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Hiking fuel prices in lean times akin to blowing fire with water in mouth

PETER KIMANI
By Peter Kimani | September 17th 2021

Price of petroleum products recently hit a historic high. [File, Standard]

Where I come from, we say one cannot blow fire with water in their mouth. One has to swallow first before blowing air, or risk pouring cold water on the nascent flame.

As the national economy teeters to the brink of collapse, hiking oil prices to unprecedented levels is like applying a flying kick, popularly known as dafrao, to a man or woman on the ground, gasping for air.

But matatu drivers say they will not take things lying down, which is surprising, as they seemed keen on withdrawing their services in the past, until it was feasible for them to do business.

And matatu business has to be conducted at their convenience, so when they encounter a slight traffic build-up, they simply say it is mwisho, bang on the door and look menacingly to ensure everyone pours out of the van, then embark on a different route.

This is all understandable: matatus were invented as flying objects, so they cannot countenance being grounded longer than it takes to warm up their engines. But it is hard to understand why the Government should behave like matatu crew.

There is consensus that the economy is running on empty or, to use the inventive term by the Central Bank Governor, we have been operating on “abracadabra budget,” which is to say, budgetary propositions are not founded on firm fiscal planning.

The Governor was wrong on one score: there certainly have been solid plans, time and again, to steal from an impoverished populace, including the dead, just to afford what political class think constitutes a veneer of sophistication, like sending children abroad to study, or buying Saville Row suits in London’s high streets.

Central Bank Governor Patrick Njoroge. [File, Standard]

Given that context, I am persuaded that the decision to hike fuel prices has been implemented solely to keep motorists off the road. The absurdity of the state of our nation is well captured in Wole Soyinka’s play, The Road, not just because “roads” are the Jubilee’s foundational philosophy for development, but because of their obsession with building roads.

The Jubilee administration is so averse to traffic congestion, all they could think when the Standard Gauge Railway was inaugurated, but snarl-ups persisted on Mombasa Road: “Let there be a new road…”

So the idea of the Mombasa-Nairobi expressway was born, and an American firm, Bechtel, was invited to build the road. This week, they said they had no inclination to do the job, for they could not project its financial viability.

That leaves the Chinese-sponsored Nairobi Expressway, Jubilee’s fanciful road built in the air and whose costs and completion dates have been swinging like a pendulum.

Where do we go from here? Our abracadabra budget has supported so many road projects but so few are complete, so they can’t be used. Perhaps they were not meant for use, as some Kenyans appear to be thinking.

For if someone applied their minds, and they worked out that only five per cent of city dwellers drove to work, our greatest investment should have been ineffective mass public transportation.

But with the roads in tatters, and matatus on or off the road to protest the unbearable hike in fuel prices, how will workers keep moving, to keep our “abracadabra” economy going? It appears somebody forgot we produce crude oil in Turkana, or was that a body lotion?

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