Opinion  :: Columns  :: Nairobi Notebook


Saying No to foreign aid

Published: 30-AUG-04

The Government of Kenya and its development partners are at it again. Development partners have pushed back commitments to help finance several sectors because of �governance issues�. Depending on whom you believe, the development partners are unhappy over the way a scandal, now known as Anglo Leasing, has been handled by the Government.

This company was introduced to the country during the Kanu regime, and inherited by the Narc Government. Apparently, it had been contracted for major security projects. It was single sourced, and start-up fees were paid. That was until the whistle was blown, and since then the Government has been under intensive pressure to disclose those behind the company, as well as bring to book the culprits.

To its credit, the government quickly acted to ensure that public money was not lost, and already been paid were returned. But the development partners still want blood. Makes you wonder why people go out of their way to do things that will get them into trouble in the first place? as a government elected on a platform of probity in public affairs cannot be seen to be going against these tenets.

Which brings me back to the point about the assistance from development partners. Let us call it aid, for lack of a better term.

Can African countries ever wean themselves of this dependence with these types of shenanigans? Why have successive Kenyan governments made Kenyans slaves to farthings from foreign capitals which then emboldens junior government officials from those countries to patronise whole communities in condescending entreaties? The self-righteous posturing by government officials from western capitals when they are in African countries would probably not be entertained anywhere else in the world.

Take Kenya. During the former regime, the country was given an aid blackout by western governments to punish it for �straying from the path of democratic reforms and good governance�.

The regime survived the better part of the 90s and the 2000s without a single cent from these donors. To make matters worse, that regime still plundered the economy on an incredible scale, borrowed the money it needed off the banking sector through high interest Treasury Bills. All the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and western governments� aid games with the Moi regime did not change that Government�s way of doing business one iota. There is a real lesson for strategists who determine the rules of engagement between their governments/ organisations and �errant� regimes.

What can Kenya pick out of all this rubble? The first thing the Narc regime should have done is steered the country on the road towards self reliance and independence. Their eagerness to rush back into the embrace of donors has simply put the country back where it was during the Moi era: prisoner to pennies from donors in the name of aid. And while these games are going on, the economy is marking time.

Or could it be that they do not want to do the hard work necessary to break the chains? Self-reliance and independence is not going to be achieved merely by speaking about it. But if, and this is a big if, Kenya wants to achieve this, the whole country needs to get up and go to work.

Leaders must show the way. Members of Parliament need to preach the virtues of hard work. They will have to change their own calendars to lead by example. They work three days a week, and take three-month break each year. Clearly, the level of productivity in Kenya�s August House needs to go up drastically.

The country�s public service must exercise the highest level of accountability and vision in public affairs. Taxes must be properly collected and accounted for. This money must be put to productive use, and scandals like Anglo Leasing involving millions of dollars of Kenyan�s money, must come to an end. What about workers? Many are indolent, uninspired. They start work late, end work early, spend endless hours gossiping in the office, complaining ceaselessly about their employers. And if you think this malaise only affects the public sector, think again.

A lot of private sector companies need to shake themselves up. The difference between Western and African economies is