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The Virtue of Sport

By Dominic Atika

This is my 12th year flirting with city life. I was wholly a country kid the first 13 years of my life. And every time I think back to that time, it strikes me just how happy I was—how happy everyone was. Everybody played sport. If you weren’t a footballer (you couldn’t call it soccer and get away with it back then), you had to be a volleyball player, or a netball player, or an athlete. Heck, you could even juggle them sports! It didn’t really matter what anyone played. If anything, we all played more than we sat down to study!

See, back then, happiness wasn’t something we chose; rather, it was a big part of who we were. All we ever needed was playtime, and voila, happiness guaranteed! Football was popular with just about everyone. But then again, it’s always been. I guess it’s called ‘the beautiful game’ for a reason. And everyone loves to be associated with beautiful. Not even having two left legs could stand in the way of a happy little boy’s dalliance with football. In retrospect, the criticism directed at those that just couldn’t turn it on at play might seem crushing. But in all fairness, we kids often shrugged it off as soon as our minds drifted to the next little thing. Escapism. It’s one of the truly extraterrestrial wonders of sport—its ability to make anyone and everyone forget, even if just for a moment, whatever would otherwise threaten to eat away at their soul, or to at least make it possible for them shelve such stuff far in the deepest recesses of their minds.

I didn’t choose football. Football chose me. Like it chose many others. It embraced us, and we hugged tight—so tight we never let go. And it taught us the virtues of responsibility, creativity and enterprise, making it possible for us to kill so many birds with only one stone, all at once. Because when we needed a ball, we made one. Or two. We had our go-to ‘ball-assemblers’ (at the time, a ball was simply a mish-mash of polythene bags beaten into shape by the skillful hands of a thread worker). Sometimes a piece or two of mattress would go into the assemblage of the yolk of the ball, especially when we needed to economize on polythene. None of us ever really cared that our mattresses suffered for it. We were such a creative lot, weren’t we? I’m just so grateful they hadn’t yet contemplated banning plastic at the time.

Now, the art of ball-making was all about division of labor. If you couldn’t weave a ball, you had to at least be good at kicking it. Woe unto you if you had two left legs! Because that essentially meant embracing the vulture tag, only it wasn’t meat leftovers but polythene bags and pieces of mattress you had to scavenge! No one really cared if kicking a ball wasn’t your kind of thing, or if it wasn’t your fault that you couldn’t kick it good. It wasn’t really anyone’s business contemplating the possibility that two left legs might actually be creation’s doing. After all, we were all God’s children. And all of His creation was supposed to be perfect, right? Our teachers and parents always reminded us of that, and so we believed. So you either learned to kick a ball, or you sucked it up and collected polythene! I guess it wouldn’t be responsibility if it didn’t come at a price, would it?

I was a pretty good kicker of the ball. And a go-to ball-assembler too. Our kind were a special and privileged lot. Because while others learned, we were busy perfecting our skills. We kept at the art of ball-making until we could yarn enough thread around the polythene to render it invisible to the naked eye. That was the mark of genius. You were a guru if you could weave a ball like that. I was a guru, or at least so said many out loud. Except gurus never had it easy. To begin with, such a status meant way too many ball-making assignments. But if you were smart (and I was smart), you charged a small fee (read sugarcane, or buttered bread, or even a pencil capped with an eraser)! We were all so comfy keeping it barter! So much for the spirit of enterprise!

But then there was an even bigger problem. No, two in fact—our parents and our teachers. Their approach to defining a meaningful path for our lives was centered on this impregnable notion they both cherished—that of the honorable link between good grades and success. It was so powerful a belief it often stifled all else. They both treated sport a lot like drugs. To put it in perspective, that’s the same derision contact with a member of the opposite sex was treated with! It was such a big deal. Yes, most of us were a little addicted to play. But in all fairness, it was a completely different form of addiction. A typical Kenyan parent or teacher considers sport to be an unnecessary distraction at best, and a total waste of time at worst. My teachers never missed a moment to make it clear to my parents just how detrimental my love of sport would prove in the fullness of time. “The boy needs restraint,” they would always quip, “else his grades are going to tank faster than many in his class can list all the prime numbers between 1 and 9!”

