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November 22, 2018

President Obama's Values Will Benefit Kenya More Than His Money

U.S. President Barack Obama (L) and Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta hold a joint news conference after their meeting at the State House in Nairobi, Kenya July 25, 2015. Photo Reuters
U.S. President Barack Obama (L) and Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta hold a joint news conference after their meeting at the State House in Nairobi, Kenya July 25, 2015. Photo Reuters

As we look back on Obama’s visit to Kenya, its greatest contribution was not money but values that President Obama espoused.

Aware that European, American and the Arab worlds subjected Africa to slave trade, slavery, colonialism and ongoing exploitation, today they owe her a Marshall Plan whose money the continent will use to develop.

However, Marshall Plan can only work in Africa if Africans agree to eradicate corruption and succeed. Otherwise, money from the Marshall Plan will enrich ruling elites and leave people and country impoverished.

Unfortunately, there are Africans who in false pride believe Africa does not need a Marshall Plan, even though it boosted high-level development in Europe and Japan.

Because Africans don’t push the agenda of a Marshall Plan, when President Obama came to Kenya, it was not with billions of dollars but a single billion dollars to support a philanthropic project of supporting entrepreneurship worldwide.

That half the money is set aside for women and youth reminded me of Kanu and Moi tactics of manipulating women and youth to support the government for small handouts of money that never initiated or sustained meaningful business or catered for collective needs.

Moreover, in the face of African and Third World poverty, one billion dollars for a whole world can only spare peanuts for Africa and lesser for Kenya. Beneficiaries of subsequent handouts will outshout this article that though robbed to the bone for centuries, all Africa needs to develop is what they will get individually.

But while a country like Kenya may develop without outside support, it will take much longer to do so than with substantial support.

And the real folly of African bravado is best illustrated by the current economic crisis in Greece. To rescue Greece economically, European Union has formally approved a short-term loan of $10.5 billion while preparing a rescue package of another $126.32 billion that has already sailed through the German Bundestag or Parliament. So if a single European country can be given financial support to the tune of $136.82 billion, how will a tiny part of $1 billion save Africa of 53 countries?

As Nyerere once said that if “absolute power corrupts absolutely; absolute poverty also corrupts absolutely” – not just our entitlement to world wealth, but also our morals and dignity. This is why, during Obama’s visit, President Uhuru sat in but failed to greet a meeting that President Obama addressed in the Safaricom Stadium Kasarani.

That apart, Obama was not in Kenya to develop her entrepreneurship, but to promote America’s business interests that need not be in consonance with Kenya’s business interests.

But the US is not the only country that is in Kenya to advance her interests by taking advantage of Kenya’s excessive generosity.

In October 2006, I visited China as an assistant minister. While there I asked my counterpart whether – given that Kenya had given Chinese national radio a frequency to broadcast in Nairobi – China could return the favour and give Kenyan Broadcasting Corporation a frequency. Categorically, he said no. But eight years later, Kenya gave a Chinese company more than 100 frequencies to distribute to Kenyan TVs.

Ironically, despite the contradiction of interests, we call big investors to come to Kenya, yet allow companies operating in Kenya to block Kenyan Diaspora or other foreign companies from setting up their businesses here. For instance, for three years, a company called GeoNet Communications Group Inc – that is fully licensed by Communications Authority of Kenya – has been blocked from doing legitimate business by companies who operate like legal when they are illegal monopolies.

And though Kenyan companies need democracy and rule of law to flourish, it is amazing how much some of them embrace dominance to exclude others from the market in the name of supporting big Kenyan companies to compete with big global companies.

While the Kenya government still has to do much to ease the difficulties of doing business, President Obama reminded us of values without which we shall have no development, democracy or peace. Indeed without a Marshall Plan, Kenya will go nowhere without values that will make her people better.

Of most importance is integrity against corruption. Obama did not mince his words regarding the danger of corruption to development. No country can develop if it is a victim of rampant and grand corruption. Yet to fight corruption, leaders must be incorruptible, while anti-corruption agencies must prosecute and jail thieves however high they are in society.

Obama also advised Kenyans to abandon negative ethnicity which corrupts politics and gives the country poor leaders whose only qualification is ethnicity. No country can wholesomely and evenly develop under tribalistic and corrupt leaders.

Obama also took time to encourage the government to remain steadfast in its fight against al Shabaab terrorism. But while he promised support to Kenya, he did not promise that America would send its soldiers to Somalia.

Fortunately, Obama advised the government not to use the excuse of terrorism to undermine democracy, reintroduce dictatorship and violate human rights.

Obama even chastised the opposition for their hypocrisy, which deprives their politics principles that make leaders trustworthy.

The only value Obama did not talk about was patriotism. This was because Obama was in Kenya not to advance Kenyan but American interests in a situation of severe struggle for Kenyan resources between China, America and Kenya. In this scramble, Kenyans must understand what is good for America and China is not necessarily good for Kenya. Kenyans must be patriotic to defend their interests when in conflict with those of China and America.

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