20th July 2013
Life can be – in fact often is – unpredictable. No amount of mathematical precision or psychic power can perfectly foretell the future. A French mathematician and astronomer called Pierre-Simon Laplace once thought he could predict the behaviour of all particles in the universe …if he knew their positions and speeds. Then came along Werner Heisenberg, a German physicist, with his uncertainty principle, and said, no, it is not possible: to know the speed of a particle you have to measure, and to measure is to affect its position and speed. Werner was, of course, riding the wave of quantum physics unleashed by, among others, Albert Einstein. At its heart, quantum physics questions the very nature of nature: when you think you know, it turns out you don’t!
But this has not stopped humanity from striving to control or manage events with a view to influencing outcomes. This is why I am intrigued by the certainty in the promises made by our Deputy President the other day during the Citizen TV interview. He said – his voice precise and certain, and with characteristic eloquence – ‘in the next four and half years, the Government will make sure a standard gauge rail is built; it will have speeds of more than 100 kilometres per hour and will run from Mombasa to Malaba, with a branch to Kisumu. We will implement the Lamu Port, South Sudan and Ethiopia infrastructure project incorporating road, rail and a pipeline, among others. One million acres will be put under irrigation, boosting food production and thereby reducing the cost of living. We will grow the economy by double digits in order to create a million jobs per year.’ This is not a word-perfect reproduction of what he said, but it is very close. This, of course, is straight from the Jubilee Manifesto.
And all these – and many more promises in the Manifesto – are to be achieved by 2017.
Will all these promises be fulfilled by 2017? Are they mere pie in-the-sky wishes? Given the inauspicious start – length of time it is taking to fully form the government, the messy politics of devolution, industrial unrest, insecurity, etc. – you would be forgiven if you expressed some doubt.
But the truth is it can be done. It all depends on government’s ability to mobilise and catalyse development speed on a massive scale. And speed in our new constitutional dispensation depends on how much of a drag ‘democracy’ is. Don’t get me wrong, democracy is good; it can act as a social quality assurance mechanism, ensuring fairness and accountability in both process and outcomes. Like Winston Churchill, I believe it is the worst form of governance but it is better than all others that have been tried! The fact though is that a democratic government has limited ability to quickly mobilise effort on a massive scale – except during war.
Non-democratic governments have little or no such shackles. If led by visionary and benevolent leaders, they can achieve great progress, other costs notwithstanding. China is a great example. Foreign Policy Magazine reports that when former Chinese President Jiang Zemin called for massive enrolment in education, enrolment in higher education shot up by 165%; the number of Chinese students studying abroad increased by 152% and university enrolment rose by more than 50% – all in just four years.
To have a sense of how fast China is galloping, courtesy of government directed speed, consider the following: sixteen new airports are built every year. In 2012 alone, 11,000 kilometers of expressways were built. By contrast, it took Kenya 46 years (from 1963 to 2009) to increase its paved road network from 2000km to 11,000 km. China is adding 1700km of high speed rail per year. In just ten years, China built more high speed rail than it took Japan and Europe combined. (The US has none because it has been debating it (democracy at work) for decades!
Is the Jubilee government, with its ‘burden’ of democracy, capable of even a fraction of such scale and speed of mobilisation? If it has to deliver on its promise to transform the country in four and half years, it will have to carry creatively the speed-reducing weight of democracy on its young shoulders. It will have to strike a delicate balance between rule by directive and rule by consultative consensus, all the while managing domestic and foreign expectations.
On the promise to remove trade barriers, we are beginning to see the results of recent Presidential directives. Regionally, we hope to see the results of recent directives by the presidents of Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda regarding trade barriers on the Northern transport corridor.
Is this an opportunity to practice a uniquely Kenyan democracy?
West Africans have a proverb: Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far. I would add: use the stick occasionally. It is the only way to challenge the principles of quantum physics.