Just when we thought things couldn’t get worse, a debilitating fuel shortage caused distress and plunged the country deeper into economic crisis.
It exposed the fragility of the lame duck status President Uhuru Kenyatta slips into each day as we head into the August elections; took the wind from the Azimio La Umoja One Kenya’s sails and left Kenya Kwanza in much glee. And left Kenyans angrier.
Even yesterday, I found cars queuing for fuel on Mombasa Road. There hasn’t been a plausible explanation of what is happening to the fuel stocks. Not from the oil marketers who seem as helpless as the anxious motorists queuing for the precious fuel; not from a hapless government bureaucracy less attuned to the plight of Kenyans queuing late into the night for fuel.
Was this the job of greedy, profiteering petroleum dealers? Will anyone pay for the colossal loss of business and the inconvenience to millions of Kenyans? Highly unlikely.
As we head to August and as the scale of the failures (and successes) becomes clear, factions will turn on each other in a spiral of blame. Though we aren’t there yet, President Kenyatta must set out to limit the danger ahead. At the height of his presidency, he practiced pork and barrel politics. He succeeded in getting some of the things done especially with the March 2018 handshake. Now that he is in a lame duck status, the terrain is getting slippery.
Whoever thought that Kenyans in 2022 will be queuing for fuel with jerry cans as happens in basket case countries around the world?
And the politicians seized on the opportunity to score off against each other. Don’t for a second trust their good intentions. Look at their actions.
The fuel crisis is a manifestation of the state’s heavy hand and clumsy attempt to emasculate private business. Pending bills (in the national and county government) are crushing private business and shattering lives.
In the last 10 years, the private sector has been brow-beaten.
The World Bank even warned that government has been driving the economy, not the private sector which is the biggest employer, more innovative and nimbler to adapt to change. What that means is that government is holding up huge sums of money that could be used better in the hands of the private sector.
So how did we get here? To a place where government gets away with murder; is largely unresponsive and out-of-touch with what really matters to the people. Where sanctions don’t apply for gross dereliction of duty.
Here is the thing: ODM is giving Jubilee 1 the cover to do wrong as it wants just like Jubilee 2 (now UDA) did between 2013-17. We witnessed an emboldened Jubilee 1 and Jubilee 2 gang up to pass the Security Laws in 2014, borrow frenetically (Sh8 trillion and counting) and engage in capital intensive exploits with long payback periods and therefore offer no quick returns to the taxpayer.
We have seen how MPs have been at the beck and call of Jubilee 1 in all seasons whether with Jubilee 2 or with ODM under the handshake.
Worst of all, when this is pointed to ODM (most of the time by the new ‘saints’ in town), they yell back: “Look but they did worse things before us.” Well, two wrongs never make a right.
It is all political posturing and grandstanding. This dead-end politics is a catalyst for corruption and patronage. In a corruption-riddled system, essential services cost more and are unreliable. Because it deters vital investment and leads to misallocation of crucial resources, corruption leaves the people worse off, left behind and invariably causes social grievance.
To put it in better perspective, each year, corruption denies 250,000 youths a job and a livelihood. If the boda boda and the ride-hailing taxis net Sh1.5 billion-plus every day, imagine what it means to keep them out of business for two weeks because of “misplaced paperwork” between Treasury and the oil marketers.
The handshake was a masterstroke. Sadly, in the handshake era, we have seen and felt the return of the Big Man syndrome manifested by hero-worship. The leader couldn’t do anything wrong and when he does, there are ways to rationalise it as part of his role as the Lion King. Recall the disobeyed court orders (including one to dissolve Parliament) the borrowing spree and BBI and so much more?
As if in a trance, media, meanwhile has been either too timid, looked away or got swallowed in the maelstrom that has swept across the country.
Something needs to shake us out of our stupor.
Mr Kipkemboi is Partnerships and Special Projects Editor, Standard Group