Kenya is fixated on elections, as Brexit takes shape

Friday June 30 2017

By LUIS FRANCESCHI
More by this Author

Since 2002, Kenya has tended to go into a kind of Alzheimer’s condition every election year.

We forget who we are and why, our government forgets its promises and the opposition forgets it was once in power.

Promises and dreams fly right, left and centre. There is excitement on the outside and fear on the inside. Since 2007, every election season is a sad season, full of uncertainty, suspicion and threats.  

It is as if every five years we lose our “Kenyanness” and become poisonous, vitriolic hatemongers. We speak in low tones of those “others” and how they are trying to cheat us.

We judge, accuse and condemn neighbours, workmates and colleagues, based on biased prejudices and hearsay.  For the sake of social and mental sanity, we and our press must take a break from local politics from time to time.

I will be writing about and looking deeper into party manifestos and promises in the next few weeks. But, for the sake of sanity, I wanted us to take a break from the current political discussion that permeates everything that is published in our press, almost everything that is aired on our TV and radio stations and read in our social media postings.  

For the past three months, Kenyans have been ´tortured´ with Nasa and Jubilee´s primaries, promises and propaganda. We eat, breathe, sleep and drink Nasa and Jubilee, and from time to time, have IEBC for dessert.

Everything in excess is unhealthy and we have had politics in excess. 

Nobody should pretend to ignore politics a few weeks before elections. However, this political excess and overdose of manifestos, promises, accusations and counter-arguments poses a clear danger for the growth and development of the country.   

I want to pause for a moment. Think of those many important things happening around us that are not being reported, studied or looked into.

For example, the revolutionary M-Akiba has been launched at the Nairobi Securities Exchange, an amazing and unique step in financial inclusion. This is the real democratisation of our public finances. 

Last Thursday, I was invited by a young and enterprising professional, Joel Okwemba, to participate in a panel discussion on Brexit. Interesting developments are taking place in Europe, and our election fever may help us miss out key opportunities. 

Few people may realise how much Europe is set to change. Some experts speak of the possible breakup of the United Kingdom. Some say that Brexit´s vote restored sovereignty.

Others speak of an imminent disintegration, with Scotland and Northern Ireland walking out of the United Kingdom. Whatever the case, we are facing three different, but interrelated, scenarios.

SHREWD POLITICIANS

First, what led Britain to vote for Brexit? It could be referendum strategy, abstention, xenophobia, isolationism, or simply the ignorance of the common electorate on the impact of such a decision.

This is for Britain to sort out; those are their internal affairs. The fact is that Britain´s government is making all possible efforts to minimise any negative impact by negotiating a mega-compromise that would in practice allow them to retain, as far as possible, the status quo. 

Nauro Campos argues that:

Britain eschewed EU membership in the late 1950s but changed its mind in the early 1960s, only to be rebuffed by Charles de Gaulle. Membership came only in the early 1970s… Britain joined the EU as a way to avoid its economic decline. The UK’s per capita GDP relative to the EU founding members’ declined steadily from 1945 to 1972. However, it was relatively stable between 1973 and 2010. This suggests substantial benefits from EU membership especially considering that, by sponsoring an overpowered integration model, Britain joined too late, at a bad moment in time, and at an avoidably larger cost. 

As usually happens, it is relatively easy for shrewd politicians to manipulate the electorate by rewriting history. In the pre-referendum political discourse, pro-Brexit advocates downplayed the benefits of being part of the EU and exacerbated the evils of such arrangement.

They focused on the simpler, annoying bits of the Union: the mandatory contribution to Brussels and the seemingly uncontrolled migration (not realising that more than a migration problem, Britain has an indigenous depletion problem, coupled with the effects of having been the greatest colonising power of the 20th century, so we all want to go to Britain and speak like them).

NEW DISINTEGRATION

This was not a European problem but the result of a historical fact.

Second, the European Union should re-examine itself. Brexit is also a European issue. Is Europe coming closer to a new disintegration? Could Britain´s exit be a prelude to a French departure post-Macron? And what about Netherlands or Italy?

This is the flag of many a populist and that is dangerous.  

Is the European Union of today the same as the Union the British joined in 1973? Is the Union today still the dream envisioned by Schuman, Adenauer, De Gasperi and Monnet, and the others who followed?

Would the “founding fathers” agree to what the EU is and represents today? Perhaps yes, maybe not in some aspects. This is something that the EU, as a modern role model for all regional integration bodies, must examine.

What is it that is making this “walking away” fashionable as a populist flag? 

NEW PARTNERS

Third and more important for us: Is Brexit affecting us, and if so, how? Certainly, this European upheaval opens new opportunities for economic growth or decline. 

Brexit has certainly affected research and education. The EU has traditionally been the biggest research donor in Kenya. The EU required a European partner and, for example, Strathmore University's most common partners were Oxford, Warwick, LSE and Cambridge. 

These universities are no longer qualifying partners for EU long-term grants, which has pushed African universities to search for new partners in continental Europe: Germany, France, Spain, Belgium, etc. 

Brexit has also opened new avenues for grants. Britain should give a huge push to the Commonwealth of Nations, as well as keep their strategic partners through their traditional donor agencies. 

Kenya must be attentive to the ins and outs of Brexit. The process is irreversible for Britain and also interesting for both Britain and Kenya. This is the time to forge new agreements, strengthen ties and make the most out of what seems to be an absurd situation.

Britain will have to deal with tough times, there is no doubt. Joris Luyendijk speaks of a Brexodus! He says:

It will not happen in spectacular ways, so do not expect TV footage of hordes of well-heeled EU nationals making for Heathrow airport or the Channel tunnel. Rather it will be a steady, inexorable drip-feed. It has already started and as the true implications of Brexit sink in the number will swell. Call it the Brexodus: well-educated EU nationals with the global job market at their feet turning their back on a country they had thought of as a good and safe place to make their homes.

Times are unpredictable for our third-most important international partner. In spite of our election fever, we should keep a keen eye on how to help and the impact such a situation will have on us.

Dr Franceschi is the dean of Strathmore Law School. [email protected]; Twitter: @lgfranceschi