It’s amazing just how livid most of them thought they had to be in order to drive home their sentiments. I remember one who went as far as telling my parents how we would sneak out of class to play outside, and how I would always insist on hiding the ball under my shirt, against my stomach. Looking back now, I like to think it must have always provoked flares of pregnancy in our teachers’ minds seeing our makeshift footballs affectionately glued to our bellies like that. Perhaps that’s how the Sheng pidgin got to become a word richer adopting the term ‘ball’ to mean pregnancy! But what did we care? We were so young and innocent. All we ever wanted was play! And we knew our precious footballs were the safest under our shirts, lovingly propped up against our bellies! Except those were dangerous words to be used about you by your teacher in the presence of your parents. You just didn’t want your teacher telling on you like that! It was the age of corporal punishment, remember! Besides, to a parent, the teacher’s word was law. And they were the prosecutor, jury and judge!  And parents wanted only the best [punishment] for their children! In that way, I can say sport taught us resilience.

I joined high school at thirteen. As you would appreciate, it was an inherently difficult transition, and the fact that I was so young only served to make things worse. Suffice it to say, it wasn’t just a primary-to-high school transition. Rather, it was a transition of sorts—from day school to boarding school, from the country to the city, from accreditation to anonymity, and from adulation to molestation (read severe bullying). Simply put, it was a turning point in my life. And football was the salve that made the transition manageable—the engine that kept me going. In a bizarre twist of fate, the bullies pushed everyone into playing some kind of sport or the other. It was perhaps the only ace I could keep from the otherwise largely unscrupulous practice. Fine by me. I played as much football as I could, enough to squeeze myself into the school team. And I loved it. I learned swimming, practiced table tennis (which, by the time I was leaving high school, I was very good at), and took a shot at basketball. I even tried out rugby—by far the most popular sport in our school, and one that I have since fallen in love with. You don’t have to know how to play rugby to love the Sevens, do you? I made sure to carry my love of sport into campus, where I focused on football and swimming—soccer as a sport and swimming for the fun of it. Both helped me navigate the treacherous foray that’s campus life. To this day, I still play football. Till age do us part, I might add!

And so sport has taught, and continues to teach me so much as a person. You know, every time people ask me how big sport ought to be in a person’s life, I say without a tinge of hesitation: “Big enough to change you for the better!” Because sport can really change your life!

We all agree sport is one big equalizer of humanity. It’s on the field that we get to obfuscate our differences—whether real or imagined—and instead embrace our shared destiny as humans. The sports arena knows no race, status, class, religion, gender or creed. At the playground, we often realize were inherently one. It’s no wonder then that human societies have, throughout history, used sport to not only help forge a sense of peace and unity, but also quell conflict and war. In the case of Apartheid, sport was used to isolate South Africa and bring about a major overhaul in the country’s social structure.

Sport has this amazing ability to create lasting bonds between and among people. Nothing comes close. Very few spaces allow us as human beings to come in as strangers and leave as friends, often for eternity. All without breaking a sweat (not in a literal sense, of course)! And even where we brush shoulders (both literally and figuratively), we’re always sure to patch things up the next time. Because in the world of sport, there is always another chance—a chance to make it right and go one better. The most enduring friendships and relationships I have built throughout my life all have a sports dimension to them. And with those comes the promise of a growing network of potential referees, contact persons and even possible suitors! I mean, who knows, in the bargain, you just might end up gaining family!

It was the Blessed Pope Saint John Paul II who lauded the moral value of sport as “a training ground of virtue, a school of inner balance and outer control, an introduction to more true and lasting conquests.” You want to conquer? Perhaps sport is where you need to begin! I have since learned sport doesn’t just boost your confidence. No, it goes way further than that—it rejuvenates and recreates. There’s just something about sport that screams “the old’s got to go, and behold, the new is at hand!” Early on in campus, I realized I could actually use this to my advantage—to handle blood rushes. There was this one time I saw this one lady. She was drop-dead gorgeous, dazzling enough to render me (and anyone else for that matter) speechless! I somehow figured I had to go play football just so I could regain my sense of speech! And it worked! Now I know better than to blame Taylor Swift for falling for the boy on the football team! Because confidence is the language of sport. And one always feels a new being after an intense game—you know, like you’ve been reborn. It’s the kind of feeling that says there’s not a thing in this world you can’t conquer! And it’s that very kick I always go in search of every time I need to embark on an arduous task of some sort. (To help put this in perspective, perhaps I should mention that the 8 intermittent hours that went into putting together this article was preceded by 2 hours of some exciting football!) Trust me, it works. Every single time!

I can’t possibly enumerate all the perks at the behest of the altar of sport. I’m not sure anyone can. So I’ll cut right to the chase. Sport, more than anything, reinforces in an individual the very attributes required to become a champion—temperance, sacrifice, passion, obedience and discipline. Because sportsmanship, as an ideal, is all about character. It’s about integrity, responsibility, humility, fairness, honesty, loyalty, respect and generosity.

