Why voting makes economic sense

Dispatch of voting materials at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University of Science and Technology Bondo. This will be the Bondo constituency tallying centre. [Isiah Gwengi, Standard]

In a few minutes today, you will queue to vote and, hopefully, your choices will win all the six elective posts.

In the next one week, we shall be mesmerised as we get a new president and other representatives: some incumbents might have their term extended by voters.

I will definitely join you in voting.

Some will vote because of the promises made in public, some because of incentives such as money or giveaway like unga.

In some regions, the prospects of finally getting a president will energise voter turnout. A few will not vote, convinced it does not matter. My advice has always been to vote; if not for someone, then against someone.

Does voting make economic sense?

Let’s first admit it makes political sense. You get a chance for political renewal, new leaders with new ideas and, hopefully, more innovation.

But more importantly, voting is catharsis, we release our political anger at the ballot boxes, voting in those we prefer and punishing those we dislike.

That anger could get released through alternative means such as violence. That’s why free and fair elections are so important. Such an election makes citizens feel empowered. They can decide who will lead them. That’s why voting is a national duty.

It is also expected that voters are enlightened and vote for issues that matter to them. And the representatives follow through and ensure their voter aspirations are fulfilled.

What of economic sense?

Our representatives at all levels make laws that have economic implications. Think of price controls, subsidies, minimum wages, trade tariffs, licences, permits, taxes, mergers, school fees, tolls and services that are free or paid for.

The person you vote for could make these issues more favourable or unfavourable to you.

Political leaders have their economic ideologies. Do they believe in free markets or government should play a bigger role in the economy?

If you lived through the Kanu era, you can remember how the government set prices for everything, and shortages thereof. I am surprised we are talking of price controls and subsidies now.

Steady economy

One of the biggest questions is how the next government will steady an economy battered by the Ukraine war, Covid-19 and unreliable rain. We could add debt and great expectations.

Will it allow the invisible hand of the market or the visible hand of the government to work?

The party manifestos have given us a glimpse of what to expect. An Azimio government will be more hands-on in economic matters. It could easily mimic Lyndon Johnson’s ‘big society’ in the US. It might bring in some price controls beyond petrol and unga.

That would be politically popular but would drag the economy. Such controls and subsidies can become addictive. They are popular because they make politicians seem to be doing something.

A Kenya Kwanza government would be more pro-market. They prefer to let the market do its work, letting us borrow money and use our creative genius to grow business and create jobs. The two parties differ more on approaches, not the content of their economic policies.

Despite all the promises, one thing remains a fact; jobs are created by you and me, not the government. The government through laws and policies facilitates us to create jobs. Did you notice the effect of building the Eastern Bypass or Thika highway? I will leave the Nairobi Expressway for now.

The government you vote in will affect your economic status in more ways than you think. Kenyans go to the UK, Dubai, the US and other countries seeking economic opportunities.

Property rights

Can we seek economic opportunities that easily in other counties, in East African Community or within the envisaged Africa Free Trade Area?

The laws and regulations made by national or county governments can either facilitate or hinder the growth of your enterprise. Will it ensure security and property rights?

We hope the next regime will reduce the cost of housing by ensuring we do not have to build walls around our plots. And no one will lose legitimately acquired property.

A good government makes us proud of ourselves and feel patriotic. That gives us the confidence to focus on our jobs or businesses and if we leave the country, stand tall.

With such confidence, we can take more risks.

By voting in the right leaders, you can change the economic ideologies, the rules and regulations and your expectations about tomorrow or even across generations.

You can create a virtuous cycle of prosperity, not just materially but emotionally. If you are queuing as you read this, be patient, and vote wisely. Your grandchildren could one day praise you for the choice you make today.

But remember, you will still work after today and the sun will still rise from the East.

Voting is easier than earning a living. But it could make that earning easier and hopefully more enjoyable and fulfilling.