Generation Z on the streets: Awakening is about economics

Comedian Eric Omondi arrested as he protested against the controversial Finance Bill outside Parliament, Nairobi. [Elvis Ogina,Standard]

The 2022 polls awakened the economic man in all of us. It’s as if the ghosts of Adam Smith started haunting the nation.

From the State House to the villages and hamlets, everyone talked economics. Hustlers or Bottom-Up were all about economics. 

The replacement of ethnicity, regionalism and stereotypes with economics was nothing but a mental revolution. It made us Kenyans, united us. Ask youngsters for their tribe, they will proudly give ‘Kenyan’. 

Why this economic consciousness? What next? 

History is part of the consciousness. Kenya’s economic growth has fluctuated for the last 60 years. That means each generation has been feeling the economic pains ensued from joblessness and high cost of living. I am a testimony. I got a job offer in Form 2 and I am not that old despite taking Maziwa ya Nyayo. What of today’s graduates?

Despite sluggish economic growth, we never took concerted effort to accelerate it until Kibaki got us Vision 2030. Remember the optimism of Kibakinomics, which Kenya Kwanza loves quoting. Uhuru Kenyatta and Dr Ruto have appropriated Vision 2030 with Big 4 and BETA but without the same gusto. I helped edit Vision 2030 with Dr Wahome Gakuru at the helm. May he RIP. 

Two is the confluence of external forces; Covid-19 and war in Ukraine. Both had economic consequences. Covid-19 killed lots of jobs and shocked economies( see the dip on our growth in the graph).

It was quickly followed by war in Ukraine, which raised the price of oil. This in return raised the price of many inputs, products and services.

Three is education. The literacy rate has gone up and we are more conscious of economic forces that shape our lives. We have more universities and boast of high transition rates. And most students are in social sciences.

Four, is urbanisation. Living in town demands you understand economics; money is the king. In the countryside money can wait; no rent, no buying food. In urban areas, you need money every day for everything. 

Five, is our political leaders. They have repeatedly brought economic issues in their campaigns and while in power. Listen to presidential speeches and other leaders with their bottom-up economic transformation agenda. I could add Mpesa as one of the triggers of economic consciousness.

Suffering has made everyone become ‘homoeconomicus’. Remember Homopithecus?   

The demonstration over Finance Bill (and surprisingly not Appropriation Bill) is per se not about taxes. It’s about economic suffering. The Finance Bill is just a trigger. Remember your best friends- you probably made them in times of suffering. And the key players, Generation Z, are at the end of the economic decline curve. Did I hear one say they are doing that on behalf of their parents? 

What next?

We have argued repeatedly that voting is the easier part. Like a switch you can transform the political landscape with new leaders. Economic transformation takes time and is a slow and often tortuous process. That is the political sin of our leaders, dabbling with idealism that economic transformation was to take place after voting, overnight. There is a good reason Mwai Kibaki used 2030 and not 2013, the end of his 10-year reign, in Vision 2030.

Kenya Kwanza should actualise their plan, offering hope and pathway to economic progress. Can they revise Vision 2030? We love visiting the USA. Can we look at Great Society programme by President Lyndon Johnson and New Deal by President Delano Roosevelt?

Give credit, Uhuru Kenyatta had tried with Kazi Mitaani, stipend for the elderly and economic stimulus packages.

Kenyans want money in their pockets, and tax cuts to do just that! Even simple things like reducing VAT to 12 per cent or corporate tax by five per cent would symbolically put money in our pockets. The ensuing joy would motivate us to consume more and tax revenues would go up. Did we learn anything from the economic stimulus package during Covid-19?

We are told to make sacrifices, why not the government too through reducing expenditure and taming corruption?

Youth are disproportionately affected by economic cycles. What plan do we have for them, better than Vision 2030? What can we do with their boundless energy and exuberance?

We normally keep them in school. Are we giving them the right skills? Are the skills globally marketable? Our government is eager to export the labour. Are we exporting it to Silicon Valley or farmlands? India exports computer scientists, what do we export?

Keeping on changing our education system from A level to 8-4-4 and now to CBC annoys the youth. Such changes signify they got a bad education   and attenuates their confidence. Can we also sort the funding formula in higher education?

The ultimate solution to demonstrations is to grow the economy so that we have jobs for both the educated and uneducated. We have created a myth that it’s lack of education that keeps us jobless. What of the masses who dislike school but love work and its money?

The youth can help us create jobs with their exuberance, creativity and innovation. I meet them every day and I can attest to that. Was Bill Gates not 19 when he started Microsoft? Mark Zuckerberg 23 when he started Facebook?

Starting enterprises should be easy, from registration to funding, scaling up, crossing the borders and listing. That should include creating markets, the most basic thing in entrepreneurship and job creation. Demand, both internal and external create money and jobs.

There is no reason we can’t win our economic war like China, Japan, South Korea or Singapore before us.