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Ours is an economy run on handouts

By | November 12th 2009

Even for the greatest optimist in town, it will be a while before this cocktail of a Government makes out what its priorities really are.


Sometimes, it is difficult condemning an entity already destroyed beyond redemption, but if truth should be our ally, this Government is a case study in the anatomy of failure.

It is like the leadership has taken a vow to remain uneducated on simple things. They can’t learn, won’t learn.


They smart from one failure to another, ignoring what should otherwise serve as enduring lessons from their silly mistakes. Late last year, at the height of soaring food prices, the Government announced two sets of prices for maize flour – Sh52 per two-kilogramme packet for rural folk and Sh72 per two-kilogramme packet for the urban areas.


Three mistakes: First, how do you fence off the rich from buying rations meant for the poor in both areas? Secondly, how do you stop the urban poor from going into villages to buy the cheap flour?


And finally, what informs this petty thinking that rural poverty is more vicious? These are questions that will remain unanswered, perhaps forever, but they sure must inform future policy moves.


Then came Kazi kwa Vijana, a project that sought to engage over 300,000 youth across the country in menial jobs for a plate of soup.


This project, fashioned alongside the Keynesian economics that pegged prosperity and consumer spending during the 1930s Great Depression, to paying a million workers to dig trenches and another million to fill them back in, was doomed to fail from the start.

Although a tidy sum of Sh6.6 billion had been tied to the project that seemed to be working well in its first phase, Government indecision on what constituted priority areas poisoned the initiative from the heart.


While President Kibaki promised to commit an additional Sh7.2 billion to projects under the initiative, Treasury had a different idea, allocating the said amount to unspecified ‘priority areas.’

But the death of Kazi kwa Vijana had more causes to it than a divided Government pulling in different directions. Some MPs were raising questions about the manner in which the money was being spent. And as it turns out, the initiative was just another bottomless hole in which close to Sh5.6 billion is said to have been sunk without a trace.


But the all-too-typical threat to this kitty was the scheming dinosaurs perched at the helm of ministries, who saw another opportunity to perk up the budgets they run instead of working to deliver millions of youth from the abyss of poverty.   


And so, even as the Government launches Saidia Jamii, another poorly conceived welfare initiative that will see Government spend Sh600 million to the urban poor in a pilot project, there are questions as to what this economics of handouts can achieve.


Far from Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s assertion that Sh1,500 per month per person in Mathare, Korogocho, Mukuru and Kibera slums will fight household poverty, institutionalising a culture of handouts is more enslaving and less empowering.


This fraudulent thinking behind this initiative assumes that Kenya is but a bunch of lazy bums, who, except for the power of their loins, cannot make anything meaningful out of life for themselves. On the contrary, I have heard it said before by people who know one or two things about the price of labour, that there is no stronger horse than a Kenyan at work – always investing the last brow of their souls in tasks that fetch a pittance.


To the architects of these stillborn initiatives, Kenyans are not so much as keen about running a welfare State as they are about rewarding enterprise.


And to those who have invested every passion in their breasts in these failed projects, Professor Friedrich von Hayek, in his economics book, The Road to Serfdom, sums it thus, “Good intentions are not sufficient to secure good results.”


In fact, harping on innocent motives, so argues Hayek, is as dangerous as having the heart in the right place but pumping too fast.

Like chess, every winning move follows less emotion and more logic. Will our leaders stop and think?

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