In the end, these things mean more than just the virtues sport requires of us when we’re starting out; they also become the very assets sport bequeaths us, perhaps as a reward for our dalliance with her! So, whether you choose to dance, kick, twist or brainstorm, go on and play. And while at it, remember to be a good sport at all times. And don’t forget to watch yourself win at life!

 

adDominic Atika is a Programme Officer at the Centre for Enterprise Development & Innovation (CEDI) and an associate partner at Savic Consultants. His publications and profile can be accessed at www.atikadominic.com. He can be followed @Atika_Dominic on Twitter and Dominic Atika on Facebook.

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Five Ways to Better Leadership

By Sitati Wasilwa

Leadership is a complex subject matter yet simple to understand. Most of the people harbor ambitions to lead or to be in positions of leadership but end up missing such opportunities or when given the chance to lead, they falter and eventually fail.

One of the key lessons I have learnt is the aspect of leading with no title. Anyone can lead without a title but unfortunately not everyone meets the threshold to be perceived or classified as a leader. The fundamental tenet and the reality of the matter is that leadership starts with leading oneself.

If you do not have a sense of direction, then forget about leading other people including your family. So, what are the five ways to become a better leader or even to start exercising your leadership?

  1. Paying great attention to the small, little things.

The smallest things make the greatest difference. Everybody will tend to focus on the bigger things but will often forget about the small, little things. Mastering the art of paying maximum attention to the small, little things is a sure way of staying ahead of the pack and this in essence is leadership at its best.

  1. Professionalism and competence.

It is a personal initiative to conduct oneself as a competent professional. We go to school to acquire education but how do we differentiate ourselves from the rest? To stand out from the pool of commons, the average and the ordinary we need to take it upon ourselves that true marksmanship lies in the competence that we bear. Excellence in leadership, therefore, is an act of professionalism and competence.

  1. Reading widely and wildly.

Harry S. Truman, a former president of the United States of America, remarked that “not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers”. Reading not only promotes the acquisition of knowledge but also enables a person to be very strategic when making decisions and processing thoughts. Reading boosts one’s confidence in terms of self-expression and establishes a person as an authority in a particular field. Unfortunately, for our generation, the culture of reading is dead. No wonder we are having leaders who are extremely weak thinkers.

  1. Defined standards and values.

Malcolm X stated that “a man who stands for nothing will fall for anything”. This is one of the basic tenets of leadership. To be a leader or a better leader, you must have a defined set of values and standards. Compromising on your values and set standards is a true confirmation that you belong to the pool of commons.

  1. Discipline, discipline and discipline.

If you make schedules, then you must stick to them and execute the listed tasks. If you set a goal, then you must work towards achieving it. If you want to cultivate a positive habit, then you must take the initiative to be consistent in effecting it. If you want to get rid of a bad habit, then you have to take the necessary steps to conquer it. Excellence in leadership then is an act of being consistent and persistent in regard to the specifics of one’s responsibilities.

Have a wonderful day as you reflect on being a better leader. Won’t you?

 

sww Sitati Wasilwa is a co-founder & partner at Savic Consultants and a post-graduate student in M. A. Economic Policy Management at the University of Nairobi, School of Economics. He sits on the management board of YMCA Kenya, Nairobi Central Branch.

Of the Secession Talk & Confronting the Republic’s Realities

By Sitati Wasilwa

The Republic of Kenya, a sovereign state in the East African region, is a colonial construct and a confederation of ethnic nations. Kenya is a typical manifestation of the consequences resulting from the imperialistic tendencies of the colonialists that were characterized by drawing up of the artificial boundaries.

These artificial boundaries were effectively used to implement the divide and rule strategy fashioned by the colonialists. The boundaries served to determine the geographical map of a country (determine identity of a country) and for proper internal governance by creating administrative units such as districts and provinces based on ethnic identity.

During the era of the struggle for independence, the emancipation for political, economic and social liberty was first driven by tribal interests before the eventual synergization of efforts by the genuine independence heroes/heroines and turn-coats labeled as founding fathers.

Since the dawn of independence, each critical juncture in the Republic’s history has been characterized by negative ethnic interests that have proved to be destructive. From Jomo Kenyatta’s administration to the Uhuru Kenyatta-led administration through Moi’s and Kibaki’s governments, the challenges have centred on political exclusion and economic marginalization of ethnic communities.

Origins of political exclusion and economic marginalization are fundamentally informed by the struggle for the coveted crown of the presidency and the need to protect it. The attainance of political power in Kenya is inherently an epochal moment to perfectly execute the “our time to eat” mantra.

