This scene has been replayed times on end. There is the story of the responsible and hardworking husband. He is the head of the family, the breadwinner and the doting father of a young family. He gets up early every morning to go to work to cater for all his families’ needs and wants. He toils each day with nothing else but the best interests of his fledgling clan at heart. Later in the day he departs work making a beeline for the local where he takes two-for-the-road. Returning home at the tail-end of each day infernally exhausted he is in need of nothing else other than his bath, dinner and sleep. Even the day’s news has lost consequence to him as everything has just mashed-up to a bland and predictable offering of tragedies on corruption, mercury-copper compounds passed off as sugar, land grabbing by the usual masters of impunity, ineptitude by pseudo-technocrats, unnecessary deaths, ‘kutanga-tanga’ by apprehensive political players smack in the middle of another’s presidential term and all round resignation and obeisance to the gods of mediocrity. This antipathy is exacerbated by that bevy of insecure, socialite-wannabe, busy-body news anchors trying too hard to impress and sell ‘goods’ other than what they are handsomely paid to convey. The family lives well. Existing in a spacious multi-roomed house, they own a 62” HD-IP TV and each bed room is en-suite such that everyone subsists in their own bubble of comfort and relative privacy. They have a fully operational kitchen furnished with many amenities some even surplus to requirements. Each of the children has the latest PlayStation with all the almost 7D graphics that come with it. As for the wife she is a portly, beautiful, content-looking, modern yet suitably subservient home-maker in her mid-thirties who seems to have all the comfort she can imagine and by the flash of the credit card can buy all that gladdens her heart. In the middle of all this opulence the mother of the family is nonchalant and ill at ease. Can anyone hazard a guess why? None!!! You are not alone. Not even the husband can understand what is wrong with this ‘woman.’ Spoiler Alert to all the single ladies reading this post: woman is the technical term used to describe you. Niceties like sweetie and honey stop being used as soon as when a man puts a ring-on-it and a carbon-copy of both your chromosomes have been issued if you get my drift. To him she now seems an insatiable ogre and the epitome of owning your own bottomless pit. Questions like: “Can’t this woman understand how much effort I exert to afford her all the luxury she now enjoys?” become the staple. But I personally feel a tinge of dismay for this lady. Not because she forgot to ask her battle-hardened mother for both the Hard copy and PDF of the ‘Husband’s Manual’ before delving into marriage. Hell No! Also not because I am naturally inclined to both compassion and comprehension but because as marriage counsellors will tell you, there is more to the marriage than the basic providence and all the scheduled vacations to Dubai and Zanzibar. It moreover requires one to be acutely aware of and eternally strive to cater to each other’s needs and simply be emotionally available for the other partner. The lady simply hangs on to whatever she has in appreciation of the fact that she now enjoys the prestige and luxury of a perpetually-catered for fuel guzzler of a Range Rover sport more than she could ever persevere the squalor and indignity that comes with riding a matatu! Like many roads in this country currently, I have taken a course diversion but a worthy one.
The Lords of the economy in this country have contrived to have a Free-market ‘Laissez-faire’ Economy. To them capitalism is the way to go and nothing tastes sweeter than acquiescence of the full dividends of your investments. After all, who wouldn’t want to get value for money, to expend less and earn more, to make super-profits out of any business endeavour he puts his mind and hands to? In 2003 when the NARC administration took over we all know the situation many industries and factories were in. Many years of open malevolence in the form of kleptocracy, tribalism, favouritism, nepotism and the appointment of cronies as company directors for political expediency executed in the previous regime had bred ineptitude and impunity which ran most Government corporations and state-run entities to ruin if not insolvency. With accountability the tapestry of our sewerage system, the economy was in a rut and devoid of the leader with not just the know-how, but the required gravitas to get it out. A paradigm shift was required as a matter of grave national urgency. Then wheeled-in the Kibaki-led government and because he was an economics virtuoso, everyone was imbued by the audacity of hope that would all but radiate from his regime. And a good job he did. Other than the tribalism and selective forgetfulness on the idiosyncrasies of implementing the Memorandum of Understanding with his political partners he still fared admirably. That opinion is of course subjective. The Government of Kenya has had many missteps in its running and use of its executive authority. Few have been as ignominiously grievous as the allowing for the capitulation of our local industries. In the developed world; Creators, Builders, Manufacturers, Innovators, Entrepreneurs, Investors, Solution-architects and free-thinkers have been given the freedom to be all they can be and build all they can as these nations understand the importance of free enterprise. With industrialization you will keep most of the polity gainfully engaged and reduce the proclivity for political instability. Besides, the world is ready to pay a premium to the man or woman that creates utility in a commodity or service with an aim to satisfy human needs and wants and solve the many puzzles of life. There will always be a market for manufactured goods. The mechanics of starting an industry or any business dictate that after all the preliminaries, the business will have to take some time to hire staff who will work their socks off marketing to help attract new customers, build market-share and eventually break-even. Then afterwards, the import of many years of sound and relevant management will have to be imparted to grow and aggressively expand the enterprise so as to make more profit and develop a worthwhile venture. An important consideration about business is that you have no option but to grow and scale-up the distribution channels. If not mounting recurrent expenditure, taxation and legal costs will eventually gobble up your profit margins and ultimately run you out of business no matter how noble a person you are, your level of integrity notwithstanding.
