We are headed for interesting times in our search for good governance

Anti-riot police officers keep vigil as youth clear  section of a road that had been barricaded by Azimio la Umoja supporters on July 21, 2023. [Caleb Kingwara, Standard]

As fate would have it, this past week I found myself in the city of Dubai, the capital of the Emirate of Dubai, which is one of the seven emirates that make the United Arab Emirates (UAE). As you approach the immigration desks, it is written on the walls something like ‘We build this city for the World, now we have built it for you’.

The only other time I have been to this part of the world was back in 2016, but on transit. So this week, I got to witness Azimio’s three-day marathon protests from a distance. Thanks to the age of live media streaming and the power of social media, one can access information from literally anywhere almost real time. 

In ordinary times, I would be obligated to write a nice piece on what lessons my motherland can learn from this city. But these are no ordinary times –we are a country on a serious leadership crisis. While the opposition have proved themselves to be irredeemably a reckless lot, the government side clearly lacks foresight, the KK leadership imagines management by public rallies and questionable teary prayers each Sunday is a strategy to sustainable improvement of the people’s socio-economic welfare.

Rohini Nilekani, an Indian writer, author and philanthropist, in one of her greatest quotes says that ‘we cannot be mere consumers of good governance, we must be participants; we must be co-creators. In a similar vein, Emile Lahoud, the 16th president of Lebanon, once said that democracy, good governance and modernity cannot be imported or imposed from outside the country. The long short of it is that Kenya can only be the country that we, the Kenyan people, make it to be.

As would be expected of me in my first voyage to this great city, I took time to understand what oils its peaceful co-existence and tranquility. Reflecting on the sum total of my daily interactions and experience; observations; and the literature available, the genius of the city leads back to the simple writing on the wall towards the immigration desks quoted at start of this article.

Fountain of competitiveness

The statement: “We build this City for the World” signifies not only good foresight, but also a well calculated intent of the leadership of the UAE to turn this city, and by extension the entire Emirates, into one of the greatest countries in the world. “Now we have built it for you” is a sacred invitation to explore, sample and experience the haven of peace and tranquility that they have built not only for themselves, but also for you now.

It requires no stroke of genius to witness the welcoming nature of the city right from the port of entry. Besides the sea of humanity collecting their luggage from the baggage area, it is easy to immediately notice the diversity of the human race that calls this city their home. People from all corners of the world have found a place to work, do business, find happiness and live in harmony despite the lack of prio-natural endowment and harsh climatic conditions.

It is evident from this city that the development of any nation and improvement of the socio-economic welfare of the society is first and foremost a factor of the quality of her national leaders. Equally true, a society can only beget the leaders it deserves, especially in a democracy where universal suffrage is the primary criteria of entry into public leadership.

Contrary to popular belief, this is not a country that has been built out of the wealth of oil endowment. At present, oil income accounts for a paltry one per cent of her Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The only trace of her growth to oil dates back to 1966, when it was first discovered off-shore. As a result, the city’s population grew by about 300 per cent from 1966-1975, from a desert fishing village.

However, the Emirate of Dubai was not the only country in the Middle East to discover oil. Many other countries in this region have huge oil deposits and are not as wealthy. This calls for a deeper exploration into the secrets of her competitiveness. As it turns out, this country’s primary competitive advantage lies in her trade. Trade is at the core of Dubai, driven by her visionary leadership, efficient and very fluid management and her reputation with creditors. While the financial markets are more regulated now, they have been robust and open throughout her history.

As a consequence, the population of the city has grown by 569 per cent over the past 30 years, mostly driven by immigrants looking for economic opportunities and advancements of their social welfare. Tourism dollars have come in as a natural consequence of her success as a trading hub.

Rajnadhini Roychoudhory, in an article on 15th December 2021 at www.kidadl.com on the incredible revolution of Dubai, points that this is among the most unique cities in the world. Its Neo-futuristic architecture and technologies, alongside some of the world’s largest shopping malls and tallest skyscrapers fuel her growth into stardom.

The city’s future is cast on pure innovation; sci-fi-inspired technologies, autonomous flying taxis, robotic police forces and tram drivers have been interwoven into the city’s lifestyle. Land reclamation that involves dredging sand from the Persian and Arabian Gulf floors, that are then shaped into entire islands with the help of GPS technology have redefined the geographic appearance of this city in the past 15 years.

Concrete slabs drilled into the bedrock of the land for the man-made Islands, and concrete slabs securely placed on the sand for the low raising buildings define the skillful engineering ventures of her human capital.

On the Cross

As we reflect on the geneity behind Dubai, our motherland was in the grip of three days running battles between the police and protesters left on the loose by the Azimio leadership that called them into the streets. Business and work in the capital city and many other main towns was brought to a standstill for almost the entire 72 hours.

While it is true that the KK administration squandered their best moment to demonstrate believable capability to salvage the country’s socio-economic welfare, am yet to come across any tangible alternative ideas that Azimio has put on the table. Am not sure how valid a clip that has widely been circulating on social media is, but our neighbours to the South, Tanzania, seem to be reaping big from the influx of foreign investment.

This is attributable to the ‘fire in Kenya’, her biggest competitor for Foreign Direct Investments in the region. Besides, the African Uncensured, associated with award winning investigative journalist, John-Allan Namu, is currently publishing a series on exposés on how the nation drove itself into a debt crisis.

Externally, FitchRatings revised the country’s Long-term Foreign-Currency issuer default Rating (IDR) to negative from stable and affirmed the IDR at ‘B’. Key factors for the negative revision includes expected pressure on sovereign external debt servicing, expected to rise sharply to US$4.3 billion in 2024 against unfavourable external market conditions, narrow revenue base and domestic social unrest. 

In the end, the future promises both difficult and interesting days ahead. Probably, it is about time to retreat to the mountain of the gods to find the finest son or daughter of the land, who can offer alternative and credible leadership outside the current crop of political cons!