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No economic model can solve Kenya’s deep-seated problems

By Elias Mokua | September 2nd 2021

The intensifying campaigns for the next year’s General Election are not telling us anything meaningful on why our economy does not sustain every Kenyan in spite of the country boasting relative peace, a relatively high GDP, well paid legislators and Executive, a rich diversity in our tourism and great international reputation, thanks to our patriotic athletes.

The solutions to our economic problems are beyond providing descriptive trickle-down or bottom-up models. Beyond words, the models are unsubstantiated and presented with many hidden assumptions.

For instance, we fight during elections because whoever gets to power controls taxpayers’ money.

The winner and the troops around him arbitrarily decide what resources serve what purposes despite existing laws that govern proper use of public money. How do the economic models presented to date address the grievances behind election violence, which are in part resource-based and to a large extent power-based?

The next government cannot pitch itself around economic prosperity as a cure to our paradoxical wealth and poverty increase. Our capitalistic mentality towards materialism as the basis for national development can only be productive after defining our national identity and how we pull together as a nation.

Imagine a family that was once endowed with financial, material and intellectual resources. It is crumbling. But it is holding on because it is well connected to banks. It can get loans to offset any immediate distresses.

The family intends to rebuild itself. And, everyone in the family talks about having more money so that members, especially children and grandchildren, can improve their wellbeing. However, none of the key members in the family is asking the hard questions: How did we end up where we are – staring at poverty?

Were there leakages in our financial systems? Did we stop thinking and began spending like the prodigal son in the Bible who wasted his resources on self-aggrandizement only to return to his family a beggar? What for did we use our resources and with what outcome?

Kenyans are extremely hard-working capitalists. They wake up at dawn and return after sunset. Some work late into the night to earn a living. Besides, we have a huge wasted resource in the form of educated but unemployed young women and men. These are not merely economic issues. Our election agenda cannot be primarily lack of an economic model for God’s sake. There is something deeper to fix.

The reason for the poor performance of the economy and massive borrowing is down to our value systems. No matter what amount of money one gets, it is the set of values the owner cherishes that determines how it is to be used.

Unlike China or Tanzania where the spirit of nationalism is deeply ingrained in the government systems, providing economic models without foundational values that all Kenyans aspire for will not make significant progressive sense. Either the people at the bottom will be blamed for being lazy and uncooperative or the big fish at the top will ignore the models and continue eating nyama choma.

The candidates for leadership will be more constructive if they put their fingers on why we have turned to borrowing and show why they will not unjustifiably borrow to continue sustaining the economy.

Tribalism, massive corruption, pure pacifying lies in the campaigns, nepotism, egoism and the search for power without values require visionary leadership to overcome.

Any serious candidate cannot ignore that we are a nation ruled by tribal chieftains. We need someone to fire us up with a sincere commitment to a renewed spirit of our national anthem. Someone who can go beyond words to shape a new Kenya where tribe is a blessing.

Dr Mokua is executive director, Loyola Centre for Media and Communications

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