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February 20, 2019

Protests in Nairobi bad for economy

The Star Newspaper's opinion columnist Andrea Bohnstedt
The Star Newspaper's opinion columnist Andrea Bohnstedt

I have often thought of Konza City as a field of rocks. Not just because the concept of what would be an enormous investment has changed several times, but also because I believe that a new city in itself does not really address any of the current concerns of business.

What companies need is a functioning infrastructure, functioning institutions, rule of law and such things. If you can’t keep it together with the capital city, how would that realistically change elsewhere? One of my very clever girlfriends had a great idea for Konza: it doesn’t have to be a Tech City. It can become ‘Protest City’! ‘Teargas Monday’ has become a bit of a nuisance for anyone who had to go downtown. It’s been pointed out repeatedly the stone-throwing, teargas-spraying shenanigans also make for unhelpful international headlines, for both tourism and general investment. It’s a disruption to business and shops, cars and other property get destroyed and its usefulness is doubtful, too. So why not, well, outsource the whole thing?

Since Konza is a field of rocks anyway, we can set up a whole ‘Protest City’ there for rioters to, well, run riot in. As in ‘Life of Brian’, some enterprising mama mboga can run a little stall bags with rocks to throw. There would be plenty of space for rioters to do their thing, and if they really want some action, they can book the expanded package with some teargas thrown in. Or choose the option where they get manhandled and thrown into a fake prison by the fake police. And while we’re at it, since it was planned to have universities out in Konza, we can also relocate the rioting departments of the University of Nairobi to Protest City. Nobody needs them in the city disrupting business, destroying things, and harassing and beating up people.

It’s pretty much already election season, even though the actual election is still a good year off. But in Kenya, elections have a disproportionate effect on the economy. All those warnings about the large fiscal deficit, and Kenya’s rising national debt? Don’t expect anything to happen about it this and next fiscal year – you don’t want to disgruntle anyone with cost cuts.

Could something go wrong with the next election? Possibly. So maybe wait with an investment for a bit – also because “Teargas Mondays” just don’t make for a supportive business environment. And while the government certainly delivers a solid number of issues that a competent, non-corrupt opposition could latch onto, the opposition has not found any convincing, thoughtful, competent way of addressing them.

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