Radical shift needed in Kenyan politics

Deputy President William Ruto and President Uhuru Kenyatta. [Standard]

As a business leader, it is disconcerting to witness the ongoing breakdown of unity in the Executive and the Legislature.

Left unchecked, this worrying trend could fuel political instability in the country, dimming our economic prospects at a time when we need to accelerate job creation in order to eliminate youth unemployment, which a UN report estimates at 22.2 per cent.

Every other day, Kenyans are treated to unending political drama characterised by outbursts, allegations and counter-allegations – some of them as grave as alleged assassination plots – that point to widening rifts within the Executive.

Similarly, our lawmakers are bitterly divided over the 2022 succession game plan but predictably united in their push for higher perks, despite the fact that the Government is under immense pressure from key multilateral partners such as the World Bank to tame spending and curtail debt.

These are clear signs that the unity of purpose needed to drive President Uhuru Kenyatta’s development agenda is under threat. Indeed, nothing is more debated in this country than who should lead. A progressive society should be more concerned about where it is going rather than who is leading it.

Against this backdrop, it is becoming increasingly difficult for businesses to commit to long-term capital intensive projects. This is not good for the economy.

Sectors that create sustainable jobs such as manufacturing or agriculture, which the UN estimates is 3.2 times more effective than other sectors in reducing poverty in developing countries, require long-term capital investments.

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In my more than two decades’ experience as a businessman, I have never seen any serious investor commit long-term capital without reliable forecasts of at least five years.

However, the current political landscape, where personalities are more sacrosanct than institutions, policies and even the Constitution, makes it acutely difficult to forecast for five years, let alone two or three.

Businesses, therefore, need to strongly voice their concerns about the current political environment. Importantly, politicians and policy makers need to listen.

Some people believe that business and politics should never mix. I, however, believe that businesspeople and politicians can and should work together, provided there are proper checks and balances.

We don’t want businesses to grow on the sole basis of political connections  as this destroys the concept of the free market where price and quality are the key guarantors of success.

On the other hand, we don’t want politicians to peddle the interests of boardrooms at the expense of the electorate as they are elected by voters and not investors.

What we do want and need is a political class that understands that businesses, especially SMEs, are the engine of the economy. If this were the case today, key agendas such as the fight against graft, privatisation of ailing State parastatals, the Big Four and reducing unemployment, among others, would get the full support of the entire political leadership and not just a section of leaders.

Success in these areas will create the right environment for businesses to thrive and create jobs. Politicians therefore need to foster unity and rally behind the country’s development goals. As a first step, the politics of who should lead, which is divisive by design, needs to be replaced by the politics of where we should go, which will unite all Kenyans behind a national vision.

Unlock opportunities

We need visionary leaders who can channel their energies and resources towards research, policies and programmes that unlock opportunities for private sector to grow and create jobs.

Sustainable jobs that offer competitive pay, skills and technology transfer is what will free Kenyans from poverty; not hand outs, empty promises or juvenile jingles and slogans that have become the staple of Kenyan politics.

Visionary political leadership is what makes the difference between a rich country and a poor country; a country with innovative industries or one that has to go cap in hand begging for funds from richer countries.

It is noteworthy that the microchip revolution and the Internet, two innovations that have fundamentally changed the world and helped create successful companies in the mold of Apple, Google, Microsoft and Oracle among other tech companies, were made possible in part by US government research in the 1960s and 1970s. Government support, which is only possible if there is visionary leadership, unlocks private sector’s potential.

We need to hit the reset button in our politics. Unity, development and visionary ideals need to be at the centre of political debate, not personalities, because there are about 50 million Kenyans who are just as deserving as the few who inundate our papers, TV and social media every day.

Mr Kittony is an internationally recognised business leader. [email protected]

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KittonyPresident Uhuru Kenyatta2022 successionConstitutionDeputy President William Ruto