Unfortunately, Kenyan firms are often not accorded the same privilege and financial support to go through the entire process of development. Their products are subjected to unfair competition from goods originating in other nations in absolute disregard to our costs of production among other considerations. Due to industrial costs being higher in Kenya thanks to our cartel-like culture of business and man-eat man economics, our goods are not as competitively priced as those from other climes more so the developed world. The Kenyan economy is majorly supported by agriculture and the Small and Medium Enterprises that dot the landscape. These are for most part not as greatly capitalized as the bigger state-run organizations and as such any small market shock will hit to the core of their being and crumble them like a house of cards. A time existed when there was a clothing manufacturing industry, the Kicomi Cotton factory. They used to produce reasonable quality items of clothing. I hear that very few people had qualms with the quality of vestments produced locally and we even exported to our neighbours. Then thanks to some ill-advised policy change, in came the second-hand clothing industry. These are used garments from North America and Western Europe which made an influx into our local market. Because of their lower price point and the slightly more advanced technology used to produce the same, our locally produced fabrics could no longer pass muster against the new competitors. The durability and wider range of fashion options effectively dealt our clothing industry a killer blow and revival became an exercise in futility. By the way who would even have been concerned with trying to revive this industry when most likely kickbacks had been paid to our rulers to push through this expropriationary policy?
The story is the same all over for Coffee, Tea, Paper, Pyrethrum, Sugar and even the Cashew nuts industry. A legacy of bringing down local investment just to satisfy the interests of a few foreign investors and cheaper goods from our regional economic competitors. In the mid to late 70’s Western Kenya and Nyanza regions were the hot-bed of sugar production. This incursion was brought about by the hot and humid climate that was deemed suitable for cane growing. Though most companies were run by the departing settlers, sound market practice still prevailed. Then came the transition such that local hands took reign of these industries and all hell broke loose. Each and every one of the new Managing Directors and CEO for most part got into the seat and virtually saw dollar signs. Out of nowhere had appeared an onerous opportunity for personal aggrandizement and changing of their personal circumstances. Palatial rural and urban homes came up at a premium all over and the dream to marry that ever-elusive next wife was the principle motivation in these administrators’ minds. Personal growth and not the best interests of the organization became their primal aim. They started underpaying, coercing and even threatening the producers of raw materials thinking in their demented comportment that the more they squeezed out of the small holder farmers, the more benefit they accrue for themselves. This injurious course of events has resulted in the disenfranchisement of farmers, some of whom had to sacrifice arable land that would have supported subsistence farming and so have to beg for foodstuffs just to gain that extra yard of earth to grow cane. As for all levels of perversion the situation was roiled further by political wheeler-dealers who found a new opium to intoxicate their impoverished and disillusioned electorate with. Elect them and they will virtually deliver heaven and earth and deal a death-knell to the managerial malfeasance affecting these factories. Some even went to these sugar miller’s administrators and very callously ‘pitched’ for facilitation fees claiming that they had the ability to pull strings to avail government bail-out funds for the struggling millers.
As with many politicians fact is more greatly constrained in comparison to fiction. When they get elected they immure themselves in the anonymity of life in some posh suburb in the capital never to be heard of again for the next five years. For them the dish called truth has to be over seasoned with fables and propaganda. They may not be so austere in spending but are ruthlessly economical with is the truth. But one economist who was not known to suffer fools was our very own former President Mwai Kibaki. Once as he addressed a rally in the greater Mumias area a horde appeared shouting for the revival of MOCO (Mumias Outgrowers Company). The bemused head of state who had no doubt cared little for the organization in a witty retort told the hecklers to go and grow cassava and arrow-roots if they are causing all this raucous because of sugarcane. He mistook MOCO for the Kiswahili word for Cassava ‘Mihogo.’ Hearsay aside, the aforementioned rascals have worked in concert for eons to bring down many a local factory. The narrative is the same all over. In the end a limitless torrent of recurrent expenditure, salaries, dissatisfied producers, unpaid suppliers and the consequent litigation has crumbled many an industry. In an effort to appear altruistic and charismatic, the government avails bail-out funds but without the right framework for the uptake of the same it is all in vain. Smoke billows from these industries for two weeks then, Shutdown! Yes, again? The usual excuse is routine maintenance. But how many times will the same factory be in routine maintenance in a 3-month period? Then the popularly elected government decides that it is no longer feasible to run local industry in a manner likely to produce competitive goods and decides to pander to the whims of regional integration and allows for the importation of duty free sugar. Wow!
