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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

gubertanorial(is there a more fun word?)debate

The GDP of Kenya and Singapore were the same 50 years ago and now Singapore is doing x times better than Kenya and the only difference between the two is management.

This is something I have heard my whole life. This is something I will probably hear for the rest of it. This is a statement that will be made by most people with solid business management credentials trying to win a political seat in Kenya. It’s also a statement that people reach for whenever they want to indict the political leadership of our country.

It is also one of the most misleading statements there is.

Or so I believe (that degree in economics I have only stretches as far as knowing the difference between macro and micro economics.) the reason I think it is misleading is that it is such an oversimplification that it cannot hope to be true. A similar statement would take two children who got the same marks in KCPE find them years later (let’s assume they were in the same school and went to different ones) read out their KCSE grades and attribute the difference in grades to one thing. Any one thing, the secondary school they went to for example and saying the difference in grades is caused by this and just this. This approach of course leaves out a thousand thousand other things that happened in the interim. It leaves out their work ethic once they proceeded, it does not consider what subjects they took in high school, it doesn’t ask the situations at their various homes, it doesn’t recognise that while KCPE is a multi-choice paper KCSE is not, it acts like it doesn’t matter that one of them was sick or one of them got leakage or one of them fluked in the earlier paper or, or, or….

With such a world of difference between two boys who could imagine that there could only be one difference between two countries. No one mentions the history of the countries and the effect this has on them , no one talks about the proximity of China to Singapore a fact that has as huge an effect as a magnet on a TV screen, no one talks about the difference in postcolonial policies as regards nations in Africa and Asia, we don’t mention that the problems with unity they had extended to four ethnic groups while we are struggling with close to forty, the destabilising effects that having countries at war nearby brings isn’t brought up in conversation, the difference in what we produce just as a result of climate and natural resource distribution is all but forgotten, the work ethic of the people being managed, the huge difference in cultural norms and practices the, the, the….

We had hopelessly inept leadership of course but there is not only one difference between Kenya and Singapore that can be blamed for why we are lagging so far behind them in economic terms.

The most recent time I heard this being mentioned was during the gubernatorial debates for Nairobi.. I remember hearing all through the weekend the weeps that accompanied Jimna Mbaru losing the nomination. People loved him and his legendary cv. It’s not a CV I have taken a look at and I don’t intend to since this isn’t an interview this is an election(here  I engage in simplification too) and to be honest I never expected him to win. Maybe he should have but as I told everyone last week this isn’t a meritocracy it’s a democracy. It matters more to be charismatic than to be capable. All your achievements in business only matter as much as you can convert them to votes. Of course a lot of the same things that allow you to succeed in business will let you succeed in politics iron will and determination, the ability to inspire and motivate, resource allocation and deployment but they don’t completely translate. It’s like Chinese to Swahili you need an ear for both and how to speak in both languages before an honest to god unbelievable CV will get you a political seat. Best thing about his candidacy though a lot of people in Nairobi will get off their armchairs come March fourth and go vote. But for who?

President, governor, senator, Member of Parliament, councillor. I think I got it all but there’s a chance I missed one of them. This is going to be the most marking of multiple answers people did since they were in primary school. At least for governor it’s a choice between two people and it’s good that we got a chance to see both of them speak on the same stage.

What I like about both of them is that they have an ability to laugh and make laugh, who wasn’t giggling at the end of the debate when Waititu was like I will accept any position you appoint me to and I will appoint you to one myself who didn’t find it funny that Kidero kept up the whole Clifford or Ferdinand all through. And whose parents give one child such equally unlikely names as Clifford and Ferdinand. If you can’t laugh in politics I worry for you. I worry for what will happen to you as it gets worse and worse as it will inevitably will. I worry that you don’t even like people and if that part of the job isn’t one you enjoy soon you become bitter and I don’t want bitter politicians. I was also impressed by the fact that they both grew up in slums in Nairobi. We as a city need politicians who understand our problems who know what’s going on in the city, who know what it means to be a resident of it. Waititu talked about the need to invest in the infrastructure of Kibera. He talked about the flying toilets still whistling through the air up there and how important this is to the city’s development(not the flying toilets but doing something about them). He said about 80% of Nairobi’s people live in slums. Assuming this statistic is true and it is definitely almost true then a lot needs to be done about helping people there. I read an article about Kibera last week. It was an exploration of the slum as a hub of entrepreneurial activity. Businesses spring up all over the place as people struggle to get by and reading this gives you a healthy respect for the people there and even for the place but a place(even one as remarkable) still needs the intervention of a government. It’s the government’s job to build schools and hospitals and provide security and I am glad that he at least sees those people and recognises them as his primary constituents should he win.

