CALLING THE BLUFF IN NGILU'S SPEECH
Charity Ngilu (Mama Rainbow) presented her manifesto yesterday. Let us go straight to the technical development proposal made by Ngilu. Development is a very disturbing concept to work with because development means different things for different people. When you look at your village, is it more developed now than it was 20 years ago? Why do you think it is or it is not more developed? Development as an end is elusive given the values that inform what individuals consider as developmental. The debate on development is as old as human history; it is the story of human civilization, nation state building, intergovernmental relations, population dynamics, education and ultimately human empowerment. The elusive cog nut has always been, what the best strategy to development is. The general consensus at the moment is that development is about meeting the basic rights of a people. A given country is developed to the extent its people can afford basics in life e.g. food, shelter, education, healthcare, clothing and water. This kind of thinking heralded by Amartya Sen puts prime focus on a people’s capacity to self determination. As an individual, you need basic minimums, capabilities (the rights) to be able to live a humane life. Therefore, a Ngilu presidency is welcome to the extend she is promising not to focus on abstracts but basics of life e.g. ensuring all Kenyans have access to water, education, healthcare, food and are empowered to be the best they can be.
Ngilu started well indicating that 50 years since independence, our country remains in woods due to many people languishing in poverty, lacking access to quality education and healthcare, unemployment and bad governance. However, she did not appreciate that in this 50 years, Kenya has not been in slumber. From 1963, through sessional paper number 10, the fathers of this nation reckoned that Poverty, Disease and Ignorance had to be dealt with. It is unfortunate that through the process of africanization of the Kenyan economy, a small elite took over and entrenched a man eat man social values. It is fresh to know that our leaders are keen on helping us start all over again and rebuilt our lives but how do they propose to do that?
On the economy
Quoting the economic survey and other data from the Kenya bureau of statistics, Ngilu demonstrated that we are exporting many jobs by over-reliance on imports. This is a known fact, so what does she propose to make our balance of payments favorable? It was not clear whether Ngilu was proposing Import Substitution as a strategy or better trade negotiations with our trading partners. What was not clear in Ngilu’s speech is the explanation as to why we have unfavorable terms of trade. Unless the root causes of a situation are clear, we deal with symptoms rather than addressing a problem.
The question of exploitation by our trading partners has been widely addressed by different thinkers. Writing on center vs. periphery relations; thinkers like Frank Gundder, Amin, Paul Baran and Mazrui propose de-linking of developing countries from the West. You can Google “Dependency Theory” and learn some more about how these thinker contextualized the center –periphery relationship. Our own Mukhisa Kituyi led a walkout at the Doha round of talks because every country seeks better terms of trade and those with capacity will always dictate the terms. So what was Ngilu saying about trade? While we should be more astute in our trade negotiations with our trading partners, we should not assume things are as simplistic as Ngilu chose to put it. Selling eggs to china in exchange of building or road construction contracts is a disaster because for long we have exported cheap raw coffee to countries like the UK and they exported to us expensive finished manufactured goods. Such thinking only furthers the status quo of unfavorable balance of trade. I would have loved a more robust and radical approach to our economic growth. Maybe a clear indication that our government will focus on production for the local and regional market; divest from superhighways to improve value addition at the local level.
Ngilu our future president argued that she will enhance irrigation and support small holder farmers. She promised better payments to farmers. This is great stuff because our agriculture suffers due to low productivity per acre or arable land. To increase our productivity, we have to lessen reliance on rain fed agriculture. Our fried William Ruto showed that it is possible; irrigation can work in this country. Malawi as a case shows that subsidizing inputs like agriculture can ensure food security. There was nothing original in what Ngilu said because she did not address smallholder farming question; Mao Tse Tung was radical in China. He radically created communes for peasants; maybe this is what Kenya needs. We should create “Bomas” where people of a village settle and leave the rest of the farms for agricultural purposes. Centralized settlements would mean huge chunks of land are left allowing mechanization of agriculture to be realized. The peasants can then work on the farms and communally manage the farms. This would increase productivity; then communes can set up value addition cottage industries creating local employment and ultimately necessary food security.
Our promising future president promised to employ 5000 teachers every year. She also promised a project dubbed one lap top per child (copy paste from Rwanda I suppose). I do not understand where our future president got the idea that Kenya needs 5000 teacher per year. Questions linger in terms of what kind of teachers she was referring to. Is it ECD, primary, secondary or technical teachers? How does she propose to distribute the 5000 teachers?
Every one knows that our education system is in dire need of reform. I have had heated arguments with teachers and their demand for 300% pay hike. Everyone thinks the teachers are justified in their demands. I am also inclined to think they deserve to be paid better. However, I was hoping my future president would radically want to address the issue of increasing labor demands and an ever growing wage rate.
