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Why Vision 2030 or Big 4 should get more airtime than BBI

By XN Iraki | December 13th 2020
Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga during the launch of the collection of signatures for the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) at KICC, Nairobi. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

It is a fact that the proposals in BBI give our political leaders at the national level more choices, from being president to deputy prime ministers.

In the 2010 Constitution, which BBI proposes to amend, they got more choices, they could be governors, senators and women representatives, positions that did not exist before.

If a person landed from outer space, he would think Kenyans are the unruliest people in the universe, they need so many elected officials to look after them.

There are many more un-elected officials who look after us, from provincial administrators to pastors. Curiously, all these officials rarely or never, consult each other. Does a policeman ask you if you had bribed the previous one on the road?

BBI does not seem to admit a simple fact, Kenyans are over-governed. And if BBI goes through, there will be more over governance. For politicians, the more the posts the better, they have more choices including devolving themselves to the counties if politics at the national level is "too hot."

My biggest concern over this governance is that it ignores the fact that we are a community of nations. When did you hear a heated debate about East African Community, African Union, Africa free trade area or WTO? We want to become smaller forgetting the economies of scale.

Governance seems to be our growth industry creating "secure" jobs with lots of perks. Such jobs are easier to create compared with real jobs created by entrepreneurs through sweat.

By paying politicians very well, it has become very attractive to be one, more like winning a lottery. Noted how they have tried to secure their future with pension?

Will the hoi polloi get choices like politicians after BBI? Shall we choose jobs, shall we choose where to live?

We can even be bolder; in countries where people have choices on where to live or work, they have more choices about their lives. They can travel or immigrate to other parts of the country or to other countries. That gives them choices on even who to marry, not a neighbor who knew them when they had a running nose.

Freedom to choose is based on economics. We all have freedom to visit the beach, but we choose not because our finances can’t allow. You have freedom to dine in a 5-star hotel but you choose not to because you can’t afford.  

Choice is one of the key fulcrums on which economics rotate. Almost everyone wants to be rich or affluent; to have more choices in life. Money gives you more choices which makes life more pleasant and more fulfilling, holding other factors constant. 

Will BBI give us choices? We have choices on who to vote as MP, senators and all other reps. Do we have economic choices ourselves because we are not politicians?

When our economic status improves, we get more choices from where to live, shop, worship or even to take our kids to school. If BBI assures us faster economic growth, we shall get more choices.

I would be glad if someone has simulated and given the expected economic growth rate if we implemented BBI. Will the new growth under BBI increase economic opportunities that were missing in the 2010 Constitution? How many non-political jobs will be created? That would be a better basis of selling BBI than new political positions.

I have argued that Vision 2030 or Big 4 should get more airtime than BBI. Think of the countries we admire; it’s more for their economic growth than politics. UAE, Korea, Singapore and lately China.  

It has been argued that once we get politics right through BBI, economic growth will follow. I have not been persuaded by this argument for 125 years, the period Kenya has had a semblance of a nation, since 1895 when we became a protectorate.  

Why? Think of inclusion being sold through BBI. An average Kenyan would not care much who holds the presidency or prime minister position as long as he or she follows the law.

Ask Kenyans who live abroad. They don’t vote but love the freedom and opportunity to make money. We have been made to believe that if one of our own has a big position, we shall get more economic resources and work less.

More importantly, even if BBI goes through, the key factors of production shall not increase overnight. We shall not reclaim land overnight. Beyond flats and skyscrapers, land remains constant but its demand goes up as the population goes up.

Capital will not increase overnight and we don’t save enough leading to borrowing and debts.  

Labour is plenty but we won’t get new skills overnight. It takes time to acquire new and globally marketable skills. And needless to say, we have not been very good in acquiring skills that are globally marketable.

Finally, we shall not become entrepreneurial overnight and start taking risks. We shall not start Googles, Toyotas, IBM or Walmart overnight. 

The flip switch economics envisaged in BBI does not exist in reality. That is why my head is spinning. We dreamt of flip switch economics at uhuru, at the advent of multipartism and in the 2010 constitution. Simply put, flip switch economics hold that through voting, things will change overnight. BBI is sold the same way. 

I have nothing against BBI, except requesting that its key pedestal be reality. To the hoi polloi, please filter BBI through a sieve of reality to save yourself lots of future disappointments.

You have 125 years of reality to learn from. And 57 years since the Union Jack was lowered. Hope you enjoyed your Jamhuri day despite the long shadow of Covid-19; soon to be shortened by new vaccines.

-The writer is an associate professor at the University of Nairobi.

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