Sunday, April 09, 2023

It's Kenya Kwanza's ball game to lose

Measurement is necessary for decision-making. How many people do you need to feed? Measure that. How many cows does it take to produce a tonne of milk? Measure that. How many people pay income tax and how many should be paying income tax? Measure that. Measurements, to the best of my knowledge and understanding, are meant to help in decision-making. Measurements, even measurements of certain male appendages, are not an end in and of themselves, save for narcissists and cheats.

The Jubilation (2013 to 2022) was fond of measurements, the bulk of which served as camouflage for failure. Especially measurements in percentages were its favourites. This or that is so and so per cent complete. It was a constant refrain, especially when it became clear that its achievements on the ground were hard to identify and whose effect was quite often negative. You would witness senior cabinet officials attending at some inauguration or launch or commissioning of some partially-completed project and percentages would be bandied about as proof of "development". It was disrespectfully dishonest.

The roots of the "per cent complete" malady can be traced to Mwai Kibaki's Vision 2030. While the initial Medium-Term Plans were largely well-executed, the measurements were tied to some reasonable expectation of value for money for citizens. Thika Superhighway, super-expensive as it was, served a concrete need for the people who lived along the corridor. It is not Kibaki's fault that it remains a half-finished transportation corridor, lacking comprehensive non-motorised infrastructure or mass transit options for the tens of thousands of its users. But, by and large, it is a success story by Kenyan standards.

The Nairobi Expressway will struggle to meet the same level of value for money that Thika Superhighway did. The same is true of the Standard Gauge Railway. In the long term, maybe, the two boondoggles will make a decent return, but not even the rosiest projections by the most generous infrastructure planners think that return will be made before the 2060s. But in order to hide its flaws, the Jubilation hurled a flurry of numbers at us. The numbers did nothing to hide the enormous economic cost that the new structures cost Kenya and Kenyans. Only a few well-connected fat cats will keep smiling all the way to the bank.

It would be a mistake for Kenya Kwanza to adopt the bad habits of the Jubilation. The social media scorched earth war by some of its senior apparatchiks does not offer hope that Kenya Kwanza will try to do things a bit different. It is true that the economy Kenya Kwanza inherited was sabotaged sometime in 2015. It is also true that it inherited crippling debts and political uncertainty, especially given the indefatigable agitational pot-stirring by the defeated Azimio Tours, Safaris and Dynasts. But there was no excuse to saddle the National Executive with even greater uncertainty by hiring some of the least qualified senior policy-makers in twenty years.

Azimio will be pacified. That is inevitable. The administrative instability will prevail because some of the people given senior state appointments are not intelligent, qualified, capable or have the peoples' interests at heart. It is their administrative incompetence that will stymie efforts to right the economic ship of state, not the Azimio-sponsored cost-of-living protests. The logic of keeping these wastrels inside the tent pissing outside is straightforward but wrongheaded. When it becomes that they have been handed Range Rovers without the money to keep the juggernauts on the road, they will engage in reckless quick-money-minting schemes that will embroil them in multi-year corruption investigations. That is not a recipe for administrative predictability or economic success.

However, if they are kept on tight leashes and spanked whenever they get out of line, maybe, MAYBE, Kenya Kwanza can chart a path away from disaster. We may not escape short time growing pains, but maybe Kenya Kwanza can avert utter disaster. Only time will tell. Will Kenya Kwanza make the right choice or will it be distracted by the ineffectual Azimio shenanigans.

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