Propagandists twisting Rigathi Gachagua's words to gain political mileage

Mathira MP and Kenya Kwanza Alliance running mate Rigathi Gachagua speaks during a past event. [Mose Sammy, Standard]

By now, it is obvious to all and sundry that Kenya is in economic doldrums. With most metrics of development pointing south, it is natural that the economy of the country should occupy centre-stage of this year’s national election campaigns.

Should they win the presidency, Azimio la Umoja, led by the indefatigable Raila Odinga, have pledged to put at least two million households on the dole. Kenya Kwanza, led by William Ruto, have proposed the bottom-up economic model to uplift the indigent from a life of penury.

Election campaigns having kicked off officially. All political formations are now going all out to outdo each other. It is not unusual for their supporters to engage in rumours, innuendo, and outright embellishments to discredit adversaries. In fact, this year’s campaigns appear to be hinged, not on cogent rationale, but on propaganda wars aimed at discrediting rivals.

Unfortunately, in the din of the loudest, the voices of those espousing sound policies are lost. Their sound bites are drowned by the surfeit of disinformation specialists. Take for instance, Kenya Kwanza’s Deputy President nominee Rigathi Gachagua’s recent radio pronouncements. Goebbelists have accused him of calling for the “killing” of blue-chip companies like mobile operator Safaricom.

Mathira MP and Kenya Kwanza Alliance running mate Rigathi Gachagua speaks during a past event. [Mose Sammy, Standard]

Nothing could be further from the truth! If anything, it is a typical case of what American poet Emily Dickinson described as “telling all the truth but telling it slant.” In fact, emotive words like “kill” have been introduced by those who purport to give an accurate translation of Rigathi’s remarks on vernacular radio. The slant denigrates an important national conversation and tries to reduce an attempt at redressing an existential crisis into a political farce.

Yet to listen to Rigathi, one gets the impression that he is acutely aware of the reduced circumstances of the vast preponderance of Kenyans. With high inflation, stagnating incomes and shrinking employment opportunities, he correctly calls for an empowerment of households by broadening the informal sector of the economy.

As much as it is important to invest in the formal sector, the informal one, popularly referred to as the jua kali sector, really is the low-hanging fruit that should be the focus of any administration interested in bettering the plight of the indigent. A number of reasons inform this thinking.

First off, the jua kali sector is the largest employer of Kenyans. It is the lifeline of the economy absorbing up to 90 per cent of the workforce. It is also a driver of employment generation with 768 thousand new jobs created in the year preceding the Covid-19 pandemic against 78.4 thousand jobs created in the formal sector.

Second, informal businesses have become the main labour market entry for young Kenyans. According to Statista, a database company based in Germany, as of 2019, individuals aged 18-34 years formed the majority of employees in informal enterprises in the country with a nearly equal proportion between men and women.

Third, barriers to entry into the formal sector are so onerous that they preclude start-ups from joining. For example, anyone who wants to set up a supermarket along the lines of industry big players must contend with at least 20 licences and fees when starting.

Mathira MP and Kenya Kwanza Alliance running mate Rigathi Gachagua speaks during a past event. [Mose Sammy, Standard]

Some of these include catering levy fees, liquor licences, trade licences, National Industial Training Authority training for employees, fisheries licences, building insurance, weights and measures licences, fire licences, health licences, Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) licences, among others. KEBS charges to repackage an already KEBS certified product.

For instance, sugar that has already been certified when bought in bulk still needs further certification if it is to be broken down and distributed across the “kadogo economy" units affordable to those in informal settlements.

Less than 80 days to the elections, it is not too much to ask politicians to focus on issue-driven campaigns.  Disparaging opponents through slants and disinformation is not a recipe for a healthy democracy committed to equity and basic rights. The solution lies in a deceptively simple fix; it is the economy, stupid!

Mr Khafafa public policy analyst