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January 19, 2019

Strong institutions needed to drive Kenya

Andrea Bohnstedt/FILE
Andrea Bohnstedt/FILE

There’s no use to cry over spilled milk, right? And you should probably be happy if and when someone finally starts mopping up the spilled liquids. So I’m watching the demolitions of buildings on riparian land. In the case of the Ukay Mall, that’s a building not even encroaching on the river banks, but sitting right on top of the river. During heavy rains, this is a prime spot for spectacular flood pictures. So no, I can’t really argue with this. But I have to admit that I have trust issues, both with the national government and also with the Nairobi city administration. Long running trust issues, deep seated trust issues. If the headlines are spectacular, there is usually something else going on in the background. And in the best case scenario, this would be that nothing much else is going on:


As several people have already pointed out, in many cases there is a long string of approvals, licenses etc that accompanied the construction of the buildings now being pulled down. Ukay Mall may have sat right on the river, but in other cases, this was not so obviously clear. There needs to be a process to deal with the fact that these approvals should never have been given – and to fix this for future construction. I have not seen a plan for this. I am also not convinced that the issues with the ministry, the National Land Commission, and other involved organisations have been addressed. I always like to see a plan. A proper plan. One that involves strong institutions, because roadside declarations will only ever get us so far, and may well lack a legal basis.


And while this occupies the headlines, there’s another late mopping up of spilled milk going on. A very late mopping up, because that milk has been spilled comprehensively, over years: Treasury is looking to hire up to 20 experts for a new debt management team in what would appear as an implicit admission that yes, there’s a bit of an issue with Kenya’s debt. That it’s surged under Kenyatta’s administration, that it became more expensive. So as with the demolitions, I won’t argue about the sensibility of hiring professionals for debt management – but I will quibble with the fact that this happened after the fact. And this situation runs deeper: treasury will have to find more money to service this debt, and we all know that this year’s revenue projections will not be met either. Much of what treasury tried to address the fiscal deficit will disproportionately affect the low-income population. Yes, I have trust issues. Especially with an administration that was in charge for a whole term already.

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