Experts: Why power-sharing politics could safeguard our economy

Since the advent of multi-partism, Kenya’s political duels have been competitive and combative.

But it was from 2005 referendum and the disputed 2007 polls that the fight for presidency among other key plum posts grew fierce and fractious with those who win taking it all while those who lose leaving empty handed

Either way, the economy suffered with the country degenerating back to the election mood even after the polls.

However, the writings on the wall that the winner takes over power with all the trappings that come with it while losers are relegated to political oblivion in a power struggle that has been described as a game of life or death has heighten political temperatures every election cycle, causing jitters to investors and the economy.

This has seen the economic growth slump every election cycle. Unfortunately, this game has always left the country polarised and investors scared.

For a people whose holy grail is stability, the investors’ fears are justified as sometimes the electoral process in Kenya leads to wanton destruction of property and resources, as it happened in 2007 after the disputed polls.

Divisive elections

However, as the country gears up for another bruising election battle on August 8, 2017, key technocrats are worried that the zero-sum-game that is Kenya’s highly divisive elections is threatening the country’s most ambitious project: Vision 2030.

This is  a blue-print that aims to transform Kenya into an industrialised middle-income country in less than 13 years to come.

To join the upper middle income countries such as China, South Africa, Malaysia, and Mauritius countries, Kenya targets a double-digit growth.

But this is almost impossible for a country where investors and Kenyans in general have to hold their breath until all the votes have been counted and the winning presidential candidate sworn  in.

To investors, the electioneering period feels like a million years. Yet, for the country to attain Vision 2030, its economy will have to survive three cliff-hanging elections, including one that is to be conducted in less than 35 days.

So, as various Vision 2030 stakeholders sojourned in a hotel in Naivasha for a two-day retreat to exchange information on this long-term development policy recently, the need to address the politics of brinkmanship which nearly brought this country to its knees ten years ago took centre stage.

The Lamu Port, South Sudan, Ethiopia Transport Corridor (Lapsset) Chairman Francis Muthaura — the cornerstone of Vision 2030, was the first to dig in when he gave the keynote speech, setting the tone for the conversation.

In his address themed, “The Philosophical Basis and Practical Considerations of Developing and Implementing Kenya Vision 2030,” the ambassador took those in the workshop through Kenya’s plan to follow in the footsteps of the Asian tigers of Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and Taiwan.

The Vision’s development strategy is to ensure a long-term sustained GDP growth, Muthaura told the gathering.

Lapsett, which Muthaura chairs, is the cornerstone of this Vision that seeks to open up a huge chunk of hitherto idle northern corridor through massive investments in infrastructural development including the construction of sea-ports, railways and airports.

More than two-thirds of the country, mostly the northern part of Kenya, has for long remained idle.

However, with the completion of Lapsset in 13 years, this ‘abandoned’ land is expected to be a bastion of hope and fresh fortunes with myriad economic activities opening up a new chapter of relations between Kenya and Ethiopia whose contact with Kenya is mainly via air.

Already, Isiolo International Airport is set to start operations in less than two weeks.

This means that miraa, a stimulant whose farming has been the mainstay of many households in Meru and Embu counties, will not need to be dangerously transported for hours to Wilson Airport in Nairobi to be airlifted to such countries as Somalia where it is popular.

Export of miraa will henceforth be done through Isiolo International Airport.

But it is not just the airport that has been concluded under the Sh2.4 trillion Lapsset projects. The road from Isiolo to Moyale has already been completed and a journey that took four days now takes about five hours.

Soon, the road from Isiolo to Lokichar will be constructed opening up the northern corridor, even without the railway that is supposed to be built from Lamu.

In Lamu County, construction of first three berths at the port is ongoing in what is supposed to result into one of the biggest ports region. Construction of the power transmission lines connecting various key points along the corridor have already started.

Financing study

In a press briefing, Muthaura told journalists that a number of development partners had agreed to finance studies and designs of some of the Lapsset projects.

