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Taking Stock of Kenya’s Macroeconomic Environment: A Situational Analysis

By Dominic Atika & Sitati Wasilwa

It’s been an unbridled 2017 for Kenya, and the vagaries of the economic scene could never be more prevalent. As the year draws to a close, we figured it would be prudent to sit back and conduct a diagnosis of Kenya’s economic health, stacking our arguments against assertions and reassurances by The National Treasury bureaucrats and the Jubilee administration that our economy remains as resilient as ever.

Quite unforgettably, on the 8th of November this year, the Cabinet Secretary in charge of The National Treasury, Henry Rotich, pompously remarked that “Kenya’s economy remains strong and stable, all economic fundamentals are solid. Kenya is moving forward.” But how true is that? To try and find out, we delve into a detailed analysis of six economic determinants: the national debt, interest rates, corruption, food security, unemployment and elections.

One might want to forgive CS Rotich for having made such an unfortunate statement, especially bearing in mind he has an almost religious obligation to defend the economic agenda of the Jubilee administration, but the numerous economic missteps and mistakes so far made by the Jubilee regime only serve to make that impossible.

One of Kenya’s economic fundamentals that is not only running out of control, but that also seems to be out of place is the country’s level of national debt. According to data by the Central Bank of Kenya last updated September 2017, the total national debt now stands at KSh4.482T ($44.82B).

After the end of the first financial year 2013/2014 presided over by the Jubilee administration, the total national debt amounted to KSh2.422T/$24.22B (47.9 percent of GDP) in comparison with KSh1.894T/$18.94B (42 percent of GDP) for the previous financial year 2012/2013 under the Kibaki- and Raila-led Grand Coalition Government. These figures and data are highlighted in the Annual Public Debt Report 2013-2014 prepared by The National Treasury.

Since its inception, the Jubilee Administration has borrowed a record KSh2.588T ($25.88B), an amount far exceeding the country’s level of total national debt from 1963 to 2013. That’s right! Those are fifty good years. Well, the economic fundamentals really are solid!

The sustainability of Kenya’s national debt is now highly doubtful. As documented in the 2017 Budget Review and Outlook Paper published by The National Treasury, the public debt to GDP ratio will be in the region of 59 percent by the end of the 2017/2018 financial year, contrary to the 51.8 percent figure projected in the 2017/2018 Budget Policy Statement.

Even as The National Treasury bureaucrats and the Jubilee administration choose to remain defiant over the country’s national debt situation, the controversial and contradictory statements made by CS Rotich point to an administration living in denial.

For instance, in January 2017, during the release of the Annual Public Debt Management Report 2016/2017, Mr. Rotich stated that the public debt to GDP ratio was projected to stand at 50.7 percent by June 2017. However, the Kenya Economic Report 2017 prepared and published by the Kenya Institute of Public Policy Research & Analysis (KIPPRA) towards the end of May 2017 reveals that by mid-2017, the public debt to GDP ratio stood at 52 percent.

An expected economic growth rate of 4.9 percent for the year 2017, coupled with a total debt of about KSh4.5 trillion ($45B), would ordinarily mean that on an approximate scale, Kenya’s debt to GDP ratio by the end of the year will be slightly above 60 percent.

With available information indicating an increasing level of public debt to GDP ratio, it should be taken into account that there are two fundamentally important fiscal benchmarks that stipulate the ideal level of public debt to GDP ratio.

Apparently, both fiscal frameworks highlight the need to maintain the public debt to GDP ratio at 50 percent or lower. One of these frameworks is the Protocol on the Establishment of the East African Community Monetary Union under the macroeconomic convergence criteria, and Kenya’s Public Finance Management Act.

Possible consequential effects of the high level of public debt that Kenyans must be prepared to face include an increase in the level of taxation informed by the need to shore up revenue for purposes of debt repayment, and the crowding out of private investment as lenders opt to advance credit/loans to the government at relatively higher interest rates, as opposed to lending to private entities at lower rates.

The second economic fundamental that defies and negates Mr. Rotich’s cosmetic sentimental remarks of “solid economic fundamentals” is the nuanced effect of the interest rate cap. With the procedural approval of the Banking Amendment Act of 2016, there have been two schools of thought whose arguments on the cap teeter on the two extreme ends of the continuum.

One argues that for a long time, interest rates in Kenya have been exorbitantly high, while the other premises its argument on the negative effects of the usury laws.

There’s a general consensus among members of the public, perhaps with the exception of the owners of commercial banks, on the need to have lower interest rates that are affordable to the Small- and Medium-Scale Enterprises (SMEs) which play a crucial role in Kenya’s economy, as well as for the low-end borrowers whose financial inclusion in the economy is absolutely important.

