I have, in the past, been accused as being too quick to lob criticism at perceived misdeeds. So this past week found me embracing the new spirit of thoroughly inspecting a course of action before dismissing it with the derision it deserves.
And it was in this frame of mind that the announcement on parastatal appointments found me. In my new found optimism, I found myself looking forward to the list with a healthy dose of excitement. Of course, I surmised, there were going to be pleasant surprises – enough ‘young blood’ to rejuvenate sectors badly in need of a shake up and a fair dose of merit based nominations.
After all, if we have our sights set on being a modern day Singapore, it makes sense for the business of business to trump the business of politics, right? Apparently, my naiveté knows no bounds. And while we’re on Singapore, I have a fundamental problem with the new found obsession we have to extrapolating our future and expecting our economy to mirror this Asian nation.
Yes, it is all well and good to aspire, but there has to be some congruence from which we begin. Before Singapore it was South Korea, which we were ahead of half a century ago. Consider this not so fun fact. 55 years ago, South Koreans were, on average, poorer than Kenyans. 10 years ago, they were 25 times richer than we are.
Without getting into pre-colonial, historical and political disparities, which could take another two pages that I don’t have, just looking at the economic changes and quality of life for South Koreans versus Kenyans should sufficiently jolt us awake.
And what of Singapore, our contemporary model? I can certainly understand the fascination. Now regarded as a tiger economy (one which undergoes rapid growth, with a proportionate increase in the standard of living), the country with a population of 5.5 million citizens has an admirable unemployment rate of just 2%.
Statistics rank the nation as one of the least corrupt in the world, followed by a correspondingly low level in crime. 9 out of every 10 people own their own homes (government built, no less), it is placed third in the global education league and its government budget is more often at a surplus than not, allowing it a spot in the top 10 in global purchasing power.
There are many more positive statistics to quote but as my head is already spinning at this point, I will assume yours is too and start my self-reflection at this point. What makes nations such as South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, so different from our great-potential-but-naught-to-show-for-it African nations?
And before any indignant geo political experts launch into a tirade about the freedoms we enjoy and the ideological context surrounding these states, I wish to postulate as follows. I know of nations where there is a significantly lower level of political discourse in the public space.
It is neither a factor of ignorance nor censorship. It is simply because promises made are delivered, the caliber of leadership is above average and therefore, dissent measured.
I hereby declare I would relocate to one of these nations in a heartbeat. Talking about our endless political transgressions only serves to raise my blood pressure and gall my disposition. So, really and with all respect to certain secondary freedoms, you have to give a little to get a little.
A few years ago I came across the South Korea-Kenya dynamic dissected and it stated, not ad verbatim that the main reasons for this divergence was the ability of the former’s leaders to limit their greed. That and the fact that Kenyan leaders being parasitic, get into politics with the sole intention of self-aggrandizement. Each of these premises are simple as they are true, without being simplistic.
And because the leadership dynamic continues to be a recurring theme, I was similarly eager to dissect the appointees list. I may have descended into fugue state when I finally accessed it, after which I am sure I dissolved into hysterical laughter. It’s hard to recall.
Surely, if we want to emulate Singapore and South Korea, this seems like a does not seem the way to do it. No organization with ambitions of world domination would be caught dead without a succession plan. And I am not by any means implying that having young people at the helm will magically transform this country.
In fact, some posit that young people, with their far reaching ambition could be the bane of our existence. And with merit. But there is such a thing as scouting for talent and knowledge transfer. And done right, there are some youth who would make exemplary leaders, under the right guidance. There are some who are not so inured to destruction.
But then again, this is Kenya. And the dream of becoming a South Korea, Malaysia or Singapore continues to be but a dream. But not for everyone, just for the 39 million or so of you who are not considered who’s who or affiliated to.