The “our time to eat” syndrome has occasioned Kenya’s four presidents to gladly embrace tribalism with the formation of governments that are not ethnically inclusive. It is this disease and unparalleled stupidity that has fuelled the thoughts and acts of self-determination with calls for secession.

Historical Analysis

The aspirations of secessionism are not new in Kenya. Between 1963 and 1967, the Shifta War was a consequence of the calls for secession by the inhabitants of the then Northern Frontier District that covered the present Wajir, Mandera, Garissa, Moyale, Isiolo and Marsabit counties.

This act of self-determination was championed by the Northern Province People’s Progressive Party and executed by the militant Northern Frontier District Liberation Movement. The people of the Northern Frontier nation, being ethnically homogeneous, desired to re-unite with the then Somali Republic following the nationalist aspiration of forming a Greater Somalia.

Creation of the Northern Frontier District was an effect of colonialism with this region carved out for the British (British Somaliland) while the rest was recognized as Italian Somaliland.

Jomo Kenyatta’s administration did not hesitate to suppress the insurgents. What followed was the heightened suspicion of the region’s inhabitants in government quarters with various strategies mooted to check on any incident that would have triggered another uprising.

It was during Daniel arap Moi’s regime that the government’s harbored suspicions generated into genocidal attempts with massacres at Turbi, Malka Marri, and Garissa with the worst of them all being the horrific Wagalla Massacre. Attempts by the people of Northern Kenya to secede prompted the government to segregate them politically and economically until a glimmer of hope was presented by devolution.

In 1998, the then Official Leader of the Opposition and head of the Democratic Party (DP) Mwai Kibaki, and MPs Kihika Kimani of Molo Constituency and David Mwenje of Embakasi advocated for the secession of the Gikuyu-Embu-Meru nation.

They alleged that the members of the Agikuyu ethnic community were being targeted by the state in what they termed as ethnic cleansing. They rallied for the creation of a state that would comprise of Nakuru, Laikipia, Embu, Meru, Nyeri, Kirinyaga, Kiambu, Murang’a and Nairobi counties.

The dissenting voices of Mwai Kibaki and majority of the Agikuyu were based on the prevailing emotions of the time and was also the apogee of the frustrations they harbored following the ascendancy of Arap Moi to the presidency in 1978, the attempted coup of 1982 and the re-introduction of multi-party politics in 1991.

Prior to 1978, a series of campaigns and initiatives were launched to prevent Moi from succeeding Kenyatta. In 1982, Charles Njonjo was apparently organizing for a parallel coup which forced Moi to re-organize his Kitchen Cabinet and government. Just before and after the re-introduction of multi-partyism, most of the Agikuyu leaders resigned from Moi’s administration and joined other political parties with Jomo Kenyatta’s administration oligarchs coalescing around the Kibaki-led Democratic Party.

These events prompted Arap Moi to keep the Agikuyu community on the fringes of political power whose finality elicited the calls for self-determination. However, the secessionist voices flickered out.

Come 2003, the then KANU orphans largely drawn from the Kalenjin community and led by one William Ruto (Deputy President) called for the creation of the Rift Valley state. Their secessionism aspirations were anchored on the operations of the Kibaki-led administration which intended to reclaim all the public property that KANU and Moi had looted.

Ruto and his orphaned comrades alleged that President Kibaki hounded out members of the Kalenjin community from government. There might be an element of truth in these allegations bearing in mind Moi’s political machinations against the leading figures of the Agikuyu community during his presidency until the formation of the government of national unity in 2005 when Kibaki appointed some KANU MPs as Cabinet ministers.

From 2005 to 2008, the activities of the dreaded Sabaot Land Defence Forces (SLDF) leaned towards the creation of an independent state far from its main objective of fighting for land rights and injustice. SLDF was a well-organized militia group that operated in Mount Elgon region but sought to capture, control and claim swaths of land in Bungoma and Trans Nzoia counties.

2007 after the disputed and rigged presidential elections, Najib Balala (currently Cabinet Secretary in charge of Tourism) then member of ODM’s Pentagon and Coastal region point man called for secession.

In 2012, the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC) famed for its slogan Pwani Si Kenya, pushed for the secession of the Coastal region due to economic and political marginalization of the region since independence. The case was dismissed by the court.

2017 Secession Calls

The current debate on whether Kenya should disintegrate into two or more states is healthy and welcome. The secession talk ostensibly triggered by the straight-shooting economist and indefatigable public intellectual Dr. David Ndii is a perfect opportunity to have constructive conversations on Kenya’s political system.