From the outset, following the drafting of the Banking Amendment Bill 2016 by Juja MP Jude Njomo (an ‘evangelical’ propagator of warped economic thought), CS Henry Rotich and the Governor of the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK), Dr. Patrick Njoroge opposed the proposed amendments.

According to the Kenya Economic Update Report by the World Bank released in December 2017, the interest rate cap has had a largely negative impact on the country’s economy. Among the consequences highlighted by the World Bank include:

  • A shift in lending by banks from small borrowers and SMEs to corporate clients.
  • A decrease in the proportion of new borrowers from 13 percent in March 2016 to around 6 percent after the operationalization of the Banking Amendment Act of 2016.
  • Re-allocation of credit from the private sector to the public sector – in 2017, the amount of credit advanced to the government has expanded by 15 percent, compared to 3 percent for the private sector.

Having realized the deleterious effects of the interest rate cap, Dr. Njoroge recently made clear the CBK’s intentions to repeal the cap. Meanwhile, CS Rotich continues to maintain a taciturn approach.

Although he was opposed to the same law in its formative stages, he is on record stating it would only be a short-term measure, even as The National Treasury mulled plans to organize a forum to deliberate on the aftermath of the interest rate cap.

In addition, Mr. Uhuru Kenyatta, in his State of the Nation address in March 2017, acknowledged the “unintended effects” of the cap and promised to review the skewed policy.

In light of these arguments, the sanctioning and enactment of the legislation to cap interest rates makes for a campaign tool meant to win the hearts of the uninformed Kenyan citizenry. It qualifies as a populist economic policy that bears no resonance with Kenya’s economic realities.

The predatory behavior of commercial banks has always been blamed for the perniciously high interest rates in Kenya. But who really needs to take responsibility for the high rates?

Blame it all on the government. It has consistently chosen to run massive budgetary deficits that have now sparked a borrowing spree. And of course the laxity and complacency of the CBK in promoting fiscal discipline among banks, especially before the appointment of Dr. Patrick Njoroge as Governor, is a major factor.

Going into 2018, the interest rate cap must be repealed. Failure to do so will see banks continuing to react to the law and extending as much credit as possible only to the government and other well established entities. SMEs account for the largest proportion of employment opportunities in Kenya, and their limited access to credit due to the rate cap will only exacerbate the unemployment problem.

And of course an analysis of Kenya’s economic well-being would never be complete without an in-depth examination of the venomous effects of corruption. Now, corruption really is the bane of Kenya’s existence. From an exasperated Uhuru Kenyatta bellowing “What do you want me to do?” at a 2016 State House Summit, to a straight-shooting Barack Obama reiterating that “… the fact is, too often, here in Kenya … corruption is tolerated because that’s how things have always been done.”, Kenyans have seen and heard it all.

The statistics paint an even grimmer picture. According to the PwC 2016 Global Economic Crime Survey, Kenya reported a 47 percent incidence of bribery and corruption, the third highest incidence globally. Stack that against a global average of 24 percent, and you have what it makes for an alarming statistic.

In 2016, the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) reported that Kenya loses KSh600M ($6B) – a third of its state budget – to corruption every year. While CS Rotich disputed that estimate, Mr. Kenyatta went so far as to declare corruption a threat to national security.

Here’s some perspective: The average Kenyan forks out a bribe at least twice in every three encounters with a public official. Corruption in Kenya takes many forms, with asset misappropriation, procurement fraud, accounting fraud, bribery, tax fraud, recruitment and payroll fraud, money laundering, intellectual property infringement, insider dealing, mortgage fraud, espionage and anti-trust law infringement being the most common.

As we wade into 2018, corruption will continue toasting to the most notorious of scandals to rock the Jubilee Administration – the National Youth Service (NYS) scandal of November 2015 – which cost taxpayers KSh1.9B ($19M).

But it’s not the only one. There’s the KSh215B ($2.15B) Eurobond Scandal of 2016. And the Mafia-style heist at the Ministry of Health towards the end of the same year that robbed Kenyans of another KSh5.5B ($55M). And the KSh53B ($530,000) Laptop Tendering scandal. And the KSh50M ($500,000) Chickengate Scandal. Indeed, 2016 was, by every measure, the greatest year for corruption in Kenya.

The fact that Kenya is still grappling with runaway corruption 54 years after independence is perhaps the biggest indictment of every administration since. Now, you might think how to curb corruption in Kenya is the proverbial $64,000 question, but it really isn’t. The doctor’s prescription has always been, and will always be, the same: We’ve got to find the will to demand accountability and integrity amongst ourselves, both as leaders and as a people.

