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Saturday, July 22, 2006

Kumekucha Presidential Campaign: The 9 Year Old Dead Kenyan And The Saddest Day Of My Life

One of the saddest days of my life was one Saturday in the year 2000 when I traveled to Meru with my wife for a friend’s funeral. Our hired matatu gave a lift to a young couple carrying the body of their 9 year-old daughter in a tiny cheap coffin in the carrier.

I hardly knew them but we got talking and the mother burst into tears as she narrated the optimism of the young girl as she fought death. It was the sort of optimism you would expect from a 9-year old who did not know better.

I still shed plenty of tears when I remember that encounter. I cry because many Kenyans today have never been given half a chance in their lives, let alone one chance. Because of the greed of our politicians and our corrupt system, many of our people through no fault of their own do not have a chance of ever making anything of their lives. Even if they wanted to bribe, they do not have a rich relative to bribe on their behalf. If they get sick, like that young Kenyan girl who died in 2000, chances of recovering are slim because there is no money to get them proper medical care. There is no doubt on my mind that had that girl had rich parents, she would still be alive today.

I cry all the more because the kindest thing that probably happened to that 9 year old beauty was the fact that she did not live to see her dreams shattered by the cruel and corrupt Kenyan system where if you do not have money, you are basically done.

It is a system I understand very well having lived in a slum area and used pit latrines (a luxury) in those areas. And this was after I had been brought up in a fairly good middle class Kenyan home in my younger days.

It is a system that I will fight with all my strength to destroy so that any Kenyan prepared to work hard and to use their God-given gift can be able to make something out of their lives.

We need to create as many jobs as we can for Kenyans. We need to create as many opportunities as we can for average and low income Kenyans.

Fellow Kenyans, the world has become a small village where to survive both as a nation and as an individual, you need a constant flow of new ideas and then you need to concentrate on the areas where you are good enough to compete with the world.

There is no doubt that this current government has run out of ideas.

The promised 500,000 jobs a year will never happened under the current administration. Do you know the reason why? Nobody really sat down to soberly work out where such a vast volume of brand new jobs were going to come from. The assumption was that if they got the economy moving again, the jobs would be generated automatically. This did not happen. I can also assure you that such a large number of new jobs will not come from reviving stalled parastatals (this was Narc’s chief game plan). In fact in the effort by the current government to try and revive these stalled parastatals, they have failed completely to acknowledge the continuing effects of globalization and the impact it has on our economy.

Whether we like it or not, the world has become a small village that is continuously shrinking in size. The biggest impact of this is that ready or not it thrusts us out into the world economy to compete with the best in the world.

I will give you one recent example. VOIP or voice over internet protocol has made it possible to use the net to carry “voice”. This means that it is now possible to talk with somebody based at the furthest ends of the earth for hours for next to nothing. Your only cost will be your usual ISP charges. This is done by using facilities in popular free email hosts like Yahoo and MSN. For a small fee, you can use specialized web services that will enable you to reach any telephone number (mobile or landlines) anywhere in the world. So all of a sudden a parastatal like Telekom Kenya that has always made huge profits from international calls gets that profit centre wiped out by new developments in the world of telecommunications on the web. This happens almost overnight.

You can be sure that the current globalization trends will continue with a vengeance for years to come. Menaing that many dead parastatals will stay that way – very dead.

What we must do as a nation is focus all our efforts in a completely new direction on what we can do well. On areas where we can compete on the global marketplace. If we do this then we will be able to create solid long term jobs as well as strengthen our economy enormously.

Tourism is one such area and rather than try and invest money in manufacturing, where we’ll have to get past the likes of China. Why not put the money in tourism and agriculture where we can show China and most of the world a thing or two? Don’t get me wrong. We will not discourage foreign investors who want to come into Kenya and take advantage of the well trained and cheap labor that we can offer. But our priorities should be very clear in terms of very specific areas we want to develop where we can compete with the best in the world.

Another example of an area where Kenyans are world beaters is in middle and long distance running. There is a lot of money in sports these days and it is one way of creating wealth very quickly in our country. We need to create special training camps and encourage more “talent” in this area. This may not create jobs directly and not in the volumes we are thinking of here indirectly, but it will help add up.

The place to get our 500,000 jobs plus has to be in agriculture and food processing industries. The way to do it is to produce world class products at a price that few in the world can compete with. I have already said that energy is one area where minimal investment into available idle resources we already have in the country can yield much.

Another area is small and micro-sized businesses. Kenyans have already displayed admirable entrepreneurial skills and if we are making waves in places like South Africa, then it is clear evidence that we can compete with the best in the world.

Currently what we are doing is discouraging the entrepreneurial spirit in our people. The constant clashes with hawkers is a good example here.

I intend to make serious efforts to find and create affordable space in good busy locations for hawkers and small traders. I intend to launch programs for training entrepreneurs and support programs to have small entrepreneurs supply various services and products to the government and to other Kenyans.

Business incubators that take in small entrepreneurs and give them the environment to grow will be a major priority. Every successful small business will probably employ only a handful of Kenyans directly. But if we target at developing just 200, 000 new small businesses countrywide every year, we can comfortably create one million new jobs every year in this way alone.

I also intend to work with NGOs already on the ground and experienced financial institutions already lending to small business. By offering collateral and government guarantees for unsecured small business loans, the potential for growth in the country will be exploited.

Kenyans are currently mostly idle but very eager to work. They just need the opportunities. This is one presidential candidate that pledges to spend a lot of effort in creating vast new opportunities for all.

Small businesses can also make a major contribution to tax collection. By simply introducing a small standard tax rate for small businesses generating One million shillings or less in turnover annually and by having policies in place to encourage the emergence and growth of these businesses, billions in new taxes can land at the exchequer which will further help in new government funded initiatives to create even more jobs.

One other area where small business incubators need to be set up is in the area of ecommerce. I have a program in mind for building web sites to help sell and promote Kenyan products and produce to the world. The kind of sales being achieved by successful web sites all over the world is enormous and growing. If we managed to create a couple of dozen successful web sites selling Kenyan produce to the world, the im[pact would be enormous. Whether we see it or not and whether we like it or not, the Internet is the future and the future is already with us.

One reader asked whether this presidential candidate I am prepared to put my vision and promises in writing. This site is already one such place where my vision and ideas for a better Kenya is being put in writing. I encourage other Kenyans with sites to copy the content here and paste them in their sites (with the proper acknowledgement please) so that there is a record that can never be deleted. That is because I am very sincere in ensuring that I mean what I say and I say what I mean and most important of all I will do everything in my power to turn everything I say into reality.

Kenyans deserve much better than what they have gotten so far.
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