We often judge our leaders by short term criteria. How much money do we have in our pockets? How much food do we have on our plates?
In fact, I’ve always found a real and direct contradiction between the representative politics of our democracy, and the long-term effectiveness of economic policy. Don’t get me wrong, since 1991 our democracy has struggled to find perfection (and it is still struggling). And don’t get me wrong, our democracy and freedoms are blessings we should never complain about. But there is without a doubt a contradiction between smart economic policies, which take decades to be truly effective, and the short term needs of a politician; to keep their jobs and get re-elected!
We’ve seen politicians from East to West get stuck in the perils of populism. We’re still in the midst of trade wars between the two most powerful nations on the planet; completely ignoring benefits of cooperation, mired in the dangers of economic nationalism. Yet there is another way. There is such a thing as sensible medium term policy which ensures stable advance of a country, while laying the groundwork for sustainble long term prosperity.
One particular area which combines both short to medium team wins with the long term growth and development of a nation is infrastructure. It is neither sexy nor immediate; but it is crucial. Indeed, it is an area in which President Kenyatta and his team deserve praise.
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His Big Four agenda is ambitious. Many believe it to be too ambitious. But without secure and efficient transport routes, the provision of energy, electricity, water and the flow of information, Kenya would be stuck. It is the ambition which is driving us on. Developing this infrastructure is providing the platform for Kenya to leap forward. It is also connecting a nation.
When the President declares that every Kenyan will have access to electricity by the end of 2022, many thought he was crazy. But we are racing towards achieving this goal. During the state of the nation address, you could almost see the smile on his face when he told us that the “installed capacity has increased from 1,768 MW in March, 2013 to the current 2,712 MW, with Lake Turkana Wind, Ngong Wind and Garissa Solar Power Plants joining the grid within the last year.”
Connectivity is the word. It is short term, it is medium term, it is long term. It is both populist and sensible; connectivity in terms of energy and transport.
Thousands of kilometres of roads are being built across the country. When ODM leader Raila Odinga and President Uhuru Kenyatta shook hands and declared to build bridges; many thought it would be metaphorical. But today we are seeing the fruits of these initiatives in bitumen and bricks, as development efforts have been stepped up, from Kisumu to Meru, from Mombasa to Mount Kenya.
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Roads and rail move people. They move goods. But they also connect people; breaking down age-old tribal barriers. By now, we’ve all heard about our president’s pan African goals. These are not just lofty words, or legacy driven speeches. They are finding their physical expression in both diplomatic gains and transport network expansion.
The SGR is being discussed worldwide (for both the right and wrong reasons). And while costs and construction inevitably have negative immediate effects, the long-term impact on the entire region should not be underestimated. The road and rail network being developed under Kenyatta will be remembered for generations. They make up the veins of Kenya. They are the beginnings of the arteries of Africa.
Kenyatta should therefore continue to call on the region’s leaders to come together. To join forces in developing and connecting these lands. Through trade and transport, Kenya has already become a powerhouse; a respected economic and diplomatic force in the international community. We have already shown what can be achieved when we act as a nation and not merely a collection of tribes. Just think what we can do when we act as a continent?
- The writer is Samburu East MP