Fast forward to yet another macroeconomic fundamental – food security, or the lack thereof. In 2010, Kenya set out to eliminate food poverty by the year 2020. And yet today, just three years shy of that deadline, at least 40 percent of the country’s population remains food-insecure.

On the 16th of May this year, the government announced a Ksh6B ($60M) subsidy on maize imports to help lower the cost of maize flour. Authorities blamed the shortfall on drought, but evidence suggests it was yet another stark reminder of our government’s endemic failure to plan.

Since independence, we’ve consistently blamed our food insecurity glitches on the same culprits: frequent droughts, exorbitant costs of food production (especially due to high costs of inputs such as fertilizers), steep global food prices and low purchasing power due to poverty.

Following the termination of the maize-subsidy program at the end of October, the government has done well to increase its budgetary allocation toward the purchase of maize from farmers. Its decision to increase fertilizer subsidies to farmers is also laudable, especially given it will most likely help raise maize yields on the back of lower input prices.

However, these are only short-term fixes. The government needs to stare further down the hallway and plan with foresight. We’ve got to start with land reform and redistribution in order to ensure efficacy in food supply and distribution throughout the country.

There’s also a veritable need to embrace policies aimed at bolstering rural investment, promote innovation and invention in the agricultural sector through technology transfer and advisory services, improve food storage facilities and augment irrigation and rainwater management endeavors.

Kenya’s irrigation potential is estimated at around 540,000 hectares, of which only about 105,000 hectares is exploited. It should be emphasized that major crop and livestock production can be tripled by using modern technologies. By developing the Tana and Athi basins and the Lake Victoria shoreline, Kenya can extend the area of land under irrigation by 1 million hectares.

The government’s decision to develop the Galana-Kulalu Food Security Project (touted the largest irrigation project in the country) in Kilifi and Tana River counties to supplement food production from the traditional food basket regions of the North Rift is a good place to start. But until we implement all these strategies, food security will remain a mirage for many Kenyans.

Time to look at unemployment. According to the United Nations Human Development Index (HDI) 2017 report, Kenya’s unemployment rate stands at an ominous 39.1 percent. To put that into perspective, four in every ten Kenyans of working age can’t find meaningful economic engagements.

As our ability to create new jobs tends to lag behind population growth, the shadows of income inequality, dependency, crime and violence continue to loom large, and this on a pro rata basis. As a matter of fact, at 33.1 percent, Kenya’s income inequality rate remains among the highest in the world.

So, what needs to be done to address the unemployment menace in Kenya? Well, our approach has to be multidimensional. As a country, we need to invest in high-quality education, laying particular emphasis on the need to nurture an entrepreneurial culture among the youth.

Sure, we’ve made strides making it easier to do business in Kenya, rising 12 places in the World Bank’s 2017 Ease of Doing Business Index, but we still have more to do. The government needs to take further steps towards lowering the cost of doing business, especially considering 80 percent of jobs created over the past decade have been in the informal sector.

We will now sign out with a cursory look at the effect of elections on Kenya’s economy. Kenya’s election cycle has always been synonymous with political and economic uncertainty. And uncertainty is never good for business, especially for a country whose tourism sector accounts for about 10 percent of her GDP, employing well over 1 million people.

Following election violence in 2007 and 2008, Kenya’s visitor numbers dropped by a third. Most recently, in anticipation of uncertainty following the Supreme Court’s nullification of the August 8, 2017 presidential election, Capital Economics predicted Kenya’s tourism sector would suffer a three percent growth slump. The wait-and-see attitude adopted by investors only serves to make things worse.

These recurring distractions inform the need for electoral justice, full-fledged democracy, adoption of a Parliamentary system of government and an end to the culture of impunity in Kenya.

So, here’s the $64,000 question: Are Kenya’s economic fundamentals as solid as CS Rotich would have us believe? You be the judge.

 

adDominic Atika is an economist and holds a B. A. in Economics & Sociology. He serves as a Program Officer at the Centre for Enterprise Development & Innovation (CEDI) in Nairobi, Kenya. He also blogs at atikadominic.com and his Twitter handle is @Atika_Dominic . 

