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October 19, 2018

'Big Four' a war chest facade

Big Four
Big Four

Today it’s about the choice of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s “Big Four” pillars to cement his legacy. He wildly fancies that upon leaving office, Kenyans are manufacturing their own goods and not dependent on imports; have unrestrained access to inexpensive healthcare; live in affordable houses and can eat their fill.

I haven’t seen the blueprint, but here’s the headache for the ‘backroom boys’: Growing manufacturing depends on the subsectors. Are they industrial- or agribusiness- related? Industrial may mean celebrating one more foreign firm setting up showrooms in Nairobi. But focus on agribusiness may address value addition and add synergy to agricultural production to secure food availability.

Were I Uhuru, I wouldn’t allow omnibus industrialisation yardsticks, but demand specifics with equilibrium between food security and agribusiness as one pillar. One problem, though, is the deceit tenancy in the Uhuru administration, which lies about the overpublicised Last Mile Connectivity project and slaps us with Sh8.1 billion power bill ‘arrears’ without flinching. The manufacturing gamble isn’t “big” anything and is dead on arrival; the expense and unreliability of power connectivity isn’t favourable. The ingredients don’t mix.

Kenya isn’t a food-deficit country. The problem is lack of linkage of food abundant and food scarce areas. We know where and when food is grown and droughts occur, but lack the fortitude to create sustainable market cohesion because a streamlined system will deny homeboys rent. The ‘backroom boys’ know the correlation between food security, viewed broadly away from having NCPB grain reserves and graft, and universal healthcare.

Readily available food means preventive healthcare, thence, an able workforce. Healthy folk produce the wealth of nations and can afford goods. Food security guarantees healthy workers who produce and consume more, and creates jobs for others to afford housing.

Affordable housing? Not until Ardhi House cartels are sorted out and landownership and investment are made accessible and affordable. Only then will land accommodate cheap housing. Food, health and shelter, yes, but isn’t water a basic need? We deleted education because of certified (CS Fred) Matiang’i sarcasm?

But that is not my concern. The scare is our version of the American pork barrel political patronage for campaign fundraising. Beneath that ‘Big Four’ façade, spending will be primarily to build campaign war chests. Pork barrel politics is derogatorily known as turnkey projects. A turnkey project belongs to a contractor who designs, builds and sells it to government for profit. The Chinese are envied in this made-to-fit clothing. Whereas turnkey may mean the buyer just need only turn the ignition key, it is disparaged in Africa for sleaze.

Turnkey projects mean vendors “only have to turn a key” of kickbacks to have the project bought. A turnkey doesn’t have to happen. Even if it does, it doesn’t have to work. Africa is dotted with massive white elephant housing and irrigation schemes, hydropower dams, rail, roads, airports, and security installations, because turnkey means making money where a project was never intended, needed or viable. Its only feasibility is siphoning off public money. Can you smell little Galana-Kulalus, Last Miles, power plants, NSSF housings, SGRs, NYSs, health leasing tenders or Greenfields terminals in the “Big Four”? I certainly can. Already Kulalu is being sublet to “private entrepreneurs”. The SGR doesn’t have cargo to lift.

Turnkeys aren’t always brick and mortar projects but also subtle procurement like subsidies for staple food imports instead of production. We’re in another circle of high staple food prices. A 2kg packet of maize flour went north with a 106 per cent rise because import subsidies were terminated immediately their bait value for votes expired.

Call it just another swindle in the life of Jubilee’s non-disclosure anathema. It was easier to get rent from importers than farmers. The reign of expensive turnkeys continues; remember the skyrocketing cost of the SGR? Still wondering why we each owe Sh100,000?

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