We need leadership that inspires hope to weather this economic storm

A farmer sorts out dead sheep as a result of the current drought. [Courtesy]

When Robert H Schuller published his classic Tough Times Never Last, But Tough People Do! he must have had a time like this in mind, albeit the context here is Kenya in 2023. Indeed, he wrote the book after a severe and prolonged recession between January 1980 and November 1982 in the US.

Packaged within his Possibility Thinking philosophy, the phraseology brought about a ray of hope across American public life in the early 1980s. The consequences of the recession were reminiscent of the Great Depression of the 1930s, with company after company declaring bankruptcy daily.

To make matters worse, a severe drought in the states of Iowa, Michigan, Illinois and Minnesota wiped out any hope left for farmers in that food production belt. With it went also a critical food basket for a majority of American households as of then.

Given those circumstances, somebody needed to preach hope to soothe the troubled souls of corporate honchos in New York as well as those of battle-hardened farmers across rural America.

Tough year ahead

Nearer home, I honestly thought by now the government would be settled into the business of rebuilding the broken walls of the economy. But in yet another unprecedented move by a top National Treasury official, the Cabinet Secretary warned Kenyans to prepare for a tough 2023.

He said this while launching the 2023/24 medium-term budget process this week. According to his sentiments, they have analysed all possible indicators and none of them looks good.

In other news, it is expected that the government will abandon any remaining subsidies within the energy sector by the close of January/February. In Naivasha, investors and businesses in the hospitality industry cried out to the government to reconsider some of its recent policy stances in order to salvage what is left of their sinking enterprises.

For middle-class folks, the reinstatement of mobile money charges, duties on financial transactions and an increase in capital gain taxes from five to 15 per cent cannot have come at a worse time. At the time of writing this article, the Kenya Revenue Authority was threatening to snoop at our mobile money transactions for more taxes.

Inflation in December peaked at 9.1 per cent as a testimony of how bad things have become for households and enterprises. With the sustained calls to tighten the austerity measures in the name of empty coffers, one can only imagine what is going through the minds of folks and investors in key strategic areas and sectors of the economy.

While folks struggle to make sense of all this chaos, elected officials and their appointees have continued with their lamentations unabated.

Assuming the role of the devil's advocate, anyone who cared to track the Jubileenomics clearly knew the public coffers were empty long before the election night. Any serious presidential and by extension governor candidates ought to have known that.

Those running for legislative positions would have had a clear picture of what their constituents were going through in a civilised society like ours.

The question now is: Yes, the Kenya-Kwanza administration took over empty purses –so what?

Isn’t that the very reason why they were elected? How do continued lamentations to the public help find a solution to the challenges facing households and enterprises across the country? Is it not basic common sense for any responsible government to get into the urgent business of re-setting the economy to return a sense of social-economic order and dignity to their voters?

Institution of Treasury

Not by accident, the Constitution has set the National Treasury and the office the CS Treasury, as strategic public institutions for a reason. In fact, this is the only department that is exclusively established by the Constitution at both the national and the county levels.

Other ministerial departments are left to the discretion of the president at the national level and the governor at the county level to determine.

The primary reason for this is because Treasury and its CS convey key sentiments to the economy and the financial markets through their policies. For instance, the call for Kenyans to brace themselves for hard times ahead cannot be taken as any other pedestrian political talk given the source of the comments.

Whether intended or unintended, this is presumed to be key information for investors looking for opportunities from both within and outside the country. Equally true, this information is likely going to significantly influence savings and consumption habits for both middle and high-net-worth individuals.

Unfortunately, the financial markets and consumers tend to take precautions that go beyond the actual impacts of an economic slowdown. That explains why traditionally key drivers and overseers of economic policy must take extreme caution before conveying any negative sentiments to the public.

The markets perceive their messaging as insider information, often interpreted to mean that things are a lot worse than they actually are admitting in public.

Way forward

The fact that Kenyans are a resilient lot is without a doubt. Their ability to recover from domestically instigated political, social and economic shocks is legendary. Truth be told, the shenanigans that we entertain here from the political elites and tribal chiefs could devastate many other societies. But even after moments of madness like the post-election violence in 2007, we have always managed to come together to patch our lives and shared heritage.

During difficult times of drought and famine, like now, Kenyans have always come through to share with the victims despite their own circumstances. This enduring spirit is what Dr Schuller was speaking about four decades ago. It is that same spirit that we must harness and cultivate now to weather this economic storm.  

While this spirit seems to be engraved within the Kenyan DNA, the Kenya Kwanza leaders seem to be on a mission to dampen it by all means. There is nothing that is to be gained by continuously whining and reminding the voters of how they inherited a broke government. By deed of our Constitutional democracy, there is not going to be any other government in office until after the Tuesday of the second week of August 2027.

In the exercise of their universal suffrage powers, the Kenyan people delegated the responsibility of fixing the economy to the Hustler nation leadership. What is left for them are civic obligations to pay their dues to the State, hold those in power to account and go about their economic activities in a conducive environment that rewards merit and entrepreneurship.

For elected officials to keep on bringing the economic demeanors of the previous administration to the courts of public opinion are side shows at best and an admission of their lack of capacity to run the affairs of the State at worst.

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