Hefty taxes will keep Kenya at the bottom of the pile

Maina Kiai by Maina Kiai

For those with longer memories, this past week was playback from the 1990s Kenya, when fuel shortages were the norm because of economic mismanagement.

Few scenes depict decay and crisis as thousands of people walking to and from work, as motorists dash around from one petrol station to the next, joining long queues waiting for rationed petrol.  

I thought those days were long gone, having gotten used to the better and more efficient economic planning and implementation of the Kibaki era, and especially the days of the Grand Coalition.

But alas, this Jubilee regime is scrambling from one economic crisis to the next, amidst free for all corruption.  The corruption explosion was expected: after the 2013 elections, I wrote that the logic of the impunity that allowed Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto to contest and then be declared winners in a rigged election — aided by a biased and wilfully incompetent election management body, and a pliant, weak and patently scared Supreme Court — would inevitably lead to looting, repression and divisions. 

I wish I had been wrong, but the fish rots from the head as they say. It is impossible to rein in corruption and restore democracy and development when leaders show that integrity, rule of law, fairness and justice mean nothing as long as they are in power and can be shielded from the consequences of their actions.

It is impossible for people who have lots to hide and who run scared at the mention of land grabbing and Eurobond to lead us out of the corruption mess that they engineered.

As long as this political class remains in power, be assured that we will never have calm, fair and credible elections. We will never have the police working for us, ordinary Kenyans, rather than for those in power. And our institutions will be bastardised to become rewards for loyalty, bending to the will of the powerful.

Corruption will not end, no matter how much the Americans or British put into supporting the fight against sleaze, and no matter the rhetoric. What we will get, for certain, is weaponisation of corruption against those that are not deemed to be protective enough of the ruling hegemony such as DCJ Philomena Mwilu.

The attacks against such people will come complete with sleek propaganda that tries to portray the corrupt as the protectors of the poor, though they can’t explain what happened to our US$1 billion from Eurobond; how Weston Hotel land changed from being public land to private property; how NYS I became moot and those who benefited rebranded themselves; and how so much land in Kenya is owned by a few families.

In this economic mess that we are in, the people of Turkana better internalise the fact that the oil and water under their soils will never benefit them. In fact, a lot of it is likely to have been already mortgaged to the massive debts that this Jubilee regime has put us into and which have benefited but a few. 

I was in Norway a few weeks ago and the contrast with how that country is governed compared to ours is a gulf that boggles the mind. Although Norway is one of the world’s top oil producers, the country has embarked on a programme that aims to end the use — but not exportation — of fossil fuels by 2025.

And by the number of Tesla electric cars I saw, they may well reach that target before the due date. Home owners are required to change their heating — which is necessary given the extreme winters in Norway — by 2020 from oil and gas to other forms such as biogas, which is now being used to run public buses across the country.

At the same time, Norway is pushing reforestation and actively encouraging its citizens and residents to walk more, use public transportation more and enjoy nature. Norway has a well-developed tourist industry that focuses on domestic tourism perhaps. A lot of that is based on being one with nature and enjoying the marvelous sights of the seas, forests and nature. I traveled to Verdens Ende or World’s End, which is absolutely stunning with its jutting rocks, forests and fresh air.

Remember that while today Norway is one of the richest countries, it was not until the 1970s that it emerged from relative poverty.

So as we borrow to start drilling and exporting oil, and build unnecessary coal power plants that will damage Lamu, a lot of the world, led by Norway, is moving away from using fossil fuels. Surely we should be focused on being part of the emerging green economy given our natural advantages such as geothermal, perpetual sun, wind and vast natural beauty.

But maybe that is too much hard work for our leadership that is focused on getting rich now at our expense. But if we don’t think radically, we will remain at the bottom of the pile.

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