KENYA: POLITICS, POWER & NATIONAL PROSPERITY
“Seven Responses to the Saba-Saba debate in Kenya”
Kenyans need the wisdom of God to speak into the current situation of public insecurity, political power struggles and governance challenges in the country. We need to make wise choices to resolve these issues and bring about national prosperity. Saba Saba began as a movement for constitutional reform back in 1990. It heralded the maturing of political expression in the public domain and ushered in the next generation of leaders in the Kenya’s history.While the Saba-Saba debate has arrested the attention of the nation, we must not trivialize our response to the major concerns of law, employment and wealth creation the debate raises. We need a careful and sober evaluation of the context and content of its various claims to establish specific action the nation can take to resolve them. This article explains how Kenyans can ensure that the country pursues a progressive path through the Saba-Saba debate drawing insights from the current political environment, researched economic principles, current global leadership thinking and historical wisdom.Major change
In 2010, a majority public vote at a national referendum launched Kenya on a new journey towards national development under a new constitution. The major product of this new constitution was the devolution of power to 47 county governors each with its own administration. The first government, elected in 2013, under the new national policy framework has the duty to deal with all the teething problems of the new political order.
The emerging two major challenges of this new order are 1) governance and 2) the distribution of wealth, as governors and other national institutions jostle for control and stamp their authority on administrative processes to legitimize their existence. While devolution has brought administration closer to the people, it has not brought about expected public prosperity, but has significantly increased the cost of government.
This has spawned a measure of public frustration with the process and dissatisfaction among senior and new politicians that has been compounded by mounting insecurity caused by a series terror attacks on innocent citizens over the past year. In this exasperating situation claims of ethnic bias and marginalization have been made. The nation is looking for salvation and security from anyone who promises peace and prosperity.
On the other hand the national vision promises, “A globally competitive and prosperous nation with a high quality of life by 2030”. But, what is the meaning of “prosperous” and do Kenyans feel they are advancing towards a higher quality of life? Before we respond to these contextual challenges, we need to examine the contributions prosperity, politics and power make to the current stalemate
Prosperity is often thought to be the possession of material wealth. However, recent thinking on the measurement of prosperity suggests that there is more to prosperity than mere property. The UN human development and the legatum prosperity indexes include the elements such as; security, political and economic freedoms - even happiness! When these soft factors are included, nations that rank high in GDP (financial wealth) like USA and China drop significantly in world ranking falling behind nations like Norway and Australia. These global prosperity rankings suggest that the mwananchi (citizen) is not wrong to be unhappy with the current situation, or to demand security and peace to safeguard and enjoy personal prosperity.
The USA, the most prosperous nation on earth guarantees every citizen, “...right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. One study of happiness shows that the top three measures of happiness are health, marriage & religion in that order. It may be obvious that health should rank first, but the other two are very revealing. Apparently, happy marriages contribute to national prosperity. While religion, through its open doors and acceptance of people of all communities, races and ethnic backgrounds, has the power to promote happiness and safeguard national prosperity.
For a nation to enjoy prosperity that prosperity must be available to all citizens and provide opportunity for everyone to escape poverty. However, studies also show that personal prosperity is different from national prosperity. Economic measures of wealth such as the GDP (national prosperity) do not always translate into per capita income (personal wealth). For example, when the government borrows billions of dollars to build industrial plants, this translates into higher taxes on public income to pay back the loan. When this happens, national prosperity comes into direct conflict with personal prosperity.
The public becomes unhappy with national prosperity for two major reasons, 1) if their civil liberties are taken away or 2) if they feel there is no escape from poverty within the economy. Both of these are serious claims that can trigger a revolution by force or by the ballot box. However, since Kenyans recently asserted their civil liberties by adopting a new constitution, the poor distribution of wealth has made them unhappy.
Sovereign states use politics to develop suitable laws and national policy. However, while politics makes laws to which everyone must abide, effective politics requires leadership sensitive to public needs and concerns. Nonetheless, political leaders sometimes lack the ability or desire to design, develop or implement policy that generates national prosperity. The tragedy of bad politics is that it creates bad laws that create bad economics that open doors to corruption. Insincere leaders use politics to pass laws and policy to protect their own interests rather than the public good. For example, it would be interesting to find out how many Kenyans are “happy” with the recently passed marriage bill that allows men to marry countless number of women. This piece of legislation leaves 50 % of the population feeling vulnerable and insecure and the other 50% in mild shock. Yet this law is now binding, legal and enforceable!
But even “good”, “well intentioned” policy can have the same effect as bad laws if not well implemented. For example imposing high tariffs on imported goods such as petroleum goods, in the interest of protecting the local market from low quality goods, allows wealthy companies to monopolize the trade in those goods and lock out the not so wealthy majority from participating in the market. The object of politics should not be good law, but prudent law, laws that ensure the public interest is secured and ensures the public is not made to bear burdens that benefit a minority or select group of interested parties. Bad laws make the Kenyan public unhappy.
Power is the control of resources, the capacity to enforce law, the guarantor of justice and the patron of privilege. My political mentor explains that though a government has the monopoly of the use of force, it can use it against outsiders to defend national borders, but it cannot turn that force against its own citizens. The moment a government turns that force against its citizens it causes anxiety, insecurity and loses legitimacy. However, though the public may not be privy to the full details of state dealings in the exercise of power, the perceived use of power becomes the measure by which the public judges a government’s commitment to public prosperity. The feelings of being unprotected by one’s own government lead to public frustration.
Power is essential for effective governance in a country but it is also a source of national pride and a focus of personal jealousy. Many people seek power to enjoy positions of privilege and exercise the privilege of power. In Kenya’s case, the implementation of the new constitution governance structure has caused an inevitable fluidity and vagueness in the allocation of authority and power to offices and officials that is yet to be well defined or understood. The public may have to bear with that reality for some time but must be very keen to differentiate between power hungry wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing and genuine shepherds of the flock. Nevertheless, power seekers are not always easily dissuaded and tend to use any means possible to get to power. Africa has time and again witnessed the use of negative ethnicity used as a path to grab power. But power struggles to control national resources, as we know from the DRC, do not allow citizens to enjoy the nations prosperity.
Principles of National Prosperity
National prosperity depends on the state of the “politico-socio-economic enterprise” in a nation - otherwise known as “stability”. Frustration with ill achieved national prosperity can bring about a revolution for political or economic reasons. However, a political revolution must have ideological content, while economic revolutions can be achieved by a shift in national policy or changes of government at the ballot box. The Saba-Saba debate has an ethnic agenda but no ideology. However, the gap between national and personal prosperity does pose a problem.
But how is national prosperity achieved? Given the complexities of personal prosperity, politics and leaders jostling for power in a nation with a population of over 40 million people, 44 ethnic tribes spread over 47 counties, the answer to that question requires Solomonic wisdom. Fortunately, the origins of the prosperity of Solomon’s kingdom are well documented. The glory of the ancient kingdom of Israel began with an earnest prayer by the king for wisdom to govern the people. Apparently, it was very clear to the young king that to rule a nation required divine intervention. God granted Solomon his request and in addition, gave him wealth and peace. This set the stage for the most prosperous kingdom in Israel’s history. We can learn quite a bit about national prosperity from studying Solomon’s achievements.
First, Solomon sought wisdom to rule the country. Perhaps he understood that he did not know everything. Perhaps he was humble enough to admit that he did not know what he needed to know. All the same, he sought counsel from God. He sought expertise and insight into matters of leadership, justice and statecraft. The historical account gives credit to his open courts, public works, military organization, employment statistics, diplomatic relations, free trade and all forms of enterprise. No incident requiring justice was too small to elude his attention. Moreover, it is recorded that the people were happy!
Solomon’s Kingdom is not the only one to seek divine intervention. The wealthiest nation on earth today, has inscribed “In God We Trust” on its currency. The founding fathers of America seem to have understood something that we tend to forget today - Prosperity is a favor entreated of God. The worst rulers in history go down as having no fear of God or love for fellow man. They do not receive divine favor.
