have encountered the works of Frederic Bastiat. A French economist who lived in the 1800s, he is credited with developing the concept of opportunity cost.

The New Oxford American Dictionary defines opportunity cost as “the loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen.” Simply put, it is the value of what one forgoes when they take an option.

In 2013, just before the elections, America lectured Kenyans on “choices having consequences.” It may have sounded novel to Kenyans then. But in truth, the admonition on whom to elect as president was nothing more than a banal expression of opportunity cost couched in political nuances.

Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto went on to win the presidency and are now serving their second term. The opportunity cost then, as it is today, was the loss of whatever benefit a Raila Odinga presidency would have brought to Kenyans.

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A contemplative study of the history of modern Kenya reveals the pros and cons of successive administrations from independence. It is as though each administration had its forte often at the expense of other core values.

For instance, the Jomo Kenyatta administration that ushered in independence created an elitist group of African millionaires. The opportunity cost was that the country’s wealth became concentrated in the hands of a few instead of being spread out across the entire nation. In the words of a leading politician of the day, J.M Kariuki, Kenya became a nation of “ten millionaires and ten million beggars.”

To grow

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Daniel Arap Moi’s administration that succeeded Jomo Kenyatta’s, sought to redress this by distribution of wealth across a greater section of Kenyans. However, other factors played out and caused the economy to plunge. Mwai Kibaki, who took over from Moi, was a brilliant economist.

He stuck to a modest national budget with very little external borrowing, causing the economy to grow in leaps and bounds. However, it was at the cost of national cohesion because under him, the country degenerated into fractious and divisive ethnicity-driven politics that culminated in the post-election violence of 2007/8.

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President Uhuru Kenyatta is a protégé of Moi’s. Like his mentor, he has attempted to bring national unity, the latest effort of which is the mending of fences with his erstwhile adversary Raila Odinga.

But he has been unable to bring about desired economic growth, causing insuperable hardship to a large section of the populace. Under him, predatory leadership by those in government has flourished. A culture of corruption and clientelism is now what defines the political class to the extent that even the hopes and aspirations of Kenyans are commodified and sold to the highest bidder.

The unity

To be fair to the president, he, more than any other post-independence leader, has done more to slay the dragon of corruption. But it is perhaps his choice of methods that has, consequently, created a frisson of tension that threatens the unity of the country.

First off, the substantive action he has initiated has created schisms within his ruling party because it is perceived as serving certain sectarian interests. Second, his heavy dependence on Chinese lenders has fueled the canard that they intent to Sinicise core national assets through chicanery.

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The State of the Nation address, delivered in perfect soundbites, was designed to persuade the country about the government’s commitment to fighting corruption. Yet the speech did little to reassure. It may, if anything, have exacerbated public resentment at the state of the nation.  However, what may not have come out with clarity, was the positive timbre. The president has chosen to temper his rhetoric about the press.

From describing newspapers as only fit for meat-wrapping, he has acknowledged that they are partners in exposing acts of graft. Further, instead of the customary railing against the Judiciary, he has chosen to let the rule of law run its course against those accused of graft.

Last but certainly not least, he has tacitly stated that the war on corruption will only be won with the reciprocal support of all Kenyans including his deputy William Ruto and opposition chief Raila Odinga.

It remains to be seen whether the president’s latest choices bear positive consequences for Kenyans. The opportunity cost is, as Frederic Bastiat once said, “when plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men in a society, over the course of time they create for themselves a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.”

Mr Khafafa is Vice Chairman, Kenya-Turkey Business Council

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Uhuru KenyattaWilliam RutoRaila Odinga