What you need to know:
- While some opposed it, Raila supported the Constitution of Kenya 2010. Who would you trust to continue implementing it?
- Raila has committed to supporting micro and small businesses to become competitive by tackling the causes of low productivity.
Recently, a friend asked me about our declared support for Raila. Yaani mmeamua? (so you have made up your mind?) he queried as he sought to know why we were moving decisively to shatter myths around the saleability of Raila in the Mt Kenya region.
I offer four reasons for that support: Vision 2030, the candidate’s temperament, credible leadership and values. Let us examine each of them briefly.
I am an ardent supporter of Vision 2030. It is, without doubt, Kenya’s most compelling vision in modern times. It seeks to make Kenya a middle-income, democratic, industrialising country with a high quality of life. It builds on three key pillars – political, social and economic, and some enablers, key among them infrastructure and ICT.
From a leadership strategy point of view, Vision 2030 was one of the major achievements of the Grand Coalition Government (2008-2013). A vision is vital because if you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there! It also detailed what needed fixing and how.
It recognised that our politics was toxic and oppressive, and practised in an ever-shrinking space. Fundamental rights were widely abused by an extractive state that was finding it difficult to pay its way. Throughout the 90s, the struggle for a new constitution had taken centre-stage. The key deliverable, therefore, in reforming politics and state power was the Constitution of Kenya 2010.
It is hard to identify a bigger or more important milestone. While some opposed it, Raila supported the Constitution of Kenya 2010. Who would you trust to continue implementing it?
On the social pillar, we must refurbish the soul of our nation, for our society remains polarised particularly along ethnic lines. National ethos has been corroded in some areas beyond repair. For instance, there is no reputational risk to corruption. On the contrary, we seem to glorify it. Those who loot the most get to sit with the bishop.
One recent attempt to find credible solutions was the ‘Handshake’ and the resultant Building Bridges Initiative. The constitutional proposals sought to introduce responsibilities of the citizen, so that fundamental rights are not framed merely as entitlements. Raila was the handshake partner. Who do you trust to find a solution?
The second part of the social pillar is ensuring that no household is left behind – hence the commitment to social protection through a Sh6,000 monthly stipend for indigent families.
Infrastructure is a key enabler for economic prosperity. Key costs in any manufacturing or agricultural production include logistics and energy. There is no doubt the Jubilee administration has built thousands of kilometres of tarmac roads. They extended the national fibre-optic cable – NOFBI – to many towns, and have continued with rapid electrification across the nation. They built the standard gauge railway (SGR). All these enablers are intended to lead to one thing – higher incomes. But for this to happen, work must now focus on the economic pillar.
What is our economic situation? Real wages have stagnated for more than a decade. In the years 2000–2008, real wages had increased 4.8 times, rising to Sh33,000 per person per month. Thereafter they declined to Sh26,000, before rising sluggishly to the current level of Sh31,000.
This partly explains why people feel their lives have stagnated. Most middle-class folks say they have not made significant investments in the last decade. Yet they know a few people who seem to be thriving in another parallel economy.
This has left many wishing the same could happen to them, even as they blamed politicians for the stagnation. One group has picked on ‘Dynasties’. In previous electoral cycles, Mt Kenya communities were the target.
Blame games aside, we need to shore up productivity, as this is what drives real wages. All the economic theories being thrown around must grapple with how to increase productivity at the firm and household levels. Increased productivity is what will make our businesses globally competitive and lead to increases in real wages and higher standards of living.
We have to go beyond the slogans to solve the underlying causes of low productivity, including high energy and capital costs as well as technology. Take energy. Our small businesses compete with counterparts in the far East who pay less than six US cents while we pay three times more at 18 US cents per kilowatt hour. We must also lower the cost of capital. Casual observation shows real interests were lowest in the years leading up to 2008, averaging about 1.2 per cent over a six-year period. We must return to that level.
Most importantly, we must promote domestic technology. As I have pointed out in this column before, some of our policies favour imported technology. The export processing zones law is a good example. Imported machinery is tax-free for the EPZ operator, but machinery made in Kenya does not get the same advantage.
In various forums, Raila has committed to supporting micro and small businesses to become competitive by tackling the causes of low productivity.
Let us turn to credible leadership and temperament. These two leadership characteristics are important because of how they affect the economy. The economy is driven in part by expectations. When we are hopeful and positive about the future, we tend to invest, but also increase consumption. The opposite is also true. When we are fearful of the future, we scale back.
Economists talk of consumer and business confidence. During periods of low business confidence, firms adopt a wait-and-see attitude, holding back investments and reducing the level of stock they hold.
A good example is the Kibaki years. Kenyans believed Kibaki would fix the economy. We proceeded to behave, as did he, in ways that in fact resulted in a better economy. For instance, he dramatically brought down interest rates. We responded by borrowing and investing. As electricity reached rural market centres, we ventured into fabrication, making windows and doors and so on. All this increased productivity, and with it our real wages.
To move to higher productivity levels, we require more automation of micro and small businesses as well as small-scale farmers. The machines and tools must be made in Kenya. All this requires affordable and patient capital, so we are back to the question of the business support that the incoming government will commit to.
Back to business confidence. Who, among all the contenders for the nation’s CEO job can inspire consumer and business confidence? In framing the political contest, some of Raila’s competitors have identified medium-sized and large businesses as the problem. Referring to them as dynasties, they have branded them the enemy. How can these businesses possibly feel confident about the future? Compare that to Raila’s pledge to build the competitiveness of all businesses!
Our last point is on values. What does a leader believe in? Courage is a key requirement for effective leadership. Leaders must lead. Some politicians say they want to listen to the ground to figure out which way the political wind is blowing. The Constitution demands public participation in policy making. And policy without legitimacy will fail no matter how clever the idea is. But leadership is also about providing a compelling vision! To do that, the leader must believe in what they are selling and build effective coalitions to carry the idea through.
Take democratic ideals. Which leader has shown consistency in fighting for increased political and economic freedom? Which of them can hold up a candle and say they have stood on principle? That they are willing to die for the freedom of all Kenyans? Raila.
Ndiritu Muriithi is the Governor of Laikipia County. @NdirituMuriithi