As usual, cheap talk, blunt banter, hubris and emotionally-charged discussions edging on animus have taken centre-stage. For a prosperous Kenya, the dissenting voices resulting from the disenchantment, dissatisfaction and disappointment with the electoral process and political marginalization should not be ignored.

In one of his articles published in March 2016 by the Daily Nation, Ndii proposed the divorce of Project Kenya which he termed as a cruel marriage. Recently, he drafted a petition seeking to raise 15 million signatures to push for a secession referendum. The fundamental issues that the petition is based include a culture of rigged elections, economic marginalization and extra-judicial killings.

As to whether the presidential election was free, fair and credible is a matter to be determined by the Supreme Court. But the underlying factor fueling the calls for secession is the dominance of the presidency by the Agikuyu and Kalenjin ethnic communities since independence. This is a fundamental issue that needs to be addressed and solved by a nuanced approach involving constitutional amendments.

Viable Options

Structurally, Kenya’s politics is based on ethnic numbers. To solve this and to possibly eliminate the cases of political exclusion and the doctrine of the tyranny of numbers, hallmark changes need to made to the Constitution. For eternal political prosperity, the Republic should adopt a political system that is not highly polarizing and one whose effects on the economy are not pronounced.

We need to re-consider the adoption of a Parliamentary system of government. This involves the selection of the head of government basing on the Parliamentary majority of political parties. This system will strengthen the political parties, do away with the periodical ethnic censuses in form of elections and significantly reduce the pressure on the economy common in electioneering periods.

Another option is to consider the institutionalization of a rotational presidency. This ought to factor in all the communities basing on the former provinces. Most critically, we should also think around the Electoral College model as recently proposed by Okiya Omtata.

Secessionism, in Kenya’s case, will be a very costly exercise and experience both economically and emotionally. This is the moment for political redemption and salvation by making changes to the Constitution.

Any attempt to thwart constitutional changes will generate frustrations in the near future in case the tyranny of numbers shifts to other formidable, ethnic-based political formations. Short-termism must be avoided in the secessionism discourse but debate on the issue should neither be suppressed nor dismissed.

 

swwSitati Wasilwa is a founding partner at Savic Consultants and a post-graduate student at the University of Nairobi, School of Economics where he studies M. A. Economic Policy Management. His areas of research are public policy and the political economy. His Twitter handle is @SitatiWasilwa and his Facebook profile is Sitati Wasilwa.

The Developmental State in Africa: The Path to Transformation?

By Sitati Wasilwa

For starters, developmental state is a term that refers to the leading role taken by the state with the main aim of promoting economic growth and thereafter economic development. This means that the overall planning of the economy, with respect to the macroeconomic policies, is fundamentally carried out by the state. Hence, in view of this model of economic development, the private sector is at the periphery of the socio-economic planning process and in some cases, it plays no role in the formulation of the social and economic policies.

The origin of this term that has gained popularity in international political economy and economic development circles can be traced to East Asia and Southeast Asia where the respective states were effective in formulating and implementing economic development blueprints. Scholars, academics and practitioners of development economics and political economy continuously engage in discourses to ascertain if the developing economies and/or least developed countries especially in Africa should adopt this economic model or not.

To clearly understand the concept of the developmental state, it is imperative that the term should not be interpreted to refer to the command economy or the socialist economy which resonated with the ideological doctrines of communism and socialism. In as much as the term under review is associated with the Asian Tiger economies, it cannot be disputed that this economic model was also fashionable in several African states immediately after they attained independence.

Historical Perspective

Independence for the African states not only meant political independence but also economic independence. The latter informed the wave of an Africanized developmental consciousness, commonly known as African Socialism, which advocated for an Afro-centric approach to the continent’s economic growth and development. This edifice of African Socialism was documented in various development plans/blueprints across Africa. For instance, in Kenya there was the famous Sessional Paper No.10 of 1965 on African Socialism and its Application to Planning in Kenya formulated under the auspices of Jomo Kenyatta’s presidency; Ujamaa in Tanzania under the stewardship of Julius Nyerere; the Common Man’s Charter in Uganda under the guidance of Milton Obote; Consciencism in Ghana under Kwame Nkrumah; Humanism in Zambia under the leadership of Kenneth Kaunda.

The common denominator of these national development plans formulated in line with the principles of African Socialism is the active role that the state was supposed to play in the distribution of resources through a “guided development” process. This is highly similar to the path taken by the Asian Tiger economies characterized by the “guided development” mantra.