Peace is a precondition for prosperity. War of any sort is a drain on a nation’s wealth. The fact that USA declared “war on terror” led to a major downturn in economic performance in later years. Hitler was eventually defeated because he ran out of funds to keep World War II going. War is not only destructive; it gobbles up profit (GDP) and kills national prosperity by diverting resources away from economic activity.
There are in fact three types of enterprise; productive, destructive and unproductive enterprise Productive enterprise results in the production of wealth in line with Adam Smith’s model of free enterprise. The use of ones God given gifts, talents and abilities to create value for others inordinately creates opportunities for others to create further wealth. For example, if a farmer grows cotton, the weaver will make carpets and the shopkeeper has things to sell to customers who need his goods. One person’s initiative triggers the multiplication of wealth in a nation. For this process to yield maximum results, it must be “free” of manipulation. Unfortunately, Kenya’s production process is flooded with middlemen. While USA has 6 enterprises for every 100 people, Kenya has only 3 registered enterprises for every 1000 people.
Destructive production is theft! Theft is an activity that deprives one person of their wealth and puts it in the possession of another without adding any value to the economy. This obviously demoralizes the producer and depletes the production of wealth in the economy. It also produces endemic poverty. War, political bickering and ethnic violence are all forms of destructive production.
Unproductive enterprise is the use of policy and legislation to block, punish and muzzle enterprise in order to protect markets to favor privileged interests or interest groups. Such enterprise inhibits the creation of wealth and awards it to undeserving groups. Kenyan parliamentarians recently changed the law to increase their own salaries. Such a move is unlikely to spur productivity among citizenry or inspire them to pay income tax. High tax rates (16% VAT), High loan interest rates and other tariffs have the same negative effect. Interestingly prosperous nations such as Hong Kong and Singapore maintain tax rates as low as 2-3%.
Everyone in Solomon’s kingdom seems to have been fully engaged or employed. Similarly, wealthy nations have high employment rates. A large part of the GDP (national prosperity) is produced by employees earning consistently high per capita income (personal wealth). In other words, wealth in prosperous nations is generated by wealthy employees! While the high unemployment rate in Kenya is unacceptably high, the 60% who are employed contribute very little wealth to the GDP (national prosperity). In other words, Kenyan workers have no idea how to prosper in employment Kenyans do not know how to create and manage wealth! There is an anecdotal story told that says, if all the wealth in the world was redistributed equally in the name of “justice”, it would take but a short time for that wealth to return to its first owners. Simply because those who never earned it before would not know what to do with it. This is the unfortunate tragedy of the Kenyan employee who is unable to gain any personal wealth after a lifetime of employment.
In conclusion, we already have a new constitution whose implementation is the equivalent of a political revolution. However, we still need economic solutions to our wealth challenges. There is a lot of work to be done by the public, the government and politicians to enable us to achieve the prosperity we all desire. We therefore recommend the following action;
1. Select kings who fear God to entreat and attract the favor of God to bless us with wisdom, wealth and peace. We need a president, governors, leaders, lawmakers and government officials who fear God.
2. Employ wise men and women; competent experts and specialists in their own fields to manage national resources and specific ministries at all levels of government.
3. Unleash, encourage and protect the entrepreneur. Do not burden them with high taxes or administrative legislation that discourages them to take risks and exercise their creative gifting.
4. Make good laws that ensure prompt justice. Remove bad laws that create fear, insecurity and unhappiness. Weed out poor legislators and teach lawmakers to enact policy that counters corrupt and immoral practices. Repeal laws that protect monopolies, middlemen and rent seekers.
5. Make government bureaucracy open, transparent, user friendly and available to serve the public without prejudice and ensure that public works do not appear to serve private or sectarian interests.
6. Promote peaceful coexistence in families, among neighbors, ethnic groups and welcome diversity in county trade. Pursue peace with all neighboring countries to secure personal and national prosperity.
7. Teach employees how to prosper in employment and address the mismatch between educated (schooled) graduates and unemployment in industry and engage idle human capital in the economy.
In these seven responses, there is work for all of us to do. However, from all our leaders we will require the added measure of visionary leadership, personal maturity and patriotism.
God Bless Kenya