Today's Paper

Economic truth in standoff between envoys and NASA

By XN Iraki | Published Tue, February 20th 2018 at 00:00, Updated February 20th 2018 at 07:34 GMT +3
President Uhuru Kenyatta

NASA’s response to envoys suggesting that they should recognise President Uhuru Kenyatta as the legitimate head of State and Government before holding talks is worth more analysis.

It was a reaction to a statement available on the American Embassy website dubbed, “Kenya’s Democracy is at a Crossroads.” The NASA leaders put it clearly, that the envoys are after their countries’ economic interests and should ‘leave us’ to sort our issues, read politics.

That language appears close to Uhuruto’s in the run-up to 2013 polls as they tried to disentangle themselves from the jaws of the International Criminal Court. I am neither a politician nor a diplomat but anytime envoys issue statements, they are usually well thought-out and mostly reflect the thinking of their mother countries.

I shall deliberately refuse to be drawn into the politics of dialogue between Jubilee and NASA and focus more on economic interests alluded to by NASA. To some extent, NASA is right in suggesting that envoys are after economic interests.  

“Their only interest is to do business at the behest of their countries. They are not interested in our democracy.” A NASA official is quoted as saying.  

 The envoys are likely to be interested in democracy because it makes it easier to pursue their economic interests. A thriving democracy with the rule of law is better for business. Compare North and South Korea. We must add Kenya is an exception. More of that later.

Since the first ships sailed offshore, countries have always pursued their business and economic interests. The advances in technology from planes to internet have made it easier to pursue such interests.

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In the past, force was used to open up new markets. Lots of wars including the British–China opium wars of 1839-1842 and 1856-1860 were about business and economic interests.

The American war of independence had economic issues and so was Boer wars in South Africa.  We also pursue business interests as individuals, sometimes leading to conflicts even among siblings.

Today, business and economic interest are better pursued through diplomacy.

That is why most embassies have trade attaches or economic counsellors. In fact, Kenya is a leader in this new approach with international trade now a department in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

In 2011, Kenya tried another approach to further her economic and business interests. Former Foreign Affairs PS Thuita Mwangi was quoted as suggesting that trade attaches in our embassies should be replaced with economic counsellors who should be nationals of the countries where the embassy is located.

Such nationals, it was reasoned, understood the local cultures better and speak local languages.  Was that actualised?  There is nothing wrong with any country pursuing its economic or business interests; that is the hallmark of capitalist economies and nowadays even communist countries like China.

One could ask why Eastern envoys from China or Japan, two economic powers have not issued any statement.

One wishes we pursued our business and economic interests beyond the borders with as much energy and motivation as our political interests. Other nations make economic interests the epicentre of foreign affairs. When Americans and other nationalities are in Kenya or elsewhere, they close ranks and forget their political differences. That is why America’s Republic and Democratic parties have no offices in Kenya.

It is not an exaggeration to suggest that we learned or copied a lot from Americans on the political front from setting up offices of governors and senators, but learned or copied little about how they pursue their economic and business.

How did American multinationals end up dominating business in all the corners of the globe and creating lots of jobs at home? The creation of jobs in the US was at the heart of Donald Trump’s successful campaign. Let me demonstrate how Americans have pursued their economic interests as we pursued our political interests.

As Jubilee and NASA or affiliates fought a life and death political battle, other nations were making economic inroads into this country. They know as you do that irrespective of who wins, we shall still consume goods and services.

 In that period, I saw Pizza Hut, Subway, Domino’s Pizza, Burger King and Honeywell around. Hilton Hotel has a new outlet near Kenya’s main airport. Crowne Plaza Hotel, which I first saw in Jackson, Mississippi, is here too. South Africans finally cracked the Kenyan market, particularly in insurance.

Turkish are here, not just selling clothes and carpets but running schools. Brazilians are here with their food. French are here with Peugeot and Carrefour. You can enrich the list.

The better illustration of how countries pursue their business interests is in automobiles. The American cars are back on the Kenyan roads.

I last saw a shell of a Pontiac in Kawangware around 1985. The American cars were also common in Kenya during the colonial era including Ford and Buick (Mbiuki).

With the new constitution, American cars found their way to the counties. Have you seen their Fords and Chevys? 

In the same period Chinese Grandtiger, Foton, Cherry and other models made it to Kenyan roads. All this happened as we fought politically. How many new businesses did Kenyans open in other countries?

Kenya has made it easier for other nations to pursue their economic and business interests here. The truth is that if we don’t pursue our business and economic interests, others will.

There is a good case for NASA and Jubilee to settle their political differences and leave us to pursue business and economic interests locally and abroad.

After all, Jubilee and NASA are tied together by economic and business interests like Siamese twins. Let them deny! 




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