We can use Chinese model to turn economy around

One would be forgiven for thinking that the Finance Bill 2023 is the first one in our republic, now aged 60 years.

It has rattled everyone, more so with its tax proposals. We asked for it by rallying against the debt which was incurred by the previous regime. Without debt, the alternative is to tax the citizens.

Tax and debt fund the government - add foreign aid and donations. Curiously, the expenditure side of the budget is muted. Would reducing the expenditure not be an option?

Remember taxpayers need the money as much as the government. We should share the burden. Why not stop duplicating national and county government activities? Why not stop the leakage of revenues through corruption and pure waste?

We argued before the polls that whoever would inherit the government had lots of work to do. The victory was pyrrhic, with lots of poisoned chalice-like debt and money owed to counties.

Let's stop lamenting and suggest a long-term solution to our economic problem. Why not adopt the Chinese model? The growth of China since 1978 is driven by foreign direct investment (FDI).

Data shows exponential growth. It was China's most important economic decision since 1949.

Deng Xiaoping, who served as the paramount leader of China from December 1978 to November 1989, opened the country to the outside world. Except for Africa, the rest of the world poured money into China, attracted by the big market and cheap labour.

In 40 years, China became the world's second-biggest economy and even started lending money! Did I hear Nigerians are busy making money as investors in China?

Why can't we follow suit and let FDI build this country to the extent that we start lending money instead of borrowing? Who would hate to make money from debt by charging interest rates

Curiously even developed countries love FDI and they get lots of it compared with developing countries. How do we attract FDI the China style?

One, let's put our politics in order. China did that despite the cultural revolution. And she handled the end of the Cold War with ingenuity.

It's still an open question why China never went through the economic chaos of the old Soviet Union.

Ensured stability

Her long history as a civilisation? Power of the communist party? China's political system ensured stability and investors love that. They may not have Western-style democracy, but their system works for them.

Let's be fair to ourselves, we have matured to the extent of regular elections devoid of violence. But there are echoes of exclusion and the feeling that we lose control of our politicians once we elect them.

When Kanu lost power, the economy flowered as freedom reigned and a feel-good effect engulfed the country. Some feel this has been replaced by fear - not a good ingredient for economic growth and attracting investors, both local and foreign.

Two, a big market. It's the Chinese big market that made many investors close their eyes to Chinese communism. They saw the money.

My visit to Beijing and Shanghai left no doubt that in investing in China, no one was left behind.

Is our 50 million Kenyans a big enough market? Why can't we make Kenya the entry point to the now enlarged East African Community or the African free trade area?

The market is not just about the population, but its purchasing power. The investors in China were after its middle class and its money.

How many Kenyans are in the middle class? How many Africans are in the middle class? It seems we need to get rich to get more investors.

Three, investors love a conducive business environment. Are there public goods like roads, power, water, security and the rule of law? These are services one can't provide alone.

Who wants disputes that last for years through the court system? We want to feel secure in our homes and workplace.

Four is image. Investors are often influenced by image than reality. Have we done enough to secure our national image? What are foreign investors making of Shakahola? What of cases of fake gold?

What of the government being unable to pay workers? Every country has its share of bad news, but must it be in the headlines?

I noted that in South Africa and China, the immigration officers who welcome you to the country are very young...

Five, soft issues matter. How do we interact with each other? That is one area we have done well, we are very friendly to foreigners, even more than our fellow Kenyans.

Think of it, a mzungu can visit any part of this country without anyone bothering him or her except borrowing money. Does that apply to other tribes? Noted how stereotypes on our tribes, now called "communities" have persisted, 60 years after independence?

Instilling fear

One of the unintended consequences of the 2007-08 post-election violence was instilling fear in local investors going from one county to another. But foreign investors have no such problem.

That includes 'indigenous foreigners'. Some argue the rise of cross-racial marriages demonstrates we are at home with foreigners and happy to embrace them. Curiously cross-racial marriages involving indigenous foreigners are rare. Why?

Six, can we improve our attitude towards the rich and affluent? We dislike the rich but want to be rich. Why do we blanket the rich and affluent as non-taxpayers or members of secret societies? To what extent does jealousy colour our attitude towards the rich and wealthy?

Deng Xiaoping put it succinctly: "To get rich is glorious."

Seven, beyond making money investors would love to reinvest their money or enjoy it. It should be easy to repatriate or shift your money to wherever you want.

On enjoying it, we are leaders with our hotels, national parks and drives around the country. Some go farther and marry our girls. Do I name them or say more?