Frederic Bastiat once said that when plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men living together in society, they create for themselves in the course of time a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.
Kenya is a beautiful country with amazing people and resources. We are hardworking and determined to have the best. We are crafty and schemers. But underneath this, our issues and troubles lie. Beneath the surface, the feeling and mood aren’t rosy.
One of the things that make the world go round is money and in Kenya, everyone is hard-pressed to genuinely eke out a living. Making honest money in Kenya is becoming a difficult task, thanks to an overzealous government in terms of taxation and corporate harassment of private firms that are apparently successful.
Corrupt government officials are weaponizing government agencies to harass private firms to achieve their selfish goals under the guise of public interest as they rape and mutilate the Constitution in the process.
Ayn Rand once said that either we believe that the State exists to serve the individual or that the individual exists to serve the state. As a private entrepreneur and SME owner, I believe that the State exists to serve me the individual and in return, I pay my fair share of taxes as the consideration of the State taking care of me. This contract is renewed every 5 years at the ballot. Where we elect better officials to manage the government. Unfortunately, being a law-abiding citizen in Kenya has become 1000 ways to die early.
Frederic Bastiat once said that when plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men living together in society, they create for themselves in the course of time a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it. Frederic must have been a seer because his statement simply foretold the future of the Kenyan political class.
The most corrupt, inept, and scandal-ridden group of Kenyans in the history of the country, and unfortunately, they seem to be the best of us. This reflects really badly on us as citizens, voters, and taxpayers. This political class has turned the law into a weapon to harass and blackmail businesses they deem not good for their personal interests or where they can muscle them for political funding. This is what has been happening and in the process, investor confidence has waned to the lowest ever in the history of the country and this has resulted in more unemployment, tearing of the social fabric due to stress and depression-related issues, and an increasing crime rate.
Louis Brandeis was right when he said that if the government becomes a law-breaker, it breeds contempt for the law. It invites every man to become a law unto himself. The Kenyan government has broken the record of ignoring all court orders and this has created a bad precedence with the populace and now those who believe are important are taking the law into their own hands and this has made investments scarce as investors and job creators relocate and or avoid Kenya all together for other countries like Rwanda and South Africa.
Marcus Tullius Cicero talks about justice being the set and constant purpose which gives every man his due. This justice unfortunately has been rapped and torn apart by a regime that does not care about the rule of law and the adherence to the court orders and this is more damaging than a war to a country. This means the God-given right to property of your own sweat and blood can longer be guaranteed in Kenya courtesy of the law-breaking government. Investors have shied off and we are the ones suffering. Add COVID-19 into the mess and you have yourself a potent cocktail that if not addressed NOW will explode in our faces and that will be the end of Kenya as we know it.
A liberalized market is good for creating jobs and sustaining them. It’s good for innovation. Regulations are good for consumer protection and that should be it, consumer protection. The rest should be to prop up and support innovations with better policies, credit access, market access, and public-private partnerships. This way, you eliminate corruption, you inspire more people to take risks and innovate. Instead of stifling everything and making everyone dependent on the government. The government has no business being in business. Its role should end at creating the right environment for the growth of businesses across all sectors. Unfortunately, our Kenyan government has done the opposite and the compounding negative effect has seen hundreds of thousands of SMEs closing shop every day.
As a country, we need a good anti-harassment policy that will not only forbid GOK from harassing private firms BUT also provide means with which the firms can report harassment to a commission set up by Parliament for probe & settlement. This will create investor confidence.
We need to support the private sector more because it’s the only sector that can create jobs and sustain them. With a crippling debt burden, reduced tax base, rising unemployment, crippling corruption, the best way forward out of this hole is to create a fertile environment for the private sector to flourish and to grow without any government interference. A good example of what am talking about is what has happened to the likes of SportPesa, London Distillers, and Keroche brewery.
The amount these firms circulate, the jobs they create, and the taxes they pay, should be supported. Moral issues should not be used to define a business unless you banning an entire sector from all players and not selective harassment. Targeted campaigns in the media to paint job creators as criminals are something that we need to stop.
Tax disputes aren’t sufficient grounds for someone to be labeled a criminal. This is why we need a better, independent body to oversee such issues. What SportPesa has been subjected to, for example, is not fair, is not legal and the compound ripple effect has been to scare away more investors, especially in other sectors who believe if SportPesa can go through what they have gone through, what makes them special not to face the same bad treatment? This has created a bad business environment in core sectors of the economy and has resulted in the majority of investors relocating to better countries that have support systems like Uganda, Rwanda, Egypt, Mauritius, and South Africa.
We need to pay our debts. We need to solve the ticking time bomb that is the question of unemployment. We need to increase the tax base. We need to tackle and end corruption and we need to restart the economy or our neighbors like Tanzania will overtake us. We need to remove the government from the realm of business and ensure that they fully focus on creating the right environment for business growth. Firms like Keroche Breweries and SportPesa should be left to operate and a mechanism established to resolve any matters, tax-related or otherwise because the current mechanisms aren’t sufficient or they are corrupted to the core. We need these firms and we need more of them for us to be able to jump-start the economy, pay our debts, increase the tax base and create the needed jobs for the millions of unemployed youth.
Morals should never be used to judge a business. Emotions should never be used to judge a business. Instead, we should use facts and numbers as the SI unit in discussing business and looking for a way forward. We have the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, which should actively churn out numbers for policymakers to interrogate and use to create a better business environment.
My assertion is not just for the government to do the right thing, but for all players. Most importantly, the media. It’s the duty and moral obligation of the media fraternity to seek out facts, interrogate reports and tell the people of Kenya the truth. The media has a higher purpose in holding the government true to the tenets of the laws and to telling the truth and the pure truth to the people of Kenya. It’s not the role of media to influence a particular outcome. Its role should be to state the correct facts and leave it at that.
The corrupt syndrome of brown envelopes seems to behave permeated the media fraternity to such deep levels that respected journalists are sacrificing the ethical practices to wage a war of SMEs, entrepreneurs, and legitimate businesses at the behest of the corrupt government officials and this have had a very serious negative impact on the economy as every business relocates, seeking regions with fair and independent media outlets. The role of a journalist should be to say the truth, protect the truth and do the truth. Not become an influencer in telling stories that are one-sided just because they have received a brown envelope. The media should be the sword against a corrupt government and reckless corrupt officials. But instead, our media has joined ranks with the rest of us as influencers. This is sad, laughable, and repugnant.
I am hoping that we have all learned our lessons and that as the economy picks up amidst the ravaging COVID-19, we will do the right thing for once for the sake of our country.