Rutonomics 101: Why opening our borders is an idea whose time has come

President William Ruto speaks during Jamhuri Day celebrations at Uhuru Gardens, Nairobi, on December 12, 2023. [PCS]

I’m writing from Kabale, the confluence of Uganda, Rwanda and DRC, which was encased in a misty wrap early in the morning, before the sun magically melted delightfully to reveal a land of spellbinding beauty.

Online, Kabale is described as the “Switzerland of Africa”  - how about Switzerland as the Kabale of Europe - to place East Africa at the centre? This idea of seeing the world through our own eyes has been gnawing since the Jamhuri Day address by Prezzo Bill Ruto, earlier in the week.

Prezzo Ruto declared Kenya a visa-free zone for all the peoples of the world who may wish to reconnect with the land where humans traces their roots. I don’t how many Kenyans have been to Turkana ruins, or even why they have not been invited to visit those archaeological finds.

Perhaps this sort of posture isn’t meant for Kenyans ears; just a decade and a half ago, they bore the brunt of so-called post-election mayhem, when politicians set Kenyans against each other by fanning differences about their ethnic origins.

Now our Prezzo is telling the world we’re all one and hail from similar ancestors, and we should be keen to experience this history. I don’t mind it when politicians speak out of the two sides of their mouth, who doesn’t anyway? Rather, we should rejoice in the small triumphs like Prezzo Ruto’s conversion to history.

He wasn’t always big on history; his memorable quip about Vasco da Gama, while he served as Education minister, still sits somewhere in the archives. For those who have forgotten, he claimed history has no value and that more emphasis should be placed on sciences and technology training. History, he said, was useless.

Anyway, by saying visitors need not pay a cent for visas, even when they can afford it, perhaps explains that our national coffers are overflowing, now that Kenyans have been taxed almost to the point of death.

And in keeping with his bottom-up (or it bottoms or bottom-up, I get so confused these days by Prezzo’s pronouncements) everything will start from the bottom. Roads to the ruins in Turkana will be built on the go. After all, Rome wasn’t built in one day, while manyattas and huts in the locality will be licensed as Air B&B, tax-free, perhaps.

That way, the people of the world will get a first-hand taste of cultural tourism, sleeping under the stars instead of the stuffy, air-conditioned hotel rooms in major urban settlements.

Things get more exciting if one considers that folks still roam topless in that part of the world, so talent scouts will camp in the Northern counties looking for the next big thing in international modelling circuits.

There is more: Since young men in that part of the wild reportedly kill lions with their bare hands and consume raw meat and blood to inspire courage, there is no reason the next Survivor series should not be shot in Turkana.

The entirety of these activities will create an ecosystem that ensures more tourists will come to our shores, and the shores of Lake Turkana, than has been experienced for a millennium. We still don’t know how they will make their way there, now that Kenya Airways has announced spare parts are in short supply and, in any case, the airport is likely to remain in darkness until Kenya Power stabilises power supply.

That’s not to say the proposition to open our borders does not make sense; quite the contrary, it clarifies Rutonomics as a well-founded economic strategy. With the potential exit of millions of Kenyans to take up the jobs abroad that Prezzo Ruto has been actively seeking, we need similar numbers to put down roots in our soils, however temporarily, in cultural tourism, to keep the dollars rolling.


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