The African Development Bank financing the road designs; United Kingdom’s Department for International Development financing study on planning of Lamu City, which is expected to have a million people when it is complete and the European Union funding the infrastructure study.

Also under Vision 2030 was the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) which is supposed to make it easier for movement of people and goods from the port of Mombasa to other parts of the country — and which proponents estimate will improve the country’s Gross Domestic Product by 1.5 per cent.

Already, phase one of the modern railway from Mombasa to Nairobi has been completed.

There has been an uptick in the economic growth as a result of these measures which were put in place months after the NARC regime came to power.

“Consequently the GDP of the Country has grown from about $12 billion (Sh1.2 trillion) in 2002 to about $63 billion (Sh6.3 trillion) today with a GDP growth rate average over five per cent of the last 10 years.

Kenya has achieved middle level income status much earlier than had been anticipated in the plan,” said Muthaura.

Yet all these, and many others that are yet to come, are being threatened by politics. “Our structure of democracy needs to be modified so that it absorbs our ethnic diversity,” said Muthaura.

“Political dialogue should be continued, included proposals for review of the constitution to organise the country against polarisation of the national politics along ethnic lines. Good lessons learnt from both the Rainbow Coalition and the Grand Coalition could greatly benefit consensus on the review process,” said Muthaura.

He said there is a need to set a benchmark which requires that the winning party garners at least, for example, 70 per cent of the votes, failure to which they should form a coalition Government with the second candidate.

His sentiments were echoed by other policy experts in the meeting including Michael Chege, a distinguished scholar in African development studies.

Prof Chege talked of the need to re-look at our Constitution, particularly the electoral system which has entrenched a winner-takes-all mentality.

Every sector

He gave an example of Mauritius whose population is made up of different racial groups but which ensures that every party gets a seat at the high table.

Other examples, according to Prof Chege, include South Africa, which has had a traumatising history of Apartheid.

Nelson Mandela, realising that the whites had a strangle-hold on almost every sector of the economy, helped craft a system that would ensure that even the whites — though the minority—would be represented in Government.

As a result, the President of South Africa is not elected directly and any party that gets at least five per cent of the votes automatically gets a cabinet position.

“So, those of you working on the political pillar look at this thing carefully,” Chege told the gathering which would see them break into clusters of Political, Economic and Social Pillar as envisaged in Vision 2030.

“We get everything right except in the Presidential elections; we get along very well except in the presidential elections,” said Chege.

Other policy experts, including Dr Bitange Ndemo, a lecturer at the University of Nairobi and a former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information and Communication, agreed that although our liberal Constitution which guaranteed individual rights was exemplary, something had to be done on the electoral provision if we were to save our economy from further ruin.

This is exactly what happened in 2007. The country had maintained a steady growth hitting a high of seven per cent just before the 2007 polls.

However, when the violence broke following a disputed elections results, the country’s GDP plunged to a dismal 0.1 per cent.

Close to 1,300 people lost their lives and property worth billions of shillings was destroyed.

Indeed, it is becoming a  norm that after every five years, the economy seems to go on a sleep mode as investors adopt a wait-and-see approach.

Yet, as Amb Muthaura noted, one of the 12 determinants of the success of a national vision, according to the lessons he and a delegation of about nine eminent personalities got on their visit to Malaysia, is sustained high levels of Gross National Investment rates of not less than 30 per cent.

“Up to now, we are still polarised. Political parties thrive on ethnic lines, and that is not good for national cohesion,” said Muthaura, noting that the Constitution which was promulgated in 2010 has not healed ethnic division.

Already, the Kenyan economy has gone into hibernation. Although the economy is said to have grown by 5.8 per cent last from a revised growth of 5.7 per cent  according to recent  statistics, several key sectors of the economy are stagnant.

They include agriculture, manufacturing, mining and quarrying, construction, human health and social work activities and financial and insurance activities.

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