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January 24, 2019

Tenderpreneurs Have Vomited On Our Shoes

MPs during a session at the National Assembly
MPs during a session at the National Assembly

What do Kibaki's and Uhuru's first term in office have in common? Gluttony. However, what makes this current case of gluttony acute is the fact that the "eating" frenzy is coupled with ridiculous spending and an opposition who can't buy a clue. Actually, our current opposition is hoping to "cut a deal" with the guys on the inside, so they stay clear of discussing any real issues. They stick to sideshows and discussing the things women at the hair-dressers do to pass time as the top coat is drying on their mani-pedi. 

The 'our turn to eat' brigade were in such high gear in Kibaki's first two years in office that in 2004, UK envoy Edward Clay had to comment publicly on the matter, making him popular and unpopular in equal measure. I'm not going to waste time being clever about what needs to be said, John Ngumi stated his piece yesterday's Sunday Nation and I'll leave the exciting number crunching to David Ndii and I will borrow from Ory Okolloh's musing from 2010 to wake us up. Back then Ory already could see the parallels between Kenya and Greece.

A few of the things Sir Edward Clay raised in 2004, as reported by the BBC,  still count today, only the numbers have changed — for the worse. I quote:

"The science is not exact, but I think the message is clear: Kenya, which scores low on almost every indicator that matters these days, has a burden of corruption that is large compared to its people's diminishing wealth. It is using up its own quota of 3%, plus also the unused quotas of Finland or perhaps all of Scandinavia”.

Obviously, none of the foreign envoys in our midst today have bothered to talk about our wanton spending and thieving. Not because they are worried about a backlash from politicians and their eating partners but because we, the victims of the gluttony, are quick to pull the 'foreigners card' on them and roll out the paid-for-hire patriots. In 2004, Clay shut that down with this statement:

"What business is it of ours? It was only a matter of time before somebody piped up with the old saw 'keep yourself out of our domestic business' So it seems that a truly patriotic citizen is one who has to defend those who abuse his ideas of right and wrong, whom he may have voted for or accepted his/her authority as legitimate, simply because they share a citizenship in common. Behind such patriotism, an army of scoundrels could find refuge".  

Today, in 2015, that statement from 2004 still rings painfully true. 

Forward from 2004 to 2010 and for some strange reason, Ory Okolloh seemed to believe we had a real problem on our hands. Of course very few paid any attention to her. Why would they, she's a girl and an activist. Go figure. I was sent a picture from Facebook on Sunday morning that showed a South African publication calling Kenya out as Africa's Greece. This is where Okolloh’s article, published in the Christine Science Monitor in 2010, comes into play beautifully. I am going to share here the parts that hit me like a slap to the face.

How many Kenyans do we know who have a side hustle? Banker by day, butchery/hair salon owner by side…. Even during the times we have experienced growth – it’s been a false growth, barely any trickle-down (hence Kibaki and his cronies shock in ’07 when his re-election wasn’t guaranteed based on economic growth). Cue the ubiquitous Kenyan dream of owning a plot and investing in your kids education. NSSF is widely regarded as a rip-off, and other forms of investment and saving (e.g. stock market) are only taking hold fairly recently.

And does this sound all too familiar? But clientelism and favoritism have been inherent in the modern Greek state since its inception, and the state has always been a major player in the economy. Distributing political rents was a necessary means of legitimation of politicians in the eyes of the electorate, and harvesting rents was a major egoistic reason for becoming a politician.

And wonder why we don’t hear of enough success stories from Kenyan entrepreneurs – very few can tell the story of how they got from A to point Z without some murky stories or connections in the middle – usually related to government connections or at minimum great skill at navigating the political rent space. Try pitching your open source solution to a government official, unlikely to move anywhere because no fat budget attached.

If businesses can make high profits from government contracts or from other privileges, they will invest more to gain the privileges than to become competitive in an open market. Over time this distorts their whole mode of operation: a good salesman is one who can build personal relationships with bureaucrats, a good engineer is one who can draw out a project to make it more expensive. It is rare for a state-dependent enterprise to be also competitive. This was true for the big so-called ‘national suppliers’, as well as for the small I.T. companies, in which many bright engineers wasted their youth working on useless R&D projects funded by EU Programmes.

Maybe Greeks will work as hard as westerners when given the same set of choices; but they will not collaborate as well. In game theory an opportunist is one who grasps the chance to make a good profit today, even if that may have negative repercussions tomorrow

Are we Africa's Greece? I hope not. Do we have a serious problem to confront? Hell, yes.

Will we deal with it? I don't know — but we can't wish it away. We simply can't. Everyone is looking to Uhuru to do something, Uhuru is looking to the rest of us to keep the pressure and not allow the tribal card or party affiliation to cloud our judgement. There is this perception he can swoop in and fire at will, kill off people and send them to jail. Oh, we really must stop reading fairytales once we can vote. This dragon with 40 heads can't be slated by one knight in armour (Uhuru’s has no shine!). This dragon of 40 heads and smart banking skills needs an army to cut off each head and attack it from all sides. Media, private sector, public sector, church, youth, pensioners — everyone.

However I have a feeling we don't care. We actually envy these tenderprenuers, so tuendelee. 

Clay had suggested a competition that I would like to put forth. Maybe our stations at Radio Africa Ltd can run a competition inviting our listeners to name those they are confident are not involved in looting and corruption: the names could surely go on a postcard or possibly a postage stamp.

I do hope, without waiting for a survivor, we will each do our part to slay this dragon and not get carried away by which tribe the dragon's heads are from or who they know or love. If we don’t keep the pressure on and ensure war is truly declared, one day we may wake up at the end of this gigantic looting spree called tenderprenuering to find that Kenya is indeed Africa’s Greece and then we will all be in trouble.

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