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Why political dialogue is central to the economy

By Phyllis Wakiaga | Jul 31st 2017 | 4 min read

Every election cycle is a chance for us to evaluate our democratic and political maturity. One of the ways we do this is by creating public platforms of civic engagement through which dialogue between aspirants and the electorate can be held. The nation-wide governor debates organised by the business community led by the Kenya Association of Manufacturers are an example of such platforms.

Do the leaders have a vision? And what is it anchored on? As the citizens and taxpayers who create jobs and sustain the economy, we ought to dive deep into their manifestos and promises beyond the general utterances made at rallies. These debates are very central to the reconstruction of our idea of political leadership, because they advance accountability as the true measure of effective governance.

Since devolution transformed our relationship with national politics by localising policies, regulations and the national agenda, it meant that county leaders became very central to the realisation of the country's political and economic growth. Additionally, it brought us closer to the workings of Government, especially with regard to the distribution of resources.

More citizens are becoming actively involved in demanding change, transparency, better governance and socio-economic advancement. This feedback, along with progressive ideas and opinions, are aired during these debates in order to shape prospective governments into delivering for their constituents.

These debates are not just about accountability but accessibility as well. Trust is earned when the citizens can talk to their leaders.

Business community

In counties where these debates have run successfully - Nairobi, Nakuru and Kisumu - the business community interrogated potential governors' manifestos and development agenda, and more importantly, offered their partnership to develop these counties into investor-attractive destinations.

Other than outlining the pain-points of industry, the business community has offered solutions and brainstormed with the leaders how to make the next five years impactful through job creation, increased business development and growth. This will translate into revenue for county governments for building infrastructure, investing in physical planning, and providing quality and affordable healthcare and sanitation services among other basic amenities.

For a country that is touted as East Africa's economic giant, whose capital has been recognised as the most intelligent city in Africa by the Intelligent Community Forum, our politics cannot be stuck in a time-warp circa 1970. The gaps in governance are currently quite conspicuous, especially in the challenges experienced in issues such as an unpredictable business environment, multiple charges and levies, waste collection, security, water and sanitation among others.

These illustrate the costly damage that results from a disconnect between leaders and stakeholders. 

Achieving economic sustainability and social development for societies means centralising engagement with stakeholders. As a leader, one's understanding of development and progress must be in sync with the constituents' understanding of the same.

The 10-point priority agenda driven through all these governor debates, for instance, laid out the low-hanging fruits to achieve the above, demonstrating their tangibility. One of the priorities was to make industry competitive through developing a co-ordinated value chain approach – finding ways to facilitate collaboration between formal and informal industry along value chains.

Ripple effect

This approach has a ripple effect as it promises to expand the value chain, thereby creating more productive jobs for those in the county and also elevating local businesses to a position that enables them to trade effectively and successfully with their regional counterparts.

It also ties into the endeavour to promote local products, first to the local market and then countrywide, and eventually to regional and international markets. Moreover, in creating this link between the formal and informal industries, we widen the tax base to ensure that the local government has a revenue stream.

Governors, as the chief executives of the counties, play a critical role in ensuring that they come up with sound policies that are geared towards economic development.

Vision 2030 goals will be attained through the counties, and the business community through these debates has shown a willingness to partner with in-coming governors to make this happen. Establishing a mutually beneficial take-off point means that the governments can rely on the business community to provide solutions and apply their expertise towards social development.

Our political culture should therefore start tending towards active engagement, dialogue, accessibility and issue-based politics if Kenya is to attain Vision 2030 and remain a force to reckon with in the region. 

Ms Wakiaga is the Chief Executive Officer of the Kenya Association of Manufacturers and the UN Global Compact Representative for Kenya. [email protected]

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