Economic destitution experienced by African states in the 1980s necessitated a paradigm shift in economic management. As the African states solicited for financial assistance from the IMF and the World Bank, they were forced to institute economic and political “reforms” through the implementation of the Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs). SAPs are a set of economic policies based on market fundamentalism, that is, the free market mechanism. It includes policies such as economic liberalization and deregulation. This economic model advocates for the distribution of resources through the market and abhors the state’s involvement in economic management.

There is no doubt that the SAPs registered more failures than success for the African states at a time when the East and Southeast Asian economies recorded high rates of economic growth and experienced structural transformation. The establishment of the free market economies in Africa with development being based on the market mechanism was an exercise in futility. Failure of the SAPs was as a result of the inherent differences and imbalances that exist among different economies. SAPs were a Westernized set of economic policies not based on the economic realities of the African states hence the disjuncture.

Contemporary Development in Africa (Selective States)

In recent times, several African states have registered impressive rates of economic growth primarily driven by the state through the formulation and implementation of national development plans. These states include Botswana, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Kenya, and Tanzania among others. Botswana is one of the few African states considered to be a middle-income economy and its growth has been engineered by the mining, processing and selling of diamonds.

Botswana’s development was initially based on the ideals and aspirations of the manifesto of the Botswana Democratic Party (the country’s ruling party since independence) in line with the maxim of “guided development”. In 1965, under the leadership of Sir Seretse Khama and the Botswana Democratic Party, the country’s first national development plan known as the Transitional Plan for Social and Economic Development was formulated. In 1996, another long-term development plan, Vision 2016: Towards Prosperity for All, was formulated.

The successful implementation of these development plans in Botswana narrows down to an effective political system. The ruling party has dominated the political scene since independence though periodical elections are held in the country. A number of human rights entities and the opposition always criticize the government’s human rights record and unfairness in the electoral process. The parliamentary system has ensured that the politics of the state is controlled hence the prioritization of social and economic development.

Ethiopia’s double digit growth rate for the last 6 years is a result of development planning. The country’s first Growth and Transformation Plan was implemented between 2010 and 2015 with the second Growth and Transformation Plan set for implementation in the 2016-2020 period. Meles Zenawi, the late Prime Minister of Ethiopia, initiated the formulation of the country’s first Growth and Transformation Plan. Ethiopia’s politics is highly controlled by the state and in fact members of the opposition parties and other critics tend to be arrested and detained when they criticize the government.

Rwanda’s impressive growth has been fueled by the execution of the country’s national development plan, Vision 2020 formulated in the year 2000. Its formalization as a policy document for national development came at a time when Paul Kagame took over as the country’s president. Though criticized and condemned for cracking down on his political opponents, Paul Kagame has initiated a number of social and economic programs that have greatly contributed to the country’s recent spurt in economic growth.

Tanzania, reeling from the vestiges of the Ujamaa policy, has registered an average growth rate of 6-7% for nearly a decade. The growth rate is a positive effect of the consistent implementation of the Tanzania Development Vision 2025. Tanzania’s political space is considered to be democratic with the ruling party, Chama Cha Mapinduzi, dominating the nation’s politics since its formation in 1977. Lately, though, concerns have been raised by members of the opposition on the high-handedness by the current regime under the leadership of President John Magufuli.

Kenya, East Africa’s largest and most sophisticated economy, has registered relatively higher rates of economic growth rate since 2003 except in 2008 when the country experienced the post-election violence. Between 2003 and 2007, the country’s impressive economic performance was guided by a national development blueprint known as the Economic Recovery Strategy for Wealth and Employment Creation. Thereafter, in 2008, a long-term national development plan known as Vision 2030 was formulated. Though Kenya’s democratic space is more open in comparison with her peers, there is general consensus that the country’s high octane politics has played a significant role in suppressing the economy’s potential.

Concerns & the Future

I hold the view that politics precedes economics and the political system at play determines the economic organization of a state. Concerns have been raised whether priority should be given to the political rights or the economic rights and whether states need to embrace economic development before allowing “democracy” to take root or the other way round. In his book, Dead Ends & New Beginnings, the late Meles Zenawi (former Ethiopian Prime Minister) documents that “developmental policy is unlikely to transform a poor country into a developed one within the time frame of a typical election cycle”. His dismissal of democracy and penchant for a developmental state is clearly evident in this book where he states that “the developmental state will have to be undemocratic in order to stay in power long enough to carry out successful development”.

Dambisa Moyo, a Zambian-born development economist, argues that African states and developing countries in general should prioritize economic rights over the political rights. However, a lot of caution needs to be exercised by the political leadership of the developmental state so as not to interfere with the operations of the markets which may eventually stifle the private sector. Chalmers Johnson, a pioneer scholar/intellectual of the aspect of the developmental state acknowledges the inherent challenge (s) of this development paradigm. He states that “the fundamental problem of the state-guided high growth system is that of the relationship between the state bureaucracy and privately owned business”.

