Ask any Kenyan how much the country owes the world and you will get a hilarious answer. The typical Kenyan copes with the country’s political and economic drama by cracking jokes on Twitter. Not that we are oblivious or ignorant of the state of the nation, but because humor is our coping mechanism.
So, seriously, how much is Kenya’s internal debt? Well over Kes. 2 trillion while the external debt isn’t looking pretty either. Uhuru Kenyatta’s government, which has quite an appetite for debt, has increased the country’s total liability to well over Kes. 4 trillion, three times what it was in 2013.
This magnitude of debt is worrying for a country of Kenya’s GDP. In 2013 when Ret. President Kibaki left office, the debt-to-GDP ratio was 39.8% – not great but decent. By end of the 2018-2019 financial year, the same is expected to rise to 56%, which naturally means that most of the revenue generated internally will go towards repaying that debt. Even the IMF expressed concern at the growing debt at the beginning of the year.
Everyone Owes Someone
Okay, everyone owes someone. They say that only the dead are debt-free, and even that is debatable. The main cause of anger for Kenyans is how that money is utilized. Just before the IMF voiced its concern, Cytonn Investments had reported that the country would be a fix unless the loans were invested in projects that made good enough returns to enable the government repays those loans comfortably. No brainer, right? Well, our government cannot invest this money because … wage bill. A staggering wage bill! A huge chunk of the annual budget goes towards salaries and tea and per diems for waheshimiwas foreign trips. Sorry, development projects. We have to borrow to afford you. That’s just how it is.
Since the devolution of functions and the expansion of government – thanks to a progressive constitution – the country has lost lots of money. Too much to keep tabs on, but I will try and recap some of the known scandals involving the raiding of public coffers.
National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB)
Investigations revealed that eight people conspired with top officials at the board to fleece poor farmers of Kes. 1.9 billion. Some of the officials were sent on compulsory leave to pave way for further investigations. We are waiting – not with baited breath.
National Youth Service
The first scandal that was brought to light in 2015 reported the theft of a cool Kes. 791 million. The good lady Anne Waiguru was adversely mentioned but that didn’t stop her from winning a disputed gubernatorial election in her county. In round two, the thieves did a much better job – Kes. 9 billion. Now, let’s all pretend to be shocked and angry here. Thank you.
National Tree-Planting Program
You’d think one would have better sense than to steal from a good cause, no? Flagged off by the president, the program – worth Kes.2 billion – was to see the planting of trees on at least 10% of land occupied by primary schools in the country, but the cash was put into ‘better’ use.
Afya House, Galana and Mwea Irrigation Scheme
Kes. 5 billion was misappropriated by top officials at Afya House, some among them closely related to the president. A few mediocre arrests were made but the then-Health CS Cleopa Mailu denied any loss of public money.
Top members of the National Irrigation Board (NIB) took the noble Galana project and turned it into a personal cash-cow when they awarded 15 tenders wrongly. These tenders, worth Kes. 953 million, were grossly inflated. In the end, Kes. 3.5 Billion was lost and another well-meaning project turned into nothing.
These are not the only scandals to rock the country and although the Public Prosecutor says his office is burning the midnight oil to bring these people to justice, nothing much has been done and Kenyans are not very hopeful. We’ve been here one time too many.
A Glimmer of Hope
I am still hopeful that this country can rise and take its rightful place in Africa’s economy. And leaders like Kivutha Kibwana give me hope. This guy, not driven by cheap PR stunts, is doing good by his people. At the beginning is his term as governor for Makueni, he proposed and started a free Universal Health Care program for the elderly, a milk processing firm that has created jobs for the county’s youth, and launched a fruit processing plant in Makueni.
Kibwana not only made sure that all county processes are overseen by the most qualified, but he also made county executives sign performance contracts. He shall not suffer slackers. He’s running his county like a company.
Note that he is not just doing things he thinks are good for the people, but he is involving them in decision-making. For the first time in Kenyan leadership, an elected governor is consulting his people on the projects that would be beneficial to them. All this happening in a county that was on the verge of ruin.
Let’s Move Rivers, in the Meantime
The people of Makueni will forever laud themselves for electing a leader that showed the country what could be achieved if everyone did their job. My eyes are on Kisumu too, with the good-ole professor. Maybe, just maybe the rest of us will use these two as examples when electing new leaders in 2022. For now, I’ll sit back and laugh at Waititu’s river-moving theatrics.
— Waithera Mbugua,