alexa Manifestos, as they go, are quite fine, but where are the economic thinkers? - Daily Nation

Manifestos, as they go, are quite fine, but where are the economic thinkers?

Tuesday January 29 2013



I have just gone through the manifesto put out by the Cord alliance on Tuesday. I gather that the other big grouping, Jubilee, will publish its economic blueprint next week.

I must confess that I find party manifestos rather boring and predictable. These days, you hardly find anything radical in the economic blueprints which political parties produce.

In the past, political leaders were thinkers. If you follow the history of economic policy-making, you will not fail to notice that there was a time when leaders were associated with specific policies and ideas.

Today, you cannot point out a single leader you can describe as a thinker.

We used to read about Tom Mboya’s policy on African Socialism and how Sessional Paper No 1 of 1965 greatly influenced economic policy-making in the immediate post-independence period.

In the mid-1980s, Mr Simeon Nyachae came up with the District Focus for Rural Development policy. Thus, long before devolution came to town, Nyachae was out there grappling with one of the most ambitious experiments at decongesting and decentralising the State apparatus.

In those days, every other leader was struggling to stamp his authority on the marketplace of ideas and policies.

Within the region, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere of Tanzania stood out in this regard. Even his fiercest critics will be the first to admit that he was a man of ideas.

Ujamaa was a brave experiment at restructuring the Tanzanian society in very fundamental ways.

Even the much disparaged former leader of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Field Marshal Mobutu Sese Seko, stood for something: He was associated with the policy of recours al’authentice.

More recently, former South African president Thabo Mbeki came up with his policy of “African Renaissance”.

Where are the thinkers in this presidential race? Who among the candidates can you single out as a leader burning to experiment with some well thought-out ideas on how to restructure our economy?

Instead of thinkers, the leaders we have are mere careerists. It is all about getting a job for yourself, your cronies, and tribesmen.

As a nation, we don’t think through and debate policies before we implement them. Ideas and policies are hurriedly put together and whenever we gather to debate policies, it is most likely at the invitation of some Western donor or foundation where we are invited to choose a topic from a menu prepared by people with only a superficial understanding of this country.

Where are the big ideas of the next decade? After 10 years of expansionary policies, is it not time to try economic austerity? And, who among the presidential candidates is ready to wield the axe?

State expenditure is what drove growth during the tenure of President Kibaki. Big spending and heavy borrowing funded growth and in turn stimulated high tax revenues.

Is an economy based on easy credit and government borrowing going to be sustainable going forward?

The reason our shilling is under constant pressure is because we achieved growth at the expense of a widening current account deficit.

The hyperbolic talk about how our economy is doing so well that it does not need the support of the international lending institutions needs to be subjected to a reality check.

The truth is that we are going into an election with very shaky government finances. Revenues shortfalls have persisted. The government borrowing has hit the roof.

As at the end of the first five months of the current financial year, cumulative domestic borrowing had surpassed the target by Sh31 billion. The government has a massive wage bill – now at about 12 per cent of the GDP. Indeed, public sector wages are now consuming a disproportionate share of tax revenues.

After the elections, we will still have to provide money to pay the salaries of county governors, county assembly members, senators, women representatives and close to 100 additional Members of Parliament.

Manifestos should not be just a matter of listing down promises. Demonstrate to me that you have a good grasp of where the economy is, where it is likely to go, and what must be done to mitigate the economic challenges.