Kenya’s Perfect Storm
by Michael Meyer – NAIROBI – Mareeg.com- It’s the end of the rainy season in Kenya, and this year’s storms have been almost biblical, washing away not only people’s sunny disposition, but also their bridges, buses, livestock, and crops. But the damage cannot be blamed on the weather alone.
Roads have been hit especially hard; potholes the size of cars litter highways in the capital. Near the offices of the United Nations on Limuru Road, for example, traffic backs up for a half-mile as vehicles nudge into oncoming traffic to avoid one particularly large water-filled hole. Elsewhere, vehicles creep along slowly, bouncing from crater to crater, while the carless get tossed around in matatu minibuses as they travel to and from work.
You might ask why the government doesn’t do something. After all, potholes are a basic and highly visible indicator of a country’s social and economic wellbeing. Good roads are an indicator of government effectiveness, while bad ones suggest incompetence. Any government seeking to retain the support of voters typically goes out of its way to make roads passable. Why not in Kenya?
The reason is brute economics: the government cannot afford it. Consider the state of the Kenyan budget. Today, roughly half of all revenue goes to fund the inflated salaries and perks of government officials, including parliamentarians, governors, local and national bureaucrats, and endless legions of administrators.
Another 40% goes to repaying interest on the country’s burgeoning international debt, which now exceeds half of Kenya’s annual GNP – a red flag for credit ratings agencies. Add to this the mysterious propensity for about a third of the national budget simply to disappear each year, presumably into the pockets of venal politicians, and Kenya has the makings of a serious economic crisis that is fast coming to a head.
The good news is that Kenya’s weather-related chaos has coincided with renewed efforts to address administrative and budgetary roadblocks. For starters, President Uhuru Kenyatta recently announced a major anti-corruption drive that, unlike past efforts, is already producing results. Several senior government officials have been investigated and charged; some are already on trial, while others have lost their jobs and have been placed under house arrest. These are all firsts, and the reason is obvious: curbing theft by government cronies is among the fastest and most effective ways to raise revenues.