 

swwSitati Wasilwa holds a B. A. in Economics & Sociology and he is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Economic Policy Management at the School of Economics, the University of Nairobi. His Twitter handle is @SitatiWasilwa  and he also blogs at sitatiwasilwa.blogspot.com 

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Privatization won’t solve Kenya’s Sugar Industry Woes

By Sitati Wasilwa

In the first week of November, the High Court declined to stop the privatization of the five state-owned sugar firms. This implies that the government will proceed with the sale of Nzoia Sugar Company, Sony Sugar, Chemelil, Miwani and Muhoroni sugar companies.

As highlighted in the privatization plan of the afore-mentioned sugar firms, the government through the Privatization Commission will sell 51% of the total stake of these companies to strategic investors, 24% to farmers and employees and the remaining 25% will be sold later through an initial public offering (IPO) when these firms begin to make profits.

The privatization policy is one of the pillars of the Washington Consensus edifice of which the latter is premised on the neoliberalism ideology. The two, the Washington Consensus and neoliberalism, are tenets and sub-sets of the free market economic dispensation.

Advocates of the free market ideology, who are also known as market fundamentalists, argue that state-owned enterprises (SOEs) are inefficient and that the government should not play an active role in the economy apart from the provision of security and the institutionalization of property rights.

Their arguments are anchored on the economic ideas of Adam Smith through his analogy of the “invisible hand”. Market fundamentalists hence frown upon the “visible hand” of the government in the economy.

The neoliberalism frenzy and craze is associated with the presidency of Ronald Reagan and the premiership of Margaret Thatcher. The free market is a utopic notion since governments will always play a critical and active role in the economy.

Washington-based institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have always recommended countries to adopt the Washington Consensus policy package as “shock therapy” to their economic woes.

This occasioned developing countries especially in Africa and Latin America to fashion this policy prescription in the 1980s and the 1990s with most of them still flirting with the same economic policies (privatization, deregulation and trade liberalization) at the moment.

Reasons for Privatization of Sugar Firms

Privatization of the five state-owned sugar firms is geared towards revitalizing the sugar industry especially in the wake of the COMESA free trade agreement that will lead to the total collapse of the sugar industry as a result of the importation of cheap sugar.

Under the COMESA free trade agreement, the Kenyan economy is open to other COMESA member states which have ratified this trade protocol. These states are hence guaranteed to access the Kenyan market without being subjected to any form or kind of duty requirements or quota (s).

It is on the basis of this trade protocol that Kenya has been consistently seeking for sugar safeguards from COMESA since 2003. The sugar safeguard granted to Kenya in February 2017 was extended by two years after it expired.

The COMESA sugar safeguard granted to Kenya is expected to insulate the farmers against the effects of cheap imported sugar and upon the expiry of the safeguard, it is expected that the five state-owned sugar enterprises would have been privatized.

Many (including government officials) believe that privatization of the sugar firms will lead to the production of relatively cheap sugar and of course increase the total amount of sugar that is locally produced.

Currently, Kenya’s average annual total sugar production stands at 600,000 metric tonnes against the country’s total annual demand for sugar averaging 800,000 metric tonnes. This leaves a deficit of 200,000 metric tonnes that is addressed through the importation of sugar.

There is talk that the high cost of producing sugar in Kenya has been a major factor that has led to the dwindling fortunes of the country’s sugar industry. When compared to other sugar producing countries that are signatories to the COMESA free trade agreement, it is pretty clear that the cost of producing sugar in Kenya is quite high.

For instance, the Kenya Sugar Directorate notes that it costs an average of $146 (at current exchange rate) to produce a tonne of sugar in Uganda, Tanzania, Sudan, Egypt, Malawi, Swaziland and Zambia. In Kenya, production of a tonne of sugar costs an average of $442 at current exchange rates.

The high cost of producing sugar in Kenya eventually makes the processed commodity to be highly priced domestically and externally hence Kenyan sugar cannot favorably compete in the external markets especially in the COMESA member states.

But will privatization of the five state-owned sugar enterprises lead to relatively lower costs of production and production of relatively cheaper sugar?

Key Observations & Crucial Lessons

Privatizing the sugar firms without drawing lessons from similar past practices is an exercise in futility. There is need to interrogate the successes and failures of firms that were initially state-owned enterprises and later on privatized.

Specifically, in the case of the sugar industry, comprehensive analysis following the privatization of Mumias Sugar Company has to be carried out to establish how effective and efficient this company has operated since its transition from a state enterprise to a public company in 2001.

In the last three financial years, Mumias Sugar Company has recorded losses amounting to Kshs.15.24 billion. This is in contrast with the Kshs.3.1 billion channeled to the company for the last two years to bail it out from the financial challenges that it is facing.