With the emergence of China as Africa’s leading investment and development partner majority of the African countries may highly consider adopting the Chinese economic model that is based on the developmental state. This, to a greater extent, means that the developmental state may be the model that will define the economic trajectories of the African states. Adoption of the model is welcome but it should be modified in accordance with a country’s politico-economic system and structures. Lewis Thompson Preston, the 8th president of the World Bank stated at one time that “economic policies and policy-advice must be country specific if they are to be effective” and hence a blanket adoption of an economic model or a set of economic policies by African states should resonate with the prevailing politico-economic and social conditions. The developmental state can be Africa’s path to the virtuous circle of prosperity only if the extant domestic conditions are factored in.

swwSitati Wasilwa is a founding partner at Savic Consultants and a post-graduate student at the University of Nairobi, School of Economics where he studies M. A. Economic Policy Management. His areas of research are public policy and the political economy. His Twitter handle is @SitatiWasilwa and his LinkedIn profile is Sitati Wasilwa.

Redefining our Generation’s Political Zeitgeist

By Dominic Atika

These are interesting times. And that’s interesting, because I’d like a discussion on the interesting times we live in today to be … um … interesting. Enough with the pun. Now, it’s difficult to put a finger on the exact ideas and beliefs that define our time. How would I describe the spirit of our generation’s time? Good question. But while I may not be in a position to exhaust the answer to that question, I know the general mood of our time is replete with a number of rather undesirable smudges – rancor, contempt, snobbery and derision. And I know our politics suffers the most as a result. We all agree these things need not define us, which is why, in this opinion piece, I set out to explore just how we can actually go about healing the divides all these blots help engender in our society.

Part I: Confronting ‘Confirmation Bias’

Never before has a generation been more educated, more informed, more empowered, more equipped and more prepared for success. Our generation’s got it all – we’ve got technology to help us solve almost all of our problems, and our belief in not just our own abilities, but in the power of community as well, is unrivaled. We are free to think what we want, say what we want, and write what we think without as much as swaying the gait of a single hair on our well-kept bodies.

But what we sometimes fail to recognize and appreciate is the fact that with all this information, and empowerment, and emancipation, and freedom comes responsibility. To borrow from the Bible, “To whom much is given, much is expected.” We need to recognize that an ‘information glut’ can be just as dangerous as an ‘information deficit’, that we cannot afford to leave it to others (and especially the media) to think and make decisions on our behalf, and that the true measure of our freedom and progress will always be the degree to which reason influences our choices and decisions. Yes, reason actually does matter.

I say this against the backdrop of significant shifts in thinking and decision making exhibited in voting patterns around the world – in America and in the Philippines in 2016 and, more recently, in France and in the U.K. In Kenya, we have a general election scheduled for August 8, 2017, just under two months away. Every time I talk with people, every time I scroll down my social media feeds, I encounter many worrisome cases and instances of ‘confirmation bias’. Also referred to as ‘confirmatory bias’ or ‘myside bias’, confirmation bias is defined as the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s pre-existing beliefs or hypotheses. I want to be clear: This presents a threat not just to our democracy, but to our very existence as well.

Because we can’t build and nurture meaningful relationships with others if we can’t appreciate a basic sense of diversity and experiential differences amongst ourselves. Believe me, the price of confirmation bias is just too high, both for individuals and for society. Because for as long as we choose to embrace only information that suits our way of thinking, we will keep talking ‘past’ each other, instead of talking ‘with’ each other.

In Kenya, especially as the election fever catches on, you need not look far to notice just how much of confirmation bias puppets we’ve become. We’re a people known to take hard line stances when it comes to politics. Now, that in and by itself is not necessarily a bad thing. Because, like I always say, “Politics is big, and only participation assures an individual of parity.” What is, however, disturbing and dispiriting is the way in which we often tend to “hop on the political bandwagon, see no evil and say no evil.” Simply put, we choose political sides, entrust politicians with all aspects of our wellbeing and, rather precariously, auction off our reason and rationality.

We go for the jugular every time ‘the other’ political side is accused of misappropriating public resources, but are quick to label as malice and slander virile protestations against perceived corruption on ‘our’ side. We carefully and meticulously choose to propagate and snowball information that paints our opponents as unworthy of leadership [Oftentimes, whether or not such information is substantive in the first place is a discussion we’re just not willing to have.], all the while ignoring ethical lapses in those establishments we favor. And we are quick to criticize our political leaders without examining our own role in electing them. All these things are a recipe for chaos and instability, and they’re self-defeating.

