Sunday, September 29, 2013

One nation, One blood.

Why are they referring to the Westgate as a "symbol of Kenya's economy" and as "a high value target for terrorists," and that elite shoppers are the engine of the Kenyan economy? Don't get me wrong; the Westgate is a symbol, but it is not at "the heart of the Kenyan economy" nor is it the centre of economic activity in Kenya.

Since the halcyon days of public policy making in the 1960s, Kenya has undergone various economic iterations, each determined by mainly external factors. The collapse of the coffee price in the late 1970s and a voracious boll worm attack devastated Kenya's coffee industry; it is yet to resurrect. Structural Adjustment Programmes sponsored by the International Monetary Fund in the 1980s, including the privatisation of state-owned corporations and public utilities, destroyed manufacturing; the industry is now dominated by quasi-monopolies and foreign-owned trans-national conglomerates. Cost-sharing in education, introduced at the advent of the 8-4-4 system, has seen the quality of both basic and higher education deteriorate to such an extent that more Kenyan scholars publish papers abroad than in Kenya today. We will simply chalk up the decrepitude found in basic education to "this is Kenya."

This Kenya is not the Kenya that spends time or money at the Westgate; the Westgate Kenya is the cosmopolitan one which is well-read, well-travelled, and, crucially, white-collar-employed in the "knowledge economy" that we hear so much from the mandarins in the government. The Kenya Westgate constitutes less than ten per cent of the population. The vast majority of Kenyans do not have the privilege of being bombed in swanky malls my al Shabaab; they are bombed in filthy council markets, one-room shacks that double up as places of worship, Migingos where they get to enjoy a cold one after work, and public service vehicles plying the often death-inviting smooth highways of death. When they are killed, the government, and its "friends" overseas, does what it does best: it dissembles, it promises retribution, it promises justice, and then it goes back to business as usual. It is rare that a foreigner, especially an Anglo, is a victim of the violence perpetrated against the majority of Kenyans by al Shabaab, and organised crime syndicates. But now that they are victims it is time to step up the fight against al Shabaab.

Kenya's economy is not dependent on Westgate; it is dependent on our continued agricultural growth. 60% of Kenya's GDP is agriculture-based, with a large chunk of that in horticulture, coffee and tea. White goods account for a pitifully small chunk of the GDP, mostly because we manufacture very few white goods, and still fewer high tech ones of those too. But if it is consumption that the government is worried about, it is fast-moving consumer goods that account for that portion of the economy, but only in the form of wafer-thin margin kadogo quantities. The middle class may be growing; but it is yet to become the driving engine of the economy through consumption.

So why do we dismiss the suffering of Kenyans when they are not getting killed at the Westgate? Is it because the men and women charged with the duty of keeping Kenyans safe do not shop at Gikomba, Marigiti, Mutindwa or Soko Mjinga any more? None of them is troubled by the hassle of fighting to board a PSV at 6 in the morning and 6 in the evening. Their children do not share seats, desks (when they are available) or text books (if they are available) at school. They are yet to experience water shortages, sewer blockages or the pile up of garbage on their leafy streets. They do have exercise books cut in half as the foundation of their medical records when they go to the doctor. They do not give birth on the floor while being assaulted by medical staff. But when they are killed in their shiny malls, now Kenya is at war with evil? Now the safety of the State is at stake? Now the integrity of the nation is at risk?

This attitude is the same one that would seek to "eliminate loopholes" in the tax regime by enacting a VAT law that places an onerous burden on those with the least wherewithal without considering the knock-on effect of the law. The government will collect more revenue. The rich will pay their share. The poor will have to work harder. But in the aftermath of Westgate, the Kenya-of-the-Westgate was joined by the other Kenya in donating blood. The blood transfused into the veins of the victims did not refuse to flow because of economic status or political influence. Al Shabaab did more to remid the high and mighty that one day the one thing they will need from the hoi polloi, no money can buy.

No comments: