EXCESSIVE BORROWING

Time to stop and reflect as a nation

We in Kenya have come to a point where we at times feel certain things are inevitable: There is really nothing one can do about them

In Summary

• When Moses was in the wilderness travelling with the children of Israel to Canaan, he very often sought solitude in the mountains to pray to God to show him the way more clearly

• We seem to have been driven to a situation of hopeless despair where we are made to believe it us, at the personal level, who must determine our destiny

The National Treasury building
The National Treasury building
Image: FILE

It is not really possible that we can, as a nation, develop without stopping and reflecting, every so often, on what we have been doing to see the future more clearly?

Methinks the time has come for such reflection, and the Building Bridges Initiative, whatever its shortcomings may emerge, provides us with this opportunity. Let me explain.

The Bible tells us that when Moses was in the wilderness travelling with the children of Israel to Canaan, he very often sought solitude in the mountains to pray to God to show him the way more clearly. In other words, he needed time to reflect to deal with the many problems they faced on this tortuous journey.

 

The same Bible — now in the New Testament — also tells us that Jesus every now and again disappeared from his 12 disciples to go and pray in solitude so as to know more clearly how to advance their message of salvation. He could not afford to do things as a matter of routine.

We in Kenya have come to a point where we at times feel certain things are inevitable: There is really nothing one can do about them. Talk of corruption? Forget it, most would say. It has become part of the DNA of every Kenyan. In any case to hustle, even when this involves cheating, killing and stealing every now and again seems now to be lauded as a virtue!

Talk of obscene social inequalities: This too is inevitable. The haves and the have nots will always be a permanent relationship in any society. Talk of rigged elections and the illusion of democracy: This, too, is inevitable in the African setting, so it is argued.

We seem to be resigned to a frame of mind that contemplates no change in our lives. Or a life where change only comes when, through personal machinations, one somewhere manages to escape from poverty and then begins to patronise the poor in a lurid paternalistic fashion. But more meaningful to our lives would be a change or changes that affect the structure of society and not the personal fortunes of individuals.

We seem to have been driven to a situation of hopeless despair where we are made to believe it us, at the personal level, who must determine our destiny. While we must not deemphasise personal responsibility, we have to remember that individuals are not free atoms: They are the products of social relations. 

Were our parents of yesteryear to have been as hopelessly inclined regarding social change as we are today made to be--or tempted to be--the struggle for independence would have never been there. Nor would independence have been achieved. But they, like some of us today, believed sincerely that "vindu vichenjanga" with purposeful human action.

But which way will things change?

 

Let me begin by emphasising that, in social processes or historical mutations, nothing is ever inevitable. Change has to be consciously planned, thought through and relentlessly pursued within a framework of social thought that drives human action in a certain way. In other words ideas drive change: change is ideological. The kind of thinking that delves into the complications of human relationships without reducing such relationships into epiphenomenal epithets such as "hustlers" and "non-hustlers."

Notwithstanding the progressive Constitution, which was the product of many years of ideological struggles, we seem to have resigned ourselves to the notion that mere technocracy can drive change. La hasha! It cannot.

Technocracy can only work on the backs of certain "received" ideas whose origins, purpose and goals we need to carefully discern before we resign our fate to technocracy.

For example, the Treasury believes that when there is little money internally, we should borrow from outside to finance development. Nothing wrong with this belief. But then we must ask ourselves one further question. How much do we borrow, at what interest rate and to finance what type of development? 

This question seems to have been answered as follows. Borrow as much as possible from China, to finance infrastructure development and to be paid at an interest rate negotiated with the Chinese. All of a sudden, we realise we did not think through very carefully regarding the cost of our infrastructure  (overpriced or overloaded with costs of rent-seeking), servicing these loans, at what frequency and with what type of money? So we have again to borrow from Eurobond to service the Chinese debts with close to 60 per cent of our national budget going to service loans alone.

In short, we did not think through our game plan very carefully. Or, what is worse, those who were supposed to think through had specific ideas in mind geared towards serving certain rent-seeking interests that were antithetical to the national development in a democratic state.

When debts go wrong everybody in the nation suffers. Why should the ordinary Kenyan bear the burdens from the ill-thinking and selfish interests of state bureaucrats?

It is refreshing to note that, out of this BBI discourse, these issues will be openly ventilated as we stop to reflect about our past and our future. For example, the assumption that democracy is simply about "free and fair elections" will need to be put to scrutiny given the past elusive nature of polls in Kenya. 

Democracy, to my mind, is a system whereby society establishes a government representative of its interests and such a government proceeds to govern in an accountable manner. Free and fair elections are just a means of establishing such a government and not an end in itself.

There is no God-given reason that we cannot design a system of representation and accountability that involves all voters being represented in government in proportion to the votes they get in an election. This will automatically rule out the winner take all divisive practice that has constantly split our society at every election. It will also demystify the notion that democratic governance must always involve antagonistic politics that is geared towards winning or losing an election so as to form government.

The debate is obviously open.