Huduma kwa Wengine

Michael Onsando
23 April ,2019


It’s as if Raila’s endorsement of the Huduma number as loudly as it has happened has put the final nail in the coffin as to whether he is trustworthy. Say what you will about it, but the handshake has changed (or perhaps just cast a different light) on the politic in Kenya. With the leader of the opposition working closely with the president (look, politics across the divide!) and Ruto being shunned to the side, where he continues to complain about uprooted railways.

It has somehow made apparent what we always knew – when threatened, the elite will gather together in protection of themselves, putting their battles aside. There, however, is a problem here:

And it’s not that hard a story to sell. Kenyatta the first’s government systematically grabbed and redistributed resources amidst the political elite. Every government that has come after has participated, to some degree at least, in this tradition of creating wealth for the elite. And this wealth never translates into proper economic growth because it is not created with a plan or structure but rather through pilfering public funds and redirecting public resources.

I’m not even going to go into why I am not boarding this Huduma number initiative, Ndii says several things about it here and Rasna says some other things here – I agree with most of the things said. But, like any good speculatist, I take note of DP Ruto’s skipping the launch (yes, I know he had reasons).

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Politics has always been a game of resources. Especially in a democratic society where one must win by the popular vote. Here, a situation is created where the populace must know about you. This involves a large amount of campaigning, roadtripping, billboarding, palm greasing and speech giving. If you come from money it is easy to see it as a business opportunity to expand what you already have. Ndii from the same place:

“During Uhuru Kenyatta’s first term the consumer price of milk increased 67 percent (from KES 36 to KES 60 per half-litre packet), while producer prices remained unchanged at KES 35 per litre), effectively increasing processors’ gross margin by 130 percent (from KES 37 to KES 85 per litre). Given the industry’s 400m litre annual throughput and Kenyatta family’s market share, which stands at 45 percent, the consumer squeeze translates to an increase of the Kenyatta Family’s turnover from KES 13 billion to KES 22 billion, and gross margin from KES 6.7 billion to KES 15 billion a year.”

All it takes is a policy change here, a government contract there and voila! You have almost doubled your annual turnover. Good businessmen know this – hence why they put together money and “install” presidents or whichever politician they can afford (here’s another app that the silicon savana guys should put together, like Uber but for politicians for hire). But when you play the game without the resources to back yourself you might get burned – something Arap Sang almost learned the hard way at the international criminal court.

Because politics is a game of resources, having them puts one on the front foot from the beginning. Not only can they maneuver better but they are also in a position to frustrate their opponent’s efforts. But this also means that they can see when someone is coming for them, because the movement of resources is not something that is easily hidden. Especially not the kind of resource you need to run a challenge for the presidency against a (generations old) tradition.

For someone who was born too late to participate in the first pilfering of the nation that established a political elite the question becomes complicated from here on out.

How do you gather the resources necessary to put up an effective campaign against the establishment? One could go the Boniface Mwangi way, writing several proposals to NGO’s and people of goodwill as well as raising number through a paybill(warning, this might jade you real quick). One could(just as easily) go the Ruto way and try and loot as much as you can so as to be at par(warning, this might alienate you from the people you claim to be fighting for).

Whatever route you choose the establishment will try to quell you at some point. They might even adopt you for a while to co-opt your audience but eventually they will spit you out – or at least try to.

Maybe it is this pattern that has given the current government some of the audacity that they have. Knowing that they can deal with most threats effectively they continue to come up with more audacious ways to use the Kenyan people to further themselves, more loopholes that can ensure that they continue to amass wealth at a rate that keeps them further ahead in the political race, populating the parliament as they please, shuffling and re-shuffling who stands where to keep the populace confused. So maybe dreaming of a reversal might be a dream too far. But maybe we can start by simply saying no – at least I plan to, for as long as I can.

#ResistHudumaNamba

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