A long time ago, back when things in Kenya worked- you know, taps had running water and those with electricity connections actually had power all of the time and civil servants actually served wananchi- back in those days, Kenya had a housing policy.
Serikali those days actually made plans to build homes for Kenyans, affordable homes too, and some of these can still be seen around the country, in various states of decay and neglect. Somewhere along the line, the government of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta lost interest in building houses.
The response to this was typically Kenyan: we stopped looking to the government for housing, and instead turned to private enterprise. And we did exceedingly well: even as home ownership grew, formal mortgages fell to the single-digit thousands.
Kenyans turned to SACCOs, chama fundraisers, the bank of mum and dad, and similar informal and semi-formal channels to borrow funds for home construction. The only people left buying houses through formal channels were civil servants and bank employees, most of whom had little choice – their employers forced them into making those purchases.
Strangely, though, the government maintained a “Ministry of Housing” all those years. The ministry did exactly nothing other than cost taxpayers billions in upkeep and corrupt office supply tender scandals. The minister in charge was a political appointee whose main role was to find jobs for his relatives and friends, and the position itself was a political reward for the president’s cronies.
Fast forward to today, and we still have a housing ministry that does nothing. They receive allocations from the budget every year, but they have exactly nothing to show for that money. And no surprise: in a country of nearly 50 million people, there are just 25,000 mortgages. That’s about the same as a small town in any European country. Which is not a bad comparison, since Kenya’s formal economy is about the same size as that of a small European city.
The government is out of cash. Chinese loans, a profligate civil service and the usual corruption and wastage in government mean that the Executive is desperate for cash. And so some enterprising civil servant has decided to implement a long-dormant pledge in Uhuru Kenyatta’s election manifesto: the building of 500,000 “affordable new homes” as part of the president’s “Big Four” agenda items.
The catch: serikali has no money of its own, and so a housing levy has been slapped onto every taxpayer. Kenya’s already overtaxed citizens, who are not served at all by any state services save by bribing officials, will need to stump up yet more cash.
Only that, as we know, that cash will simply be squandered by government officials. This government is easily the most corrupt that Kenya has ever had to shoulder. In their confused, semi-detached ramblings, our government officials have told us that they want us to pay them yet more money so they and their greedy relatives can steal it, park it in their European bank accounts.
This is something Kenyans are used to: as a Kenyan government heads towards the end of the president’s second term, they realise that their eating days are coming to an end, and desperation sets in. The housing levy is just another eating channel – tell the president to pay it himself akitaka!