Kenya from Old to Modern: Focus on Issues
Count at least five brands of products you are using at the moment and name the political leaders from the countries of their origin. Most likely, depending on the nature of your chores; you counted an HP laptop, Ramtons coffee cup, Nokia mobile phone, Swatch wristwatch, Toyota-Probox and clothing accessories but probably failed to name the political leaders.
These are cake baking initiatives that give economic muscle to the countries of their origin thereby facilitating visibility to the political class. Kenya and by extension Sub Saharan Africa, do not feature anywhere in the top 100 most valuable global brands.
The most visible brands in Kenya are ethnic groups and their political chieftains. The country is currently battling to overthrow the old order of political brands in favor of cake baking brands. Kenya's old order that thrives on ethnic enclaves to enrich political elites is at war with the quest for a new order that celebrates productivity and nurtures faith in institutions. The new order is not characterized by the type of car one drives or the number of superhighways and skyscrapers a country has. It is about a mindset that invests in individual productivity and respect for institutions. The promulgation of the new constitution in 2010 signaled the onset of a tedious journey to modernity.
The country's future hangs in a balance between identity politics and issues driven politics. The political class' monetary magical wands have caused the zeal and stamina of Kenyan intellectuals to retreat into their tribal cocoons. The debate is less on the new constitutional order but more on the tribal alignments as a conduit to deliver the next dispensation of "eaters."
The challenges confronting Kenya namely: food insecurity; insecurity; poor sanitation; environmental degradation; drug abuse; unemployment and economic despair amongst people in the lower end of the middle class, among others, are not addressed by politicians. Instead, Kenyans are witnessing the whipping of tribal sentiments at a scale that outshines the British colonist who officially departed 50 years ago.
Heightened insecurity around the Turkwel power station and arguments over control of oil in Turkana are indicators to threats to the quest for a
devolved governance structure. The old order is keen to calculate votes that will be galvanized by such disputes. Kenyan youth are starved of a menu of opportunities and hope. The old order invests in having them play the role of movie "extras."
The political and economic environment in the Horn of Africa shows that Kenya is not faced with its usual village-quarrel competitive democracy. There are more "voters" interested in the country's democratic space. The conflict over oil revenues by Sudan and South Sudan; Uganda's quest to access uninterrupted Indian Ocean ports; Ethiopia's resurgence as an economic giant and Kenya's military entry into Somalia present key challenges to a country yet to fully implement its constitutional order. The old order's quest to invest in communal identities compromises the country's ability to sustain its economic power house status.
Messianic type of politics simply shrinks the cake for the majority as only a few with connections to "the messiah" and state apparatus enjoy the national cake. The old order bakes the national cake and consumes it on behalf of the citizens. The new constitutional dispensation offers Kenyans an opportunity to bake and eat their own cake. To expand the national cake, Kenyans must help steer the conversation on elective politics to full implementation of the constitution and to strategies that should propel Kenyans to build global brands. Brands grow and expand because they are blind to hegemonic balkanization. Excellent highways cannot of themselves get rid of ethnic cocoons that have imprisoned Kenyans' creative abilities.
The world is undergoing rapid geopolitical change. It is suicidal for Kenya to remain stuck in the old order. We [Kenyans] can measure our level of modernity by how far we are willing to suspend immediate tiny gains for bigger gains tomorrow. The country should move away from managing its affairs using ethnic alliances but be guided by institutions instead. While the rule of man exposes the country to individuals with insatiable appetites that compromise the livelihoods of urrent and future generations; the rule of law justly administered, safeguards the country from individuals' appetites and facilitates a fair ground for each to bake their own cake.
By James Shikwati.
The author [email protected] is Director, Inter Region Economic Network (IREN).