Now, I’m not in any way trying to paint an apocalyptic picture of an irredeemable society. On the contrary, I believe confirmation bias is a threat we all are well-equipped to handle. Only it won’t be easy. Opening ourselves up to a process of continuous learning would be a good place to start. Now, more than ever, we need to appreciate the fact that we won’t always meet and interact with people who think like us, or believe what we believe, or share our experiences. And we need to understand that that is not always a bad thing, and that there truly is beauty in diversity. It’s imperative that we understand a variety of different dimensions often come together to help shape our beliefs and our way of thinking – own experiences, culture and upbringing being some of them.

Disagreeing with government doesn’t always equal unpatriotism, just as support for government doesn’t necessarily equate to patriotism. And so what we need is to start having these discussions – to start talking with [and not past] each other. The way to do that is by first embracing listening. And I mean listening in the deep. Let others feel free to explain what informs who they see themselves as, who they really are, and what they stand for. This is precisely why reason matters. And with all the education and information availed to us, it is incumbent upon all of us to ensure we foster discussions that help move our society forward.

 Part II: Choosing Hope over Fear

I also want to talk about our generation’s rising contempt for expertise and informed opinion. [I know I’ll be walking a tightrope here, and the only thing I might get out of it is … well … contempt! But I choose hyperthymia – hope over fear, any day!]

Anti-establishment. Anti-elitism. We have these words thrown around a lot these days, more like money in a Kenyan political campaign. I don’t know about you, but I know something’s up to no good when it elevates resistance above vision. Ring a bell? Don’t allow yourself to be pigeonholed as someone who’s always looking for something to oppose; it’s much more rewarding carving out a vision and injecting positive energy into it. I mean, if you make your life all about undoing your parents’ legacy, you won’t have time to create your own!

See, all over the world, elections are fast becoming a platform for the electorate to vote against something, not for something. Sure, it’s not the first time in history that this is happening. But while it’s happened before, it’s always been the exception rather than the norm. And what’s even more disturbing is the absolute disregard for competence, capability and expertise that’s increasingly becoming prevalent among the general public today.

Now, I believe Americans didn’t essentially vote ‘for’ Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election; they more or less voted ‘against’ ‘the establishment’. Make no mistake: This article is not a vindication of establishment or elitist politics. Rather, what I seek to address herein is the spate of rancor, hatred and fear our politics today seems to be tapping into.

The ideal in a democratic politics is that we identify representatives from amongst ourselves, hold them to a certain standard [of which I like to believe integrity and accountability should be a part] to decide if they measure up, and ultimately, in the event that they do, entrust them with both the privilege and the obligation to serve. So it’s important that we evaluate those who would want to lead us. We have an obligation to hold them to a higher standard, especially because they seek a higher mandate. Now, don’t get me wrong: Whatever we want in our leaders, we have to live out ourselves in the first place. And if we hold different would-be leaders to different standards, that’s a slap in the face of fairness, and it makes a mockery of the very idea of justice. We need to stop shifting the goalposts when assessing the suitability and capability of those who would want to lead us.

Part III: The Task Ahead

Kenya is nowhere near where we would like it to be. The world is nowhere near where we would like it to be. That is why we must not waver in our commitment to take our rightful place in the story of our advancement – that of defining, inspiring and driving positive change in society. It’s time to re-write the script of the essence of our politics.

And to those who would want to distance themselves from the scent of politics, the great German playwright, Bertolt Brecht’s words are as reprimanding as they are awakening: “The worst illiterate is the political illiterate. He hears nothing, sees nothing, [and] takes no part in political life. He doesn’t seem to know that the cost of living, the price of beans, of flour, of rent, [and] of medicines all depend on political decisions. He even prides himself of his political ignorance, sticks out his chest and says he hates politics. He doesn’t know, the imbecile, that from his political non-participation comes the prostitute, the abandoned child, the robber and, worst of all, corrupt officials, the lackeys of exploitative multinationals.”

We are called upon to hold our leaders to our highest ideals – accountability and integrity. But for us to do that, we have to first live out these values ourselves. And we need to understand voting is not just a form of expression; it is an opportunity for us to see ourselves in each other. Because at the end of the day, we are all one people, sharing a common destiny. Listening to one another, taking care of one another isn’t just a moral obligation; it safeguards our society’s political, social and economic stability.

The writer is a Program Officer at the Centre for Enterprise Development & Innovation (CEDI), and an associate partner at Savic Consultants.

 

 

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