Do more to kick-start economy and bail out suffering Kenyans

Men on a mkokoteni being hauled by a boda boda rider at Mwitoti along the busy Kakamega- Mumias road.  [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

We are certainly in a precarious position economically. The debt to GDP ratio is higher than at any other time in history.

The unemployment rate remains a constant worry to the president. The shilling continues to tank against the dollar, exacerbating an already fragile situation as the cost of importation and, subsequently, that of doing business goes through the roof.

All these are signs of economic recession. This has been compounded by the triple planetary crises of climate change, loss of biodiversity, and pollution. When all these are put together, you see an environment that greatly threatens human survival. 

In moments of such great peril, we must see our social contract working for us in both word and deed. In its newness, the expectation is that this administration must put in place the necessary investment and measures to protect the most vulnerable even as we think of long-term solutions. This is precisely what responsible governments have done in the past. 

History is replete with examples of how citizens have opted out of the social contract after governments failed to do this. The most famous examples are the French and the Bolshevik revolutions of 1917. More recently, we had the Tunisian revolution which brings to mind the entire spectacle of early 2011 that was famously christened the Arab Spring. 

As John Bercow once observed, "History is more than a path left by the past, it influences the present and can shape the future." As such let's look at how countries have responded to economic distress. Without going deep into the annals of history, let us remember the economic depression of 2008 when the Lehman Brothers, an American global financial services firm, went belly up, triggering panic in the American banking and financial system and inadvertently setting in motion the recession. 

The American government was concerned with two critical issues; stabilising the market and providing help to the most vulnerable families. To this extent, the world watched as a bipartisan bill was quickly processed through Congress to ensure that the financial system was stabilised. The Troubled Asset Relief Programme, not only helped to inspire confidence in the market, it stopped the crisis from deepening. After this, another landmark legislation was passed, the Home Affordable Refinance Programme, a stimulus package that focused on homeowners who were already underwater and most vulnerable. 

We will ask for no more and no less. In the face of this prevailing economic anxiety, the government must find means of jump-starting economic productivity even as it aggressively engages the multilateral partners to discuss modalities of a less painful debt restructuring. As Adam Smith puts it in the book, 'The Wealth of Nations', an economy is as vibrant as what it produces, what it consumes and the investment it makes in its people. 

We must provide a stimulus package that is going to provide a safety net to the most vulnerable even as we focus on production. We can not leave our people, especially those without wealth to their own devices in the name of subsidising production. These people braved the biting cold to stand in long queues to put this government into office. The president must do right to them both in the long run and now.

The pastoralist communities who occupy the Arid and Semi-Arid Lands, which are currently bearing the brunt of the biting drought are citizens of Kenya. We need to and must-see deliberate urgent measures to send them help even as the government crafts a long-term strategy. 

To end where I started, history is not a burden of one man or woman alive, but some are called to meet a special share of its challenges. This, I believe is a duty that the president has committed to discharge with distinction. As such, we must give this administration the necessary support to put us back on the path of economic prosperity. And in the words of our National Anthem, may plenty be found within our borders.

Mr Kidi is a governance and policy expert. [email protected]