Monday, January 31, 2022

Look how far we done fell

What is your relationship to your leader? Are you there just to follow orders, or are you ever proactive? Do you have heartfelt alignment with your leader around a shared purpose? Do you ever come up with your own ideas or contributions for the common good? Are you positive and upbeat about the direction of the group? Do you build your own skills and competencies or do you always wait for them to be handed down? - Sunny Bindra (We spend so much time on leaders. What about followers?)

There are no naturally-occurring vacuums on this planet. The national ethos when it comes to leadership and followership demonstrates the interconnectedness of things. One reinforces the other. Bad leaders are often the result of bad followers and bad followers are the result of bad leaders. But it is not all a binary arrangement: it is how we end up with outliers in life.

A series of decisions were incrementally reinforced and ended up defining the nature of our relationships to our leaders, whether in families, private organisations or Government. One of those decisions was to allow lies to slide. In families, children are taught that lies are wrong. In many families, children are punished when they lie. But children are not blind; they see the lies that many adults in their families engage in on a daily basis, and how the adults justify those lies. Children witness the hypocrisy and adapt to it; they learn how to lie without being caught in the lie, and to justify their underhandedness, just like the adults in their lives.

The same is true of organisations. Lies at the top will be reflected in lies at the bottom. If you have been to a large garage and been offered a "discount" by the mechanic that is not reflected on the worksheet signed of on the boss, then you know this to be true - and a reflection of the trickery the boss engages in with his suppliers and other stakeholders. If you've witnessed the minister of faith preaching about marital fidelity while he seduces members of this congregation, you know that truth-telling, regardless of context, is no longer admirable.

When it comes to Government, the evidence is manifest. Take public transport as an example. You must have seen the hundreds of unroadworthy PSVs that clog the streets. Or the sub-standard multi-billion shillings roadworks that don't survive first contact with rains. They are a manifestation of the lies government officials tell to each other and to the people they serve. They are manifestations of the lies that are accepted among government officials and by us, the people they serve. It is no longer fashionable to call out lies and liars. We mostly go along to get along. No fuss, no muss. Liwe liwalo.

Our relationships are but on lies. It is the best explanation for why we seem incapable of being good followers or choosing good leaders. We turn blind eyes to how so and so became a billionaire because we want to follow the same malign path to great wealth. We turn blind eyes to his so and so stays at the top of the parliamentary establish because we wish to employ the same tricks - bribery, ethnic jingoism, violence - to ascend to the same heights as he. If a few people get injured, maimed or killed, so what? No one is saying anything about it so why should I?

Over the next six months, men and women who have pretended to be paragons of virtue will reveal their true colours. Some have already done so. They will reveal that lies don't bother them; that greed doesn't bother them; that murder, violence and mayhem are their stock-in-trade. Some will be offered national platforms to share their destructive agendas. Some will manipulate social media platforms. Some will assiduously support them. The vast majority of us - silent, morose, cowed, afraid, traumatised - will watch and seethe and pick the wrong side. The few voices of conscience still willing to speak out will be suppressed. Look how far we done fell.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

The Great Potato War

When my KCSE results arrived, and the shock of having passed had receded, my parents and I arrived at a decision that would have profound consequences on my future. Because of my less-than-reliable views on hard work, it was decided that the deep end of adulthood was what I needed and I was, by mutual agreement, despatched to the Indian subcontinent to read law. That is where I encountered the US multinationals that got me hooked on junk: Macdonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC). The Maharajah Mac, dear brothers and sisters, is the heroin of burgers. But this is not the story of my Maharajah Mac pining.

This past week, Kenyans on Twitter, the redoubtable #KOT, waged a war to end all wars against the Kenyan franchisee of KFC over the refusal by the franchisee to source its potatoes from Kenya on the laughable grounds that Kenyans couldn't meet the KFC standard. I am not here to relitigate the finer details of the war, save for one of the issues that cropped up: industrial policy.

I have been privileged to witness the making, unmaking and remaking of various policies. It is far from a pretty sight. Policy-making requires the kind of patient administrative work that the current regime lacks in its senior-most ranks. There are senior government officials who labour mightily under the illusion that all they need to do is snap their fingers, and shillings rain down like manna from heaven - and they consider this the epitome of policy-making. It is how someone can rouse themselves from the comfort of their beds and declare that Kenyans will not access public services unless they are fully vaccinated. And it is this kind of policy-making ignorance that invites the demands that were made last week to "ban the import of frozen potatoes from Egypt".

Policy, generally, is not overly complicated. Industrial policy, as with agricultural policy, on the other hand, can lead one to tear their hair out. There are so many moving parts that coherence is often sacrificed at the altar of political expediency, corruption and bureaucratic laziness. Anyone who has watched as Kenya's sugar industry cratered and billions were wasted on "sugar reforms" will surely admit this to be true. The potato industry seems to be a victim of the same malaise that afflicts sugar, maize, bean and coffee. The current nabobs of the agriculture sector, led by the indefatigable minister, are no longer interested in a coherent agricultural policy and their counterparts in the industrialisation ministry seem powerless to rein in bad policy ideas.

Nothing epitomises the policy incoherence more than the utter failure to scale up market facilities at the local level. If you have had the privilege of passing through Wakulima Market at four in the morning, then you must surely wonder how lorry loads of tomatoes and other agricultural produce end up dumped outside the market because the market does not have bulk cold storage facilities, sixty years after it was established. The same is true nationwide., Indeed, even in the case of NCPB's silos, modernisation seems to have been abandoned and the national silo infrastructure is no longer fit for use.

The continued lack of a coherent and comprehensive policy, one that is founded on the objectives of Kenya Vision 2030, is one more indictment of the current regime that has obsessively built infrastructure whose short-term and long-term economic efficacy is doubtful at best. The billions squandered on floating bridges and last-mile connectivity could have established a robust agriculture infrastructure programme that would have considerably reduced post-harvest agricultural losses and facilitated the development of a vibrant domestic commodities market. The Great Potato War is merely the latest proof of the utter failure of the agriculture sector nawabs.

As by law established

The members of my profession, the ones with a pompous sense of importance, tend to use phrases whose value has diminished greatly since the ...