02. Kenya’s oscillating pendulums

By Kap Kirwok

October 6th 2012

Life, as the refrain goes, is a journey with many ups and downs. It is analogous to a pendulum, swinging back and forth perpetually at different amplitudes and speeds; an ocean current – ebbing and flowing ceaselessly in low and high tide.

If this is true for human life, it stands to reason that the polity – the organised society – that we call Kenya, is not exempt. As the year comes to a close, there are many pendulums swinging asynchronously in all kinds of directions right now. Consider a sample of news over the last 12 months.

The World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business survey for 2012 shows that, in aggregate, Kenya dropped three index points to 109 (out of 183 countries) compared to the previous year. In such crucial areas as enforcement of contracts, issuance of business permits and registration of property, the slippage was a jaw-dropping 31 points. And yet according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competiveness Index, Kenya had moved up four places to 102 in their 2011-12 survey, only to drop by two points to 104 in the 2012-13 report. Other notable rankings are: financial markets (26th), quality of education (51st), financial markets (26th), and efficiency of the labour market (37th). Unsurprisingly, health and security are ranked 122nd and 129th respectively out of 144.

The corruption ranking, predictably but shamefully, stands out: we came in at an abysmal 154 out of 178 in the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index for 2011.

And yet, perhaps because of our relatively impressive ranking in terms of business sophistication and innovation (52nd out of 144 in the Global Competitiveness Index), we continue to see concrete expressions of investment confidence. For example, IBM, the global technology and consulting company, announced plans to have its first African research lab in Kenya. Others that have expressed investment confidence include such conglomerates as Nokia, Siemens, Alcatel-Lucent and the Chinese telecom firm, Huawei.

The interest and confidence is not confined to soft infrastructure. In hard infrastructure – primarily road, rail, port and airport – we continue to see slow, steady and, yes, sometimes erratic forward movement.

And then there is oil and gas. The announcement early in the year of the discovery of large oil deposits in Turkana followed recently by the pronouncement of large gas discoveries (deliberately downplayed) continue to generate excitement.

Clearly, the economic pendulums are swinging wildly. How about the security and political pendulums?

Recently, we witnessed the fall of Kismayu. This may ironically increase the threat from Al Shabab – at least in the short term. Earlier, we saw more than 100 people murdered in inter-tribal conflicts in the Tana Delta. Earlier still, we saw the mysterious murder of Sheikh Aboud Rogo. More recently, we mourned the death of a dozen people in Kilifi in what has been reported to involve the Mombasa Republican Council.

Insecurity is also a matter of perception. And this, in particular external perception, is what matters most. It is what drives investment decisions. That is why we cannot afford to ignore the following additional indices.

The Failed States Index for 2012, a collaborative survey published annually by the Foreign Affairs magazine and the Fund for Peace, ranks Kenya in position 16, a mere 15 points removed from Somalia. This is a slight improvement from position 13 in 2010.

The FutureBrand, a global brand consulting firm which publishes the annual Country Brand Index, ranks Kenya 77 out of 113 countries in its 2011 composite perception survey. This is down 19 points from the previous year.

The tale of the political and security pendulums – and the governance environment in general – is grim. True, we have seen the arrest of Ferdinand Waititu, the Embakasi MP for incitement; and we have seen the jailing of Rebecca Nabutola, the former PS in the Ministry of Tourism on graft charges. We also applauded when Nancy Baraza, the suspended Deputy Chief Justice, was checkmated by Rebecca Kerubo. The truth is these are isolated and tiny ripples in an indifferent sea of impunity.

But have you ever wondered why certain pendulums, say the political and governance ones, seem to operate outside the laws of physics? You would think what swings in one direction ought to eventually swing in the opposite direction. And, for every reaction there ought to be a counter reaction of equal or greater force – to paraphrase Newton’s laws of motion.

Why then is the impunity pendulum gone in one direction for so long? When will the tide turn?

In an alternate reality where the laws of nature operate, we would expect a countervailing reaction to the continuing infection of the public psychology by political coarseness. Instead, what we see is a doubling down on anything that is most sordid.

In political leadership, the pendulum does not swing: it only plummets.

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