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Let us urgently revivify private sector if we’re to grow economy

Tuesday December 3 2019

Ruto, Uhuru and Raila at BBI launch

President Uhuru Kenyatta (centre), Deputy President William Ruto (left) and ODM leader Raila Odinga launch the Building Bridges Initiative task force report at Bomas of Kenya, Nairobi, on November 27, 2019. PHOTO | PSCU 

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The reason the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) has galvanised the political elite is that our leaders only jump into action when political fortunes or hegemonic interests of elites from their tribe are at stake.

However, we have serious — and more important — economic issues that should galvanise such attention. The mess around the national debt problem is one.


But what I want to highlight today is a serious issue happening right under our nose, but we seem to have ignored: Declining profitability of companies in this country.

Who is bothered about the fact that most companies have literally frozen investment in expansion? Who cares that a good number of companies have been forced into situations where they would rather postpone remitting taxes to use the cash flow for funding operations?

Who is bothered about the fact that companies are tossing workers into the street in droves?


What helps the political elite is that our people are very docile. The citizen of this country is able to take in stride economic hardships capable of precipitating an ‘Arab Spring’ elsewhere.

We just sit back as the elite continue implementing what they describe to us as “game-changing ideas” when all they care about is hegemonic interests of their tribesmen.


BBI is very important, yes. But let’s also agree that we urgently need a ‘Marshall Plan’ to deal with the declining profitability of companies.

One of the biggest flaws in economic policy in this country has been failure to prioritise expansion investment in the private sector as a national priority. Policy is crafted around the notion that a rich government, with more revenues, equals better living standards.

The business community is forced to endure untold pressure and injustice from a taxation regime that is beginning to look more and more predatory. In reality, it benefits no one except accountants and tax consultants.

Which brings me back to the BBI.

It should not surprise you that the BBI has not presented game-changing economic ideas. It’s a true reflection of the dearth of serious thinkers among our leaders. Instead of thinkers, what passes as leaders in this country are self-absorbed elites — merchants of anger and bitterness?


Honestly, who among the top players across the political landscape stands out as a leader burning to experiment with new economic ideas?

For them, leadership is all about getting a job for yourself, your cronies and tribesmen. Sadly, as a society, we have put too high a premium on jobs in the public sector — yet we all know that the priority of priorities today is how to reinvigorate the private sector.

We used to produce and export more pyrethrum, coffee, cotton, beef, fish, sisal, maize, wheat, potatoes … name it … in the 1980s and ’90s than we do today. However, our manufacturing sector is losing its dominance as a net exporter of goods and services in the region.

We must go back to appreciating that a shilling spent by the private sector is much better for the country in terms of efficiency and productivity than that expended on those big projects that we celebrate.


So, what is the BBI all about? Granted, we are still on the road of redressing the dysfunctional political system that we started with the 2010 Constitution.

The recommendations may be underwhelming. But it is in the nature and structure of this country that any major reforms come in dribs and drabs. You don’t expect the incumbent elites to write their own death warrants.

In 2013, President Kenyatta appointed a task force that came up with far- reaching changes on how to restructure the parastatal sector. But the whole thing stalled because of resistance.

It seems what the BBI will try to do is prepare the landscape for the new and opportunistic tribal alliances as we move towards the 2022 General Election. It has become part of our recent history that new alliances must be struck by ethnic oligarchs whenever we approach a critical political transition.

The stage has been set for a long period of noisy politicking. These merchants of bitterness and anger have made watching prime television or popular talk shows a very depressing affair.


Today, TV is dominated by a boring menu of MPs and other talking heads who pretend to be articulating issues of national interest but merely use national platforms to bare strident and divisive rhetoric.

We see MPs being herded like goats to press conferences, funeral gatherings and church services, where they take turns to spew angry rhetoric and display blind ethnic solidarity.

The priority of priorities today is reinvigoration of productivity in the real sector.