Economy must be central in next polls


The coming general election will mark a watershed in Kenya’s history. It will be the first to be held under the current constitution and will usher a leader that will be required to lay the foundation for the Second Republic.

Those aspiring to be that leader are already putting their campaign secretariats and strategies in place. They are assembling their teams, writing their manifestos and are about to hit the road.

But what should be the central theme of this campaign and who should decide on the issues? As usual it looks like it is the politicians who are calling the shots and unfortunately the future appears foggy and serious discussions about that future in the new Kenya have not begun. The debate so far is about who would be President and who will link up with whom and not about what they will offer or their management and leadership credentials. I am afraid that we may again have to conduct elections without any serious issues being canvassed.

It is time we the voters and not the aspirants set the central issues of the campaign. In my view, that agenda should have the economy as its number one item. James Carville, Bill Clinton’s political strategist in the 1992 election, placed a sign over his desk in the Little Rock headquarters during the start of the campaigns. It read; ‘It’s the Economy, Stupid!’ For a campaigner fixed on a need for a central theme, the sign encapsulated a pointed response to the question ‘What is the campaign about? This phrase probably won Bill Clinton the 1992 elections despite the fact that in the early stages of that particular race, it seemed as though George Bush Sr was unbeatable as he rode the crest of a foreign policy wave following the successful conclusion to the first Gulf War.

Bill Clinton went on to become a good manager of the US economy.
The central issue of the coming election must be the economy, because if we get the economy right, we will be able to manage the attendant problems. Almost all our problems are economic driven.

We kill each other every five years over power because we want to grab whatever little that is there to grab. The policeman is corrupt because he or she does not earn enough to feed his or her family, so is the immigration officer and the head teacher. There is certainly a direct relationship between economic hardships and problems such as corruption that we have failed to eradicate. The only exception perhaps is the case of the ‘vultures’ otherwise known as Waheshimiwas in which case the more we paid them, the more corrupt they became and the more economic hardships we experienced.

What this country needs more than anything else is a structural transformation of the economy. We need a Dr Mohammed Mahathir or a Lee Kuan Yee to get the second republic off to a quick start.

Under Dr Mahathir, Malaysia, a primarily agricultural economy dependent on tin, rubber and palm oil emerged as one based on technology and knowledge with a sound infrastructure. The country turned around economically, the purchasing power of the common man increased and political stability and democracy (though flawed in the Western perception) flourished.

The story is the same in neighbouring Singapore where Lee Kuan Yee, in a period spanning 31 years, oversaw the economic development of a country with a land area smaller than Nairobi to enjoy a per capita income greater than Britain, its former coloniser.

So it can be done but how, we must be told before we appoint Kenya’s next CEO. Candidates and political parties they represent should outline their economic vision for Kenya and how they intend to rapidly create a broadly shared and sustainable prosperity. They should present us with the vision which will enable their ideologies to liberate our minds to the intellectual processes necessary to help us build that viable economy in which they will serve and not defraud us.

Kenyans should not be contented with a plethora of platitudes and mere wish-lists. Let us hear not empty clichés, but purposeful policy proposals capable of pulling this country out of the quicksand. We know the aspirants will promise heaven but we should be spared the meaningless debates which such promises generate. Those who want to lead us would need to tell us how they will fund any promises and what impact their generosity or lack of it will have on the economy.

President Kibaki and his team have had their shortcomings but have laid the economic foundations necessary for us to move to the next level. The candidates must tell us how they will achieve the needed developmental state that would take us to that level and lead us to the creation of an economy that is people centered, one that promotes true development and does not concentrate wealth in a few hands but lifts all of us out of vulnerability and destitution. Let them therefore tell us how for example they will implement Vision 2030 to ensure its success.

As President Kibaki noted during its launch, Vision 2030 goes beyond any single government, party, political persuasion, or region. In other words, it is ‘politically-neutral’ and so is expected to be one which successive governments in the country would respect and implement with equal zeal and in a sustained manner. It is a call to all Kenyans to make it possible for us to wipe out from our land absolute poverty, famine, mass unemployment, and preventable diseases. Its implementation calls for fiscal discipline, good governance, transparency, accountability and comprehensiveness in the conduct of government business as well as the utilization of competent technocrats to drive the development process. The aspirants must tell us how they would commit totally to its implementation.

The future will also depend on how we deal with problems such as poverty and unemployment. The gap between the poor and the rich is widening and something needs to be done urgently. Modern history has shown that the best method of poverty reduction is not slicing the pie of wealth differently but rather, it is making the overall pie bigger through economic growth.

This has underpinned Kibaki’s economic philosophy and booming Asian economies like China, South Korea, Singapore and Malaysia in the last few decades are examples where such a model has been successful. Candidates need to spell out how they intend to grow the economy to help fight poverty and unemployment.

Statistics show that Kenya has a huge housing deficit where demand exceeds supply by more than hundreds of thousands of units annually. We want the candidates to give us a strategic framework and approach for housing as is being done in other emerging countries. They need to tell us how they will enact an effective national mortgage system. In order to tackle the housing challenges of the country, we want to know what their plans are to create additional middle-class of new home owners through an effective mortgage system for the purchase of owner occupier houses.

The Second Republic will make or break Kenya and the journey will be rough. Next year marks the beginning of that journey. Those aspiring to lead this country have a duty to tell us how they will lay a solid economic foundation for the future and that is why Kenyans must not only demand for economic blueprints from those that aspire to lead them but must also scrutinize such plans to ensure they are viable. We must also not wait for them to tell us or give us their vision.

We must set the agenda and ask the right questions. We should not leave our destiny in the hands of the political class and allow them to lead us towards useless debates during the campaigns. Kenyan public intellectuals and sundry commentators seem not to be prodigiously scrutinising the candidates credentials and those of their political parties but seem to have been dragged into the aspirants favourites topics of ethnic and parochial personality matters.

Elite indifference to the political process should no longer be an option. The media and other forums such as citizen journalists in alternative and social media should play their part in guiding this debate. Since we have adopted a U.S. style presidential and government system, we should demand for a U.S style debate among the aspirants where the issue of the economic development is made central. Let the debate begin and begin it should with how the future CEO of Kenya will manage its economy.

(Mohamed Wehliye is the Vice President/Mgr., Financial Risk Division at Riyad Bank)

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