Shifting to the remedial lane. Just like corruption, narrow minded policy has the impact of benefitting just a few people at the expense of greater good. Imagine all the jobs that would have been available to highly skilled professionals continually being churned out by our universities. Engineers, accountants, procurement officials, store-keepers, lawyers would have found a worthwhile sustenance if all these collapsed firms had stayed open. I am not roundly condemning foreign investment. Unfettered flow of capital investment into the nation can only be good for us in the long term building economies of scale and strengthening efficiencies of erstwhile unproductive ventures.
However those efforts should be tempered with other measures to have a favourable mix:
- Affirmative action / Protectionism: In other nations, there are incentives and an all-out closing of ranks to protect local industries and their respective market segments. This has been effectively employed by nations like Brazil. Yes, our sugar-producing competitors whose legacy we may never match. And it works like a charm, if recent stories of our own local sugar-barons importing the same to be further processed are to be believed. Our efforts should not be constrained to but inclusive of Fair tariffs, equitable taxation, subsidies for local producers and our goods, heavy import duty imposition on similar goods procured externally and setting up of a quota-system for local produce vis-à-vis foreign imports. In my time in business I have been forced to ponder this conundrum while steaming in a Kenya Revenue Authority inquiries queue. What is this obsession with double taxation? Is our revenue authority so intellectually constrained to think they can ameliorate the national coffers by taxing producers twice? This is the kind of balderdash that we as a citizenry have to stand up to in force and ruthlessly castigate as it is drowning many industries in a mire of unnecessary expense.
- Revive local Manufacturing: With the situation we have precipitated currently, we have even occasioned an imbalance where we import more than the value we reciprocate to our trading partners. That Balance of Trade can only be restituted by a renaissance in local manufacturing. Many years in the doldrums have billed us as nothing more than labourers for the sake of consumption while regenerating nothing. As mentioned previously none of our foreign partners will find the imperative to take us seriously when there is nothing of value they can get from us all the while we import as much as bottled drinking water!
- Export compensation should not be viewed as a favour to a few well-heeled operators but be proportionately paid out to our local exporters and as promptly as has in the past been paid to some scummy connivers who exported air in a mega-scandal! Due diligence is advised.
- Forthright Leadership & Policy Change: My message to the current Cabinet Secretary for Industrialization; Adan Mohammed, beware of the entity known as the ‘deep-state’. In their attempt to influence government policy they will not draw it towards a direction that favours the sweet-spot between protection of our local economy and in the same vein fostering external investment. Theirs is the same tired incantation – “it is our time to eat.” It is only a multilevel approach that will be deemed satisfactory to all the players in the field and bode well for our future prospects. Why on earth do we bang our chests proclaiming sovereignty when given relevant and progressive advise by the donor community but cannot exercise the same to protect our own enterprises? Magnanimity in the pursuit of a broad-based approach will consequently be a better bet for us all, but who am I to say?
- Solidarity in the same struggle: Where is our unity and solidarity when we need it the most? For instance, when a gentleman growing tea in Kericho sees unfair practices collapsing a coffee cooperative in Murang’a he relaxes often deluding himself that the same problem cannot befall him. After all he is miles away and his respective organization is thriving and cannot meet the same fate. What he doesn’t understand is that if one hole is drilled on one side of a raft the entire contraption will be vulnerable to sinking. Matter of factly, merchants of malice never rest and like a hydra will extend their tentacles with intent to strangle all institutions where they scent the blood of profitability.
- Innovate to Reduce Costs: Blame should not just be apportioned to the government. Even the entrepreneur community have the responsibility to innovate to increase the efficiency of their conveyor belts of production so as to produce cheaper goods that will be more competitive in the free market which we cannot wish away. If not, forever being held in derision by other nations will become our portion. Consumerism has never been and will never be rewarded but quite highly frowned upon and held to ridicule.
As the great leader and proponent for minimalist living Mahatma Gandhi once quipped, “There is enough in this world for everyone’s need but not enough for one man’s greed.” We should stop allowing ourselves the misfortune of suffering the unsubstantiated circus that is the regime of inadequate, insular and utterly abominable leaders who collapse our industries for parochial gain. We no doubt deserve better.