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The best leaders listen to ‘noisemakers’

By By KIPKOECH TANUI | January 31st 2014


I hope for President Uhuru Kenyatta’s sake that what I will say about the controversial Standard Gauge Railway – to be funded and built by China – isn't noise. No, your subjects, those who voted for or against you, don't have to agree with you on everything, Mr President, and when they don't, please listen to the reasons they give.

Don't just call them noisemakers because on the one hand, if everyone agrees with you on everything then you are leading a nation of dunderheads. If they question your actions, then they are a critical mass, and you can only prove them wrong by facts, and not insults – like calling some of them 'brokers'. Unless the implication was that one side of the brokers lost, and another won, and so the loser in the tussle of ‘brokers’ should shut up!

But even then, if everything was done on the table, why should you lose your temper? We shall come back shortly to one unsettling fact we must dispense with; that the deal was already in the pipeline when you took over power, and you only enhanced the pace of growth to help Kenyans eat of the fruits in good time.

In your own mathematics, if done well, the line could see us achieve the dream of Vision 2030 10 years earlier than programmed. Which means the SGR will take us to the level of middle-income states by 2020; that is in just about six years! If this is not laughable then surely nothing is.

Readers, you can vilify and insult me, but in a country where some hungry citizens today are said to be eating dogs, this is like saying Kenya will next week send a shuttle to the moon, forget Mars, by next payday! I mean we haven’t even pulled off the Laptop for Schools, we are still mumbling about what devolution should be, and even the President appeared confused by the figures and kept turning back to his Cabinet and principal secretaries, and we claim the Chinese and SGR are the doorway to the club of wealthy nations!

Mr President, if your subjects, mainly those who have expressed reservations over this single-sourced project, count for nothing, at least it is their taxes that will fund the railway because we know the Chinese, and other donors, give nothing for free. That is why you should be suspicious when, by your own admission, and with a tinge of pride, you say that Kenya got away with 20 per cent of China's budget for Africa.

The question we should be asking is: Why this generosity? As the old adage goes, there is nothing like free lunch! We are talking about loans here, and we know all banks give you the umbrella but when it rains they recall it. In other words, we all smile while leaving the banking hall, but once the installments start, we cringe, no matter how fanciful or feasible the idea for which we borrowed the money looked. Have we even factored in risks of political turbulence in the region?

Yes, Mr President, don’t just call your doubtful subjects "noisemakers" for they may turn out to be the ones you should have listened to most. And don’t invite them to come to you with evidence for that smacks of executive arrogance. Who does not know that you can’t be reached, and access to you, as with other African leaders, is through a coterie of friends who can’t be accessed by ordinary mortals in the first place?

And anyway, who has better machinery to do due diligence than yourself? How can a President expect ordinary mortals to gather evidence on this unsettling and suspicious dalliance with the Chinese? Kenyans, those you like and those you don’t, will always raise issues. But it is your constitutional mandate to listen to them, and act on their fears.

As far as we know, there is nothing illegal or treasonable in questioning your actions; in fact, criticism will make you a better leader.

There are several reasons to say so. First is what you call government-to-government tender. If we were so fixated on this arrangement, then why did we not widen the scope of governments to approach so we could get the best deal? Second, in your own words, the bank financing this project, said to have been blacklisted by World Bank, is highly credible. But when asked how you were convinced, you said the China government chose it and it can only have been the best because that IS her project. Even a livestock breeder, however skinny his bull is, knows that to get the best offer, you must take it to a public auction!

Third, to your answer that Jubilee found this project in the pipeline, I would remind you of that skunk whose fragrance will surely follow your predecessor, Mzee Kibaki, to the grave – the Anglo Leasing mega-millions twin scandals!

This is what John Githongo was to say about it: "Kanu handed Narc a skunk and they took it home as a gift and now have to live with its disturbing fragrance!" Fourth, I sensed you were almost suggesting that if this project were to go bad, we should also blame those in Government in 2006, when it was mooted.  Yes, you seem not to be 100 per cent sure all will go well and may have started opening the door slightly for blame-sharing, with the target being your only perennial political enemy.

Also, you were categorical the project is on, and clearly showed no room for the current investigations by Parliament. If this wasn’t meant to intimidate the MPs probing this deal, then you were actually implying that regardless of their findings, and all the noise around, you would push on.

By the way, many wonder,what was so hard in giving the taxpayers the actual breakdown of the costs of this SGR? How I wish you had let your juniors make this kind of draconian decree for you, because you would still have an exit door, but now you have firmly locked it.  By doing this, you will have actually owned the project and taken it to your house. If it bears a disturbing fragrance, then you have to live with it, my brother, for we all choose the bed to sleep in!

Finally, good intentions have often ruined careers of world leaders, but just for a moment imagine if there was worm hidden inside the good-looking and succulent fruit being dangled before your face.

Mr President, I addressed you because it is you who holds sway in this Government and has the most to lose if this project boomerangs on us. But if it pulls through; please accept my felicitations in advance.

Mind you, Sir, no one has said we don’t need the modernised line; the concern is over the execution and specifications!

The writer is Managing Editor of The Counties.

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