One of the great editorial cartoons from Maddo of Saturday Standard’s “It’s a Madd, Madd World” actually featured in a different publication a little over 30 years, or a generation ago.
Those were the early “multi-party” days of political pluralism and Kenya’s so-called “Second Liberation”.
The magazine was called Society; a “political” publication that you bought quietly and read quickly.
Kenya’s 1992 multi-party election was approaching, and the country was in a state of funk between despair and hope.
Unlike the other political “glossies” of the time, Society’s cover page was headlined around a cartoon, not a politician’s mug shot. Imagine, then, a country bus (probably of Leyland origin, not these modern juggernauts we use for upcountry travel) is hurtling down a steep slope.
One of the wheels looks like it’s rolled free of the bus, while the passenger body – which is packed with people – is loosely connected to the chassis (the cartoon is drawn in 3-D profile).
The bus driver is standing (as was the style then when these chaps got excited). He has a firm hold of a steering wheel that is not connected to the steering column that should direct the wheels (forget axles for now!).
Cue some streaky strokes from the artist to tell us this bus is moving at high speed. What of the characters? Moi is at the wheel.
A couple of KANU big wigs (Saitoti, Kamotho, maybe Biwott) are standing around him; their faces staring forward with determination.
There might be someone trying to grab back that loose wheel, and those YK92 chaps are probably somewhere in the bus too.
It is a memory that comes back to me in 2022. Yes, we were 24 million then; so we are more than twice as many today but we’re still in Kenya, and Kenya will exist after August.
While we love political cliffhangers, we never – as that cartoon humorously suggested –go over the cliff, even in 2007. We may be dismayed by our unhygienic politics, but we cannot get enough of its drama.
This drama supersedes everything. Take the past fortnight. No fuel? Noise for a couple of days! SIM re-registration? It will pass by Easter!
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Were these useful diversions? Who is talking about the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI)? How much attention did we pay to the 2022/23 Budget reading, and what it portends for the next 12 to 16 months? Forget all that, it’s the drama that counts.
This past weekend, our two-horse race was formalised with the filing of coalition paperwork at the Office of the Registrar for Political Parties (ORPP).
Party membership lists were also filed in time for cross-checks against SIM registration. Remember these numbers: to ORPP we have 24 million party members, yet IEBC says we are 22 million voters.
There is also the matter of party candidate nominations for the many electoral seats outside the Presidency.
Our TV talking heads tell us “boardroom” nomination equals “direct” nomination. In truth, boardroom nominations are “indirect” in the revamped Political Parties Act.
A direct nomination requires voting by real card-carrying party members, which might be a problem today if membership lists are the result of bots creating bits and bytes (SIM registration, again?).
On the other hand, nomination by “delegates” – the second form of indirect nomination allowed by the Act – invites itself to the sort of “Men in Black’ scenarios made famous by the Orange Democratic Party.
The long and short of this is that party candidatures by the most predictable method – the boardroom - are up for sale. This is the fun and games that are occupying and will occupy, all of April.
By this zero-sum schema, losing bidders must go independent, since briefcase parties are no longer available.
Welcome to our transactional politics - no money; no ballot box. Meanwhile, the cost of living continues to rise for Kenyans; jobs are getting hard to come by, and drought has hit a third of the country.
In this transactional politics, everybody “must be in government” as the art of government that is politics (who gets to do what) rather than the science of government that is governance (the doing of the what).
Some are predicting a “handshake” after the August election. To our politicians, “if you’re not seated at the table, you are part of the menu”. More crudely, our politicians only rest (retire) when they rest (die).
In this land of retail politicians, where is the “Governator”? – the disciplined, innovative governance and rule of law leader we need after the three securocrats and one econocrat.
Heading to August, should we expand these utopian thoughts to the positions taken and platforms offered by our election coalitions?
Recall Eleanor Roosevelt’s words “great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people” and think – which one is Azimio or Kenya Kwanza?
Tools of governance
This brings us back to the things we forget so quickly. In BBI and Budget 2022, we have themes taking us to our two key tools of governance – the constitution and the budget.
Let us briefly reflect on the past fortnight. On the Supreme Court BBI decision, many asked whether or not the reggae is alive.
Here is a layman’s literal reading of the decision. The basic structure doctrine is not (yet) Kenyan, but Kenya’s constitution has a basic structure.
You must be an ordinary citizen to become President; but when you become President, you are no longer an ordinary citizen, which is why you cannot be sued while in office.
IEBC had a quorum under the Constitution, though it was not quorate under its own law.
The 70 new constituencies were a last-minute addition to a constitutional amendment bill that may or may not have undergone public participation, which IEBC was not obliged to confirm.
Oh, and the choice about single or multiple choice was neither ripe nor ready for choosing!
We will return to this subject, but suffice it to say that this was a humdrum conclusion to a four-year effort spanning an initial handshake around nine issues, a Task Force that gave us 103 recommendations, 128 proposals and sub-proposals, 167 possible solutions and 365 key actions to fix Kenya.
A Steering Committee translated all of this into 74 constitutional amendments, 12 pieces of legislation, 12 policy framework suggestions, and 38 administrative “super actions” comprising 163 administrative tasks.
The irony here is that BBI – through policy, law and administrative action - gave us proposals to better implement a Constitution that it was also determined to substantially change!
Then there was Budget 2022. Let’s remember the new rules. Treasury crafts and collates the budget, but Parliament (National Assembly) makes the budget. It doesn’t quite work like that in practice, though.
Where were the Printed Line Item and Programme-Based Budget Estimates and Finance Bill as publicly available documents by the time the Budget Statement was read?
How will Parliament approve a spending plan before it considers revenue-raising proposals, or is this part of the fait accompli trickery of yore?
Old habits die hard, and the lack of documentation earlier on harked back to the old KANU days.
As with BBI (and the constitution), we will return to Budget 2022 (and the budget) tomorrow, but outside the detail already covered by the press here are two quick observations on our budget-making.
First, in its report on the earlier Budget Policy Statement (which sets out the actual budget framework), the Budget and Appropriations Committee demanded of the National Treasury, among other things, complete status reports on the Big Four Agenda and Credit Guarantee Scheme, an audit report on Police Housing, an evaluation of Cash Transfer Programmes and an exit report on the Medical Equipment Scheme. Add on a demand for a 2022/23 budget allocation to some “One Village One Product” initiative.
As far as one can tell, what we now have is fresh allocations where reports were required and no allocations where Parliament demanded. Enough said.
The second is the quantum of the budget. Although the media spoke to a Sh3.3 trillion budget, the gross budget we are looking at for 2022/23 is actually Sh4 trillion.
It’s just that government is in full Fuliza-like mode - rolling over and refinancing Sh700 billion in debt redemptions next year.
Now, if we heroically assume that Sh2.4 trillion will be collected in revenue, where would this go without new debt?
If we prioritise national government (Sh2.1 trillion) that leaves Sh300 billion for everything else, including counties and debt interest.
But total debt service – a first constitutional call on the national purse – needs Sh1.4 trillion, which means what remains from revenue (Sh1 trillion) doesn’t cover the national government’s recurrent costs (Sh1.3 trillion), before development spending and any money to counties!
Think about this in the context of a debt management strategy that will now focus on domestic borrowing, which we often forget is commercial borrowing. There will be much pain before gain.
Think again about that bus hurtling down the hill, about why politics matters where governance does not.
Watch this space tomorrow!
This is a first part series of BBI and the Budget
Kabaara is a management consultant