Why are teachers and Kenyans agitating for higher salaries? It is because the capitalist greed that informs the Kenyan society has driven prices up leading to many things becoming unaffordable for the common man. Those in employment seek higher and higher salaries not remembering that there are many of us still unemployed. I would rather we reduced the wage rate but created more employment opportunities. For instance, teachers want more pay because they put in many hours in our schools. Why don’t we reduce their hours by employing more teachers and spreading earnings? More radically, teaching is a calling to help our young ones become better citizens. Are the one laptop per student necessary when they can not afford the basics? Is this education system right, if even the teachers themselves are not creators of wealth but people whining and clamoring for more pay even when they cheat the system every day by not delivering value? We can take up this debate on education system reforms at a later date but fact remains that something radical has to happen in our education sector; and it is not as simple as one lap top per child.
On Unemployment and Informal Sector
Ngilu hit the obvious nail by acknowledging that our informal sector is a vital sector of the economy. And yes, the Jua Kali sheds should be turned into cottage industries as per her speech. How does she propose to do this, by ensuring government procures from this informal sector operatives. Well done mama Rainbow; that is a positive note on the Jua Kali Sector. However, in Kenya, are our contractors largely not informal sector operatives? And what are these things that government will procure from our Jua Kali artisans? Chairs, Sufurias, Jerry cans, Car bodies or what? We shall only realize industrialization if our industrialization efforts are anchored on what we have a competitive advantage in. Madam Future President, I would have listened to you some more if you had told us of how you are going to create jobs through agriculture. Creation of Sufurias using waste metal is good but I do not see us begin to export that competitively. So help Jua Kali artisans access loans so that their sufuria making enterprises grow to meet both national and regional demand. However, revitalize agriculture and let our youth find the abundant employment opportunities that agriculture portent.
I am thinking of a County like Garissa! Tana River has enough water that can be used to turn the dark brown soil of Garissa into green fields of crop. There are enough crops that suit the Garissa Climate. Ukambani suffers food shortages and yet the Red Cross initiative in the area has seen individuals getting much harvest to the extent that they were asking the government to help them with storage. Think of Bungoma County and one wonders why there is a soul in Bungoma that is famished and unhappy. I come from one such family; yes, they claim to be very poor that they could not afford even my primary school fees. My hope is that my government will find away of unbridling the creativity of our people. Let people know that using a proper approach, they can enjoy abundance. I like what organizations like the One Acre Fund are doing in Bungoma. I researched on their operations for my Masters and I can report here that what our people need is access to inputs, technology and encouragement. From half an acre, people are getting as high as 21bags of maize; a very telling story. If each of our young men in the village could manage to get 21 bags out of half an acre of land, would we not establish a flour milling company, create corn oil, export the maize and by a multiplier effect get Bungoma Industrialized or developed?
On Women Empowerment
I agree with those who say that getting all involved, getting the marginalized to participate in development, empowering the girl child is empowering the whole society. Ngilu says women empowerment will be a key priority. And yes, at the family level, if a woman is empowered the whole family is transformed. However, notice that women will not be empowered to the extent it is portrayed as a war between women and men. Notice that the over-emphasis on women and the girl child to the disadvantage of the boy child is the worst mistake of our time.
Ngilu proposes to increase women’s access to funds and to markets. How she proposes to do this was not very clear for me. However, the Kibaki government did put in place the Women Enterprise Fund, who really benefits from this fund? We have banks targeting women in Kenya e.g. Kenya Women Finance Trust that has enjoyed enough donor and government good will but who ultimately benefits from all these? For me, true women empowerment is in women deciding that enough is enough and it is no longer fashionable to call themselves weaklings who are disadvantaged. In Kenya, people have found it fashionable to call themselves marginalized in bargain for national resources. However, the criteria by which one should call self marginalized is not very clear to me. Affirmative action is good and necessary; however, affirmative action should not be blanket talk. We have affirmative action for women, people with disability etc but who ultimately benefits; unfortunately, it is the same faces including Ngilu and Shebesh that benefit from women empowerment glib. Those who need affirmative action are the simple girls I meet every day in the ghetto where I live. They are struggling just like men are struggling; albeit they have more challenges e.g. children that men sired and then ran for the hills.
On Ngilu herself, I find nothing appealing or exciting. She has done well as per her circumstances. She says she will offer the governance we need because of her 25 years experience. In those 25 years, what has she done apart from defending her fellow Kamba people? Well, as a representative of Kambas, she did very well. In the ministry of health, she made sure every health center in Ukambani is well built and has an ambulance attached to it. She also made sure there is Machakos KMTC and Kitui KMTC. While in the water Ministry, she also tried for her people. She developed dams in the whole of Ukambani albeit at inflated (corruption) rates. What else can she offer?