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CITIZENS' RESPONSIBILITY

We all have a stake in making Kenya prosperous

It should not be every person for him or herself; legislation and enforcement can only go so far.

In Summary

• We simply must be aware that our decisions should support the local economy as much as possible.

• This ranges from basic everyday choices, such as buying Kenyan-grown produce or locally manufactured clothing, to taking care of our own health.

In the 2019-20 budget, Treasury CS Henry Rotich proposed excise duty on alcohol and tobacco be increased.
In the 2019-20 budget, Treasury CS Henry Rotich proposed excise duty on alcohol and tobacco be increased.
Image: FILE

Recently, the government announced its budget for 2019-20. The lengthy and complicated document has drawn some criticism but to me, it is clear that National Treasury CS Rotich is making the best choices based on our current situation.

We are not yet a high-income country by global standards, but we are on our way. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and it is going to take time for Nairobi to reach its full potential as Kenya’s capital city.

But within Africa, Kenya is already an economic powerhouse. We should be very proud of the gains we have made since 2013, when Uhuru became President. Nairobi now tops the continent’s list of best cities in which to conduct business, in part due to the improved ranking on the World Bank’s index of best countries for doing business.

Government laws now ban plastic bags, putting sustainability on the radar of people who would otherwise have little interest in environmental issues. Initiatives such as Linda Mama have been rolled out across the nation, offering free comprehensive healthcare for all pregnant women. 

 

But it is also the responsibility of citizens to work on improving Kenya. It should not be every person for him or herself. Legislation and enforcement of compliance to laws can only go so far.

A nudge can be as simple as putting healthy food at eye level so people consume less junk food (which adds to national healthcare costs), or sending a quick text to remind people to register for various public services, such as Huduma Namba.

This could be considered using the example of nudge theory in behavioural economics. Nudge theory uses positive reinforcement and light suggestions to influence behaviour and decision-making. Basically put, nudging uses “choice architecture” to alter behaviour without spending lots of money.

A nudge can be as simple as putting healthy food at eye level so people consume less junk food (which adds to national healthcare costs), or sending a quick text to remind people to register for various public services, such as Huduma Namba.

Economic theory has shown time and again that people’s behaviour is not always rational—they might not always behave in a way that is in their best interests. This is called the value-action gap. A young Kenyan might want to invest in setting up her new business but gambles the money away instead.

Another might want to prioritise his health so he can take care of his young family but ends up smoking cigarettes. That’s why the new budget’s taxation on gambling, alcohol and tobacco consumption will not only prevent some people from succumbing to these vices - it will also raise money to fund other government programmes from those who choose to consume nonetheless.

A decade ago, Barack Obama launched the Social and Behavioral Science Team (SBST) to test how it can be used as an inexpensive policy tool. The results? Thirteen of the fifteen projects showed proven success.

This can be an inspiration for the Uhuru administration as we consider ways to implement the new budgetary measures. From the government’s side, it really doesn’t cost much to design positive choices. On the citizens' side, we simply must be aware that our decisions should support the local economy as much as possible.

This ranges from basic everyday choices, such as buying Kenyan-grown produce or locally manufactured clothing, to taking care of our own health. It can also mean driving safely and supporting the initiative to insure boda boda operators so their passengers have coverage too.

 

Let’s allow Uhuru to guide us towards prosperity, while simultaneously taking responsibility for ourselves and the choices we make. It is time that we develop a collective mindset encouraging one another to make decisions that put Kenyans first. The choices we make affect our peers today as well as generations to come. Our nation has reached an unprecedented level of unity across party lines, which should shape the way we act this upcoming year.