The situation is similar with other public companies listed on the Nairobi Securities Exchange that were previously state-owned enterprises. They include Uchumi Supermarket, National Bank of Kenya, Kenya Airways and Kenya Power whose privatization has been characterized by financial woes.

It should be noted, however, that the government still possesses significant ownership in these companies, including Mumias Sugar hence forming a basis for the bailout programmes by The National Treasury.

At this juncture, it is critically important to put forth fundamental questions in a bid to question the essence of privatizing the state corporations: should the government retain some ownership in the privatized firms? By the government having a certain percentage of ownership in the privatized firms, does this serve as a loophole for embezzlement of finances from these entities? Is full privatization of state-owned enterprises a guarantee for better efficiency in their operations?

The ‘Mumias Experiment’ indicates that privatization may not guarantee efficiency in terms of production of sugar including lowering the cost of producing the same commodity. Minimal presence of government and majority of ownership by private individuals and entities has led to the near collapse of the country’s largest sugar miller.

If at all privatization was to be the answer and elixir to the problems of inefficiency associated with state-owned enterprises then all of them would be generating high returns and making profits while minimizing their costs of operation.

From the preceding statement, a pertinent issue that arises centres and borders on the nature of the so-called strategic private investors who own the largest stake in these commercial entities once they are privatized. Who are they? Do they conspire, connive and act in cahoots with corrupt politicians to squeeze financial life out of these formerly state-owned enterprises?

With politics, progressive or retrogressive, determining the economic trajectory of a country or region/county, it cannot be disputed that the wanton nature of Kenya’s politics is largely responsible for the financial problems facing the privatized Mumias Sugar Company.

Even with the privatization of Mumias Sugar, the political hawks and white collar conmen have not been deterred from denting and wrecking the operations of this firm.

The bailout programmes by The National Treasury can only be termed as ‘cosmetic economics’. Acting on directions from the powers that be, The National Treasury bureaucrats have decided to play politics with the revitalization of Mumias Sugar Company.

On one hand, money is disbursed to help the ailing Mumias Sugar Company but on the other hand, politicians go behind the scenes to demand for money channeled to this firm!

In addition, the resuscitation of Mumias Sugar Company has degenerated into a political chess game with the sugar firm equated to a pawn!

The failed ‘Mumias Experiment’ is likely to be the state of affairs with the five state-owned sugar enterprises earmarked for privatization.

Way Forward for the Sugar Industry

As the privatization of the state-owned sugar enterprises gains momentum, attention must be paid to certain fundamentals of which failure to address them will lead to the total collapse of the sugar industry.

One of the foremost issues that must be addressed is the subsidization of the activities related with the production of sugar. The ‘Mumias Experiment’ reveals that since its privatization, there have been weak subsidization programmes to significantly cut down on the cost of producing sugar.

Unless privatization of the sugar industry is accompanied by subsidization schemes, Kenyan sugar will still be highly priced in markets within the COMESA region and beyond.

The second fundamental issue that must be addressed is the political wretchedness that has clouded the sugar industry.

Going forward, four scenarios play out with specific reference to Kenya’s collapsing sugar industry. Firstly, a privatization programme in which the government still has a stake in the sugar companies is bound to create more economic misery and lead to total failure of the sugar industry.

Secondly, the national government may go on with the privatization plan but cede its stake in these enterprises to the county governments based on two reasons. One, agriculture is a devolved function and two, the previous privatization ‘experiments’ in which the national government has a percentage of ownership have been characterized by unending political interests, a genesis for embezzlement of financial resources.

The third scenario, as proposed by a few people, is the abandonment of sugar-cane farming. It may be fruitful to shift from sugar-cane farming to other agricultural activities but this will negatively affect Kenya’s balance of payment position because the volume of sugar imports will rise.

Fourthly, the national government can still own the sugar enterprises but focus on subsidization and elimination of cartels and the political interests.

If the national government is truly committed in resuscitating the sugar industry that is wallowing and sinking with a debt burden of Kshs.50 billion, then it has to totally clear this debt and stop playing cheap and petty politics.

In the event that county governments are incorporated in the management of these sugar processing enterprises, they must pursue subsidization policies with two main objectives at hand: increased production of sugar with enough surpluses for exportation, and production of cheaper sugar.

Otherwise, blatant, blunt and hell bent privatization without addressing the requisite fundamentals is all but an economic charade and worst of all, an economic bluff!

 

swwSitati Wasilwa is a post-graduate student at the University of Nairobi, School of Economics, pursuing a Master of Arts in Economic Policy Management. His twitter handle is @SitatiWasilwa  and he also publishes on sitatiwasilwa.blogspot.com

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.

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.

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