Speaking of security Kidero touched on  the need for it.the thing  I liked more about him in this debate is that he backed up his facts with figures, he talked about the ratios needed of police officers to citizens in the country and suggested creating a metropolitan police force from a cadre of city askaris. I have very strong feelings about security. This city feels unsafe most of the time. It’s not a place you can walk in at all hours of the night, even the day is tinged with just a whiff of danger and it’s not something I like. In addition he talked about the need to attract foreign investment to Nairobi, Nairobi is 5 hours away from any African capital and just 8 hours away from most of the major world capitals. This is not something I knew before I listened to Kidero but I know it now and I sit and wonder with him why we don’t have more foreign investment. This is perfect isn’t it? Here is a country with amazing human resources. There are engineers and CPAs and CFAs, university graduates, former college students, people good with their hands and no chance of a communication breakdown because everyone speaks English plus the wages aren’t high compared to most places in the world. He talked about the need for more action, though I am not sure what the action was.

The thing most people don’t like about Waititu is his activism as it would be called if he wasn’t a politician. You see him throwing stones and engaged in activities usually reserved for ruffians but he gave this passionate explanation for it. If land is grabbed from a school serving 3,000 poor students he would do anything to right that injustice. What did we expect him to do? An MP has no executive power he cannot physically stop a land deal, he has no judiciary power to get the police to stop it and legislative power is useless in such cases. The laws are already in place and just being hopelessly circumvented. What else is a leader to do but show his people that he feels their pain that this matters so much to him that he’s willing to do this… to put himself in harm’s way to tarnish himself? I can’t fault him for that. What we can however is that video:

“Nasema hii, kutoka leo hiyo wamaasai wote hatutaki kuwaona Kayole.” (This is what I am saying, from today; we don’t want to see any of those Maasai in Kayole.) He sued the TV station for claiming that his remarks led to the violence of that day and claimed that eating was what led him to say this. He even said that the he showed up after the violence had already happened which in my mind makes them more and not less irresponsible. The context of remarks matters when deciding if they are inflammatory, saying something in a place where there is already heat flying around can be inflammatory while it wouldn’t in a place where cooler heads prevail. He tried to explain the context of his words but unless this was one of those videos cut and paste from different parts of the speech this is still what he said.

As for Kidero the charge laid against him most often is that he is elitist and cannot understand what is happening to the people. I personally do not think that poverty is a necessary qualification for politics but the fact that he grew up in a slum says more against that charge than anything.  While poverty is not a qualification having someone experience it makes him more empathetic and more capable of doing a job that seeks so often to replace the trees with the forest and on this score they are both even.  Though he is a tad elitist and a condescending man. I didn’t like the way he talked to someone who was his equal correcting him in a way that said I am smarter than you rather than you shouldn’t make such mistakes. As for the land scandal that was brought up. Something…something this is the point where I lost the train of thought anyway I figure he didn’t get any personal gain from it and the sugar company is the one embroiled in it. Otherwise this man’s past seems to be blank. He worked in Nigeria, he ran a sugar company, he grew up in the slums and he’s a doctor. This is all I heard about him in those forty minutes. I have no idea what he achieved in his tenure as any of those things. Also he seems to think that the only difference between Kenya and Singapore is management.

 Well those were my thoughts on that debate. Remember to vote. And also remember to check if you are properly registered to vote on the link below.


  1. You're sold on Waititu. I don't know why, but that made me smile. Not laugh, not ridicule, not judge, just smile. In a good way :-)

  2. it seems so doesn't it. if i t wasn't for the maasai thing there would not even be a semblance of a fence to sit on. and to think i tried so hard to be impartial while writing this