Occasionally I come across news that make me think that Kenya is still on the right track. The circus that is the current debate on the review of the constitution is definitely a reminder that the east African nation has a long way to go. But things are looking better elsewhere. For one, more Kenyan businesses (which include some of the noisemakers in parliament and their relatives) are lending to the central government. This is encouraging news in two ways:
First, it means that more people are investing in Kenya Co. and therefore will have incentives to make sure that the country does not go the way of the Ivory Coast.
Second, it means that more of the idle capital will get utilized in the provision of public goods, albeit inefficiently. They may have been late and not smartly implemented but I was quite impressed by the Finance ministry’s counter-cyclical policies to alleviate the effects of the slump. Job well done.
Now if only we could find a way of pooling all the cash that routinely gets used to over-subscribe to IPOs and package it in order to meet the treasury’s minimum requirement for investment in public debt. It would be kind of neat to see millions of wananchi investing in their own country. In this way they can indirectly pay taxes while at the same time strengthening the social contract because they will have incentives to monitor how government spends the money they loan it. Just a thought.
The Nigerian government has failed its people in so many respects that we have come to not expect the men and women in Abuja to deliver much. That said, this is too much. At the risk of sounding religiously intolerant, I am gonna go out on a limb and say that this should be considered cruel and unusual punishment.
The Church in Kenya has every right to lobby for a pro-life amendment to the draft constitution. But that does not give them the right to completely rubbish the opinions of women leaders. Women like Gender Minister Esther Murugi are not crazy child-killers. They are reasonable people who do not want the male-dominated constitutional review process to usurp too much of women’s reproductive rights. Demanding for women’s reproductive rights is not being pro-abortion. And if the church leaders are so concerned about abortion perhaps it is time they eased their opposition to contraceptives that limit the occurrence of unwanted pregnancies in the first place.
The fact that the Kenyan clergy feel the need to legislate morality is a clear pointer to their failure to do their job right. If you do not want people to have premarital sex or use contraceptives, preach to them from the pulpit. Do not seek to make this into law. In any case, Kenyan society is already conservative enough when it comes to things like abortion and sexuality. What we need is not a constitution that pushes us further into paranoia about these issues but one that protects our mothers and sisters from the tyranny of the men from 10,000 BC who run our country.
This quote from Hon. Murugi captures the absurdity of the amendments being proposed by the anti-women’s rights team: “Let us have a reproductive health bill where all other issues are addressed. For instance, women are using morning after pills after sex. Are you going to put us all in jail?”
I am sure none of those opposed to the amendments is into the idea of killing the unborn. All that Kenyan progressives want is a law that does not take away women’s rights to choose what is good for them. Reason demands that we should not legislate morality. This will only lead to more kienyeji abortions that will continue to kill many Kenyan women each year.
It is fascinating how the conservative types (in both ODM and PNU) that ordered policemen to shoot rioters or organized militias to kill fellow Kenyans in early 2008 are the same ones at the forefront of the faux pro-life campaign. May their efforts to go against reason fail.
That Joseph Kony and his top lieutenants are still alive and well is testament to the ineptitude of the Ugandan and Congolese armies. The Ugandan rebel leader continues to roam the forests in the border regions of Chad, the DRC, Uganda and Southern Sudan, killing villagers with abandon. The BBC reports that late last year the Lord’s Resistance Army massacred more than 300 people.
The LRA has morphed into a thuggish movement with loads of ideological deficit. They stand no chance of reaching Kampala and so roam in the forests of the great lakes region killing villagers and abducting children. This is yet another textbook case on the Continent of a rebellion that festers on for no other reason than because of state incapacity.
An African youth volunteer program just got launched in West Africa. The BBC reports that “The scheme would see youths spend time helping out in areas such as agriculture, health or education in a different country to their own.”
Ian Khama has not had the presidency he dreamed of. The son of Botswana’s founding president faces his stiffest challenge yet since assuming office. A group of lawmakers from his party, the Botswana Democratic Party (BDP), have threatened to jump ship and form their own party. If enough of them do, President Khama may be forced to resign and call fresh elections. The BDP has run Botswana since independence in 1966.
They are all over Tanzania. Kenya’s southern neighbor is even a member of the SADC and currently suffers a huge trade deficit with South Africa. Now the sons and daughters of the Continent from south of the Limpopo are eying even greater penetration into the EAC via Uganda. President Zuma just visited Uganda with a delegation of businesspeople. Uganda’s oil sector was on top of the agenda.
I hope Kenyan businesspeople, and the political class, are watching. Competition from the South Africans is, of course, most welcome – companies like the East African Breweries certainly benefited from South African competition. That said, Kenya should not give up its role as the economic locomotive of East Africa. In particular, the government should ensure that Kenyan companies in the light manufacturing, retail and banking sectors remain competitive in the region. Investment in infrastructure – roads, the ports in Lamu and Mombasa, pipelines, power generation – should be prioritized. Nairobi must ensure that the Ugandans, Rwandans, Burundians and Southern Sudanese find it cheapest to export and import through Kenyan ports.
I hope some day someone will write a novel about how one Mr. Roy Puffet, a rather nondescript South African, managed to rake in millions at the expense of East African tax payers in the Rift Valley Railways (RVR) deal. The railway company is now in the hands of Egyptian investors and as Mr. Kisero of The Nation points out, I hope the Egyptians will make good of their promise and invest in making RVR good for the Kenyan economy.
The RVR deal is a lesson in bureaucratic incompetence. The Kenyan treasury sat by as sneaky businessmen like Mr. Puffet cut deals and made millions without doing anything in the way of improving the Kenyan railway system. In a country led by sane people we would have expected someone to take some responsibility over this. But not in Kenya. I bet someone high up in the Kenyan treasury was in cahoots with Mr. Puffet.
OK, I have to admit, I am one of those who read “The Road to Serfdom” and totally loved it. Hayek was spot on about the folly of planned economies. The markets are not perfect. But having imperfect markets beats planned economies on any day. We just have to provide a reasonable amount of regulation and provide social safety nets that take care of those who end up taking one for the team because of the dynamics of the free market.
And that is why I thought this post by Easterly was kind of neat.
I also found this post kind of interesting and to be an important part of the debate on the viability of certain African states. I am not into the whole idea of blaming colonial “arbitrary” borders for holding Africa back. The fact of the matter is that Africa has been held back by Africans like Samuel Doe, Mobutu, Emperor Bokassa, Sani Abacha, Idi Amin, Omar al-Bashir and other crazies of their ilk. That said, I also think that certain states should either be split up (Nigeria, DRC, Sudan) or absorbed into other states (most of the Sahelian states. )
The Kenyan Draft Constitution seems to have hit a snag. A section of parliamentarians are opposed to the section of the proposed constitution that gives all counties equal powers via their elected senators. I agree with them. The to-be-formed senate, as currently constituted, grants too much power to sparsely populated counties. Theoretically, this should not make any difference because people could just move to better served, over-represented counties thereby balancing everything. But we all know that this does not happen in Kenya. The country remains divided into various “ethnic homelands” that are more often than not inhabited exclusively by a single ethnic group.
I hold the opinion that part of the reason why we currently have a corrupt and unresponsive political class is that those who actually pay taxes – and therefore feel the pinch of mismanagement of public funds – are grossly under-represented. For instance, Nairobi only has eight members of parliament even though it generates a huge chunk of Kenya’s tax revenue. Let us not worsen this by creating an even more powerful senate whose members will bribe their way into office with a few bags of sugar and flour per voter and then proceed to steal millions of urban Kenyans’ hard earned cash. I am not advocating for an urban-biased senate. What I am saying is that the constitution should, at a minimum, respect the principle of equal representation. Nairobians and other Kenyan urbanites should make it clear that they are not into the idea of taxation without equal representation.
The alternative would be to have independent incorporate urban districts that elect their own governments and have greater control over the collection and expenditure of their tax revenue. I don’t particularly like this idea though because places like Suba and Maragua still need Nairobi, Eldoret, Kisumu, Nyeri,Mombasa and others, to pull them up.
Texas in Africa has a piece on Gettleman’s style of journalism. Mr. Gettleman is of course not new to this type of criticism. I have voiced my opinion on his reporting style a few times before.
This is not an argument for the mis-representation of the goings on on the Continent. (By all means tell us who is starving and is under incredible disease burden or being killed in a civil conflict). It is an argument for respectful reporting of the suffering of other people. This sort of sensationalism that you often see on the front pages of major newspapers does more harm than good.
And about Kristof. He should know better. I guess it must feel great to walk into a conflict zone ridden with poverty and get the reception of a rock star such as what Kristof got in Goma.
The line between helping the needy and this sort of vulgar self-gratification can be thinly thin sometimes.
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is implicated in a leaked report that suggests that corrupt officials have been diverting food aid intended for displaced Somali refugees. It is feared that al-Shabab (the Islamist insurgency group that is fighting against Somalia’s transitional government and its international backers) is benefiting from the diversion of food aid.
Diversion of food aid for other ends is not new in this region of the Continent. In the 1980s when the Ethiopian government under tin pot dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam was fighting Eritrean and Meles Zenawi-led rebels, both sides of the conflict diverted food aid and used it to purchase weapons, with disastrous consequences. The CIA seems to have forgotten about this particular case. The agency is a key nemesis of al-Shabab in Somalia.