Bring on policies, not rhetoric - Beaking Kenya News

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Friday, 19 February 2021

Bring on policies, not rhetoric


Watu wa magari ni wabaya sana. Unamwelezea njia kwa nini? Afadhali watu wa pikipiki, atakubeba; lakini watu wa magari hata ukiwaomba lifti ni wachoyo sana wana maringo hawatakusaidia. Ati gari ikiharibika mnaenda kusaidia? Nyinyi ni wajinga; waache wafie hapo! (Motorists are bad people. Why are you giving directions to a motorist? At least a bodaboda rider will carry you. If you ask a motorist for a lift, they are selfish and arrogant; they will never let you inside their car. Helping a motorist in trouble is stupid; leave him to die!)

It was early morning and I had hit the road to allow the varicose veins some air. The road was packed with good folks walking from one end of the city to the other where they work.

The woman shouting these unkind words was stout and strong, the product of hard physical labour and simple food. Her face, set in a hard, disgruntled leer, faced the pedestrian giving instructions, but her eyes were fixed on mine.

I thought that, in me indulging in the bourgeoisie cake-eating Marie Antoinette activity of jogging, she saw the perfect representation of the “other” — an oppressive, public money-stealing, poverty-causing ethnically-favoured leech. And, to her, anyone in a car, whether taxi or limousine, was a card-carrying member of that class.

 And her anger, surely, was not coming out of my guilt — she couldn’t tell me from Adam — but her circumstances; a bone tiredness from a hard life with menial labour, poor rewards and no hope of improvement. Tired, helpless and angry with life.

Fear mongering

This incident three weeks ago has been turning over in my mind as well as this whole debate about hustlers and dynasties. I generally have no strong political views, none that I care to express anyway, and I’m not easily swayed by fear mongering.

Listening to the people around me, I think Deputy President William Ruto has manoeuvred himself into a place of political advantage rather well. One particular analysis has caught my attention: In Tangatanga, there is no doubt who the candidate is, there is no possibility of contestation, the message is clear, the chain of command is clear and the group is fairly united. And, most important, he is not campaigning through the usual ethnic chieftains; he has gone directly to the people.

There are two other possible ticket types in 2022: The wild cards like Dr Mukhisa Kituyi, who have some work to do to build familiarity with the electorate, enhance name recognition and ignite a grassroots wave.

The wild card will generally be competent, brilliant folks, but without the fortunes burnt in campaigns or the backing of oligarchs, who are more likely to back one of their own to preserve class interests.

The other will be the same old names making a 50th stab at it. Some are good progressive people; others will be folks without anything to recommend them, save a long career in politics without tangible outcome and the currency of their ethnic voting bloc.

 But they, too, have a right to run and, if they won, they might do a decent job. But very many big names will have to sit around a table and agree to one candidate. There isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that they will. It’s more likely that they will quarrel and some, inevitably, will cross over to the other tickets.

Given his experience in politics, I have a feeling that the DP has positioned himself to receive and comfort the defectors — unsurprising but not remarkable. It’s his choice of campaign message that I will comment on.

It, too, is clever and dangerous but not necessarily for the reasons advanced. Brilliant as it frightens the status quo and the forces ranged against him, threatens their interests and the survival of their way of life. That’s good politics.


And it is not dangerous due to inequality but, in the nature of the inequality, there exists a real risk of weaponising pent-up anger against wealth and prosperity. Kenya is a mid-table society in the league of inequality, the 66th most unequal country. Inequality — defined by Jeremiah Owiti, in his 2014 paper, as the degree to which the distribution of welfare generated in an economy differs from that of equal share among inhabitants, is not bad.

It is to be expected so long as it is reasonable, is the result of honest and lawful economic and political activity, is recognised and there are policies implemented to address it.

But inequality in Kenya is truly extreme. Borrowing from the same paper, 87.5 per cent of Turkana County residents are poor but only 21 per cent in Nairobi are; 93 per cent of Turkana East constituents are poor but only 10 per cent in Embakasi West are.

Our inequality isn’t born of healthy economic activity and competition. It’s the result of corrupt application of public policy “to preserve class, ethnic, gender, racial and geographic advantages”, as Owiti says.

A by-product of corruption and unfairness, starting with disinheriting some communities when their land was taken away, the racially and ethnically tilted access to power and state resources to the crooked Africanisation, which gave sections of the population unequal access to large tracts of land.

This is a time bomb that needs serious policy to defuse. Slogans and millionaires in peasant’s shirts are not enough.


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