Playing hardball with the 'Big Boys' will hurt our rather shaky economy

Shoppers being turned away at China Square Mall. [Jenipher Wachie, Standard]

In one of his best emotional intelligence books, Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, Daniel Goleman advocates for systems science for us to understand how to relate to the world around us. According to this view, systems awareness will help each one of us to grasp the workings of an organisation, an economy or the global processes that support life under the sun.

Based on this theory, there are three ingredients to focus on: the inner self; others; and the outer world. These must work in a threesome for not only any leader to be successful but also for each individual who wishes to excel in life.

Inner focus attunes us to our intuitions, guiding values and better decisions. Other focus smooths our connections to the people in our lives while outer focus lets us navigate in the larger world. Goleman asserts that when a leader is tuned out of his/her internal world, then he or she will be rudderless; the one blind to the world of others will be clueless; and those indifferent to the larger systems within which they operate will be blindsided.

Goleman's views of how we must be ordered to have a fair chance among the community of nations cannot have come at a better time than this. Three propositions from top Kenya Kwanza leaders in the past few weeks poignantly cry out for a need to call our collective intelligence into an urgent meeting.

On the sidelines of the 36th Ordinary Session of the African Union in Addis Ababa, the president in a highly publicised media appearance seemed to play hardball on Climate Change and Climate Change Financing. His sentiments took the battle straight into the courts of the economic 'Big Boys' and multilateral agencies.

Domestically, his deputy insinuated that the primary shareholders of the 'Corporate' called Kenya are those that were on the frontlines of the KK campaigns. This can no longer be construed to have been a slip of the tongue given his subsequent attempts to clarify his original intentions. Extending the same logic, real hustlers cannot in truth be within the armpits of those lined up to reap huge dividends from this type of shareholding.

As if on a spell for self-destruction, Trade Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria ruined the fortunes of the 'China Square' investor in technically what is a roadside policy directive. It does not matter that the multi-billion Uni City Mall had laid idle for over a decade since its completion. The tenants' business of a cash-strapped University is probably irredeemably ruined without the due process of the law.

Interestingly, the Foreign Affairs ministry has taken the extreme opposite position in defence of Chinese investors. In a civilised society, matters of such geo-economic and political consequences would have been expected to be a collegiate decision and responsibility of the Cabinet.

That notwithstanding, these three separate but related statements from top officials open up pertinent questions worthy of candid public discourse. One, does the KK administration understand that they are leaders of a poor country and not an economic powerhouse?

Two, what exactly is the economic philosophy of this administration? Is it Vision 2030 by which they should have adapted the Medium Term Plan IV or what does their bottom-up look like? Is there any single reference document that we can hold onto?

Three, exactly what is their vision for the country five or ten years from the time they assumed office? Can anybody tangibly explain this to the nation? Is there anything to suggest that they have a better plan than the disastrous former regime that perpetually operated on autopilot?

Hard reality

In theory, we may argue until the cows come home; but the hard reality is that when you lack economic power, your rights are significantly limited whether at individual, corporate or national economic levels. A poor country cannot purport to excise the same bragging rights as a rich one on the table of a community of nations. Similarly, a poor person cannot have liberties of choice on soo many of the basic essentials of life that the wealthy and affluent enjoy in a capitalistic society.

That explains why there are economic blocs like the Group of 7 and the Group of 20. When they decide to hold their caucuses, it is them who chose whom to invite to their table. Equally true, when these economic blocs meet, the world waits in anticipation to hear what they had to say.

Reflecting on what is turning out to be a lack of a coherent economic focus, these outbursts will have significant consequences for the domestic economy. Remedial actions must be taken decisively and with clarity. Three consequences evidentially stand out according to me.

One, the Kenya-Kwanza administration seems to lack the time-honoured principle of building in silence if you seek competitive advantage both in business and economics. Based on this cardinal rule, a master planner and strategist does not go into every single market announcing their presence and intents. Instead, great masters will bypass even opportunities that may improve their standing to keep building incognito. As they say, empty buckets make the most noise.

Geo-political risks

Two is that these comments from senior state officers elevate the country's geo-political risks. The likely outcome is increased risk aversion for both foreign and domestic investors. As postulated in this column before, there exists persuasive empirical evidence that increases in geo-political risks negatively impact stock market returns in all advanced economies. Further evidence points to a reduction of capital flows to nations that are considered to have high political risks.

Three is an inevitable retaliatory response from the affected trading partners. The rules of engagement in geo-economic politics are purely based on advancing perpetual mutual interests between and among the cooperating nations. Countries never engage based on emotions nor operate within the prisms of eros and philia love relations. It is the solemn duty of every country to advance its national interests and protect the rights of its citizens wherever they may be.

It is naive or pure ignorance for Trade CS to infringe on the rights of the China Square investor and not expect a retaliatory response from the Chinese government.

As the top trade diplomat in the country, CS Kuria must understand the rules of engagement for each of our trading partners, especially the dragon economy.

As somebody chided on social media, how do traders from downtown Nyamakima and Kirinyaga streets protest against a single Chinese investor in the country when their shops are fully stocked with Chinese products? How can selling your products at affordable prices to the consumers be a crime in a country that prides itself as a free market economy? Does it mean the local traders have been ripping off the consumers and now their dirt has been exposed?

In any case, isn't bottom-up economics not supposed to bring down the cost of goods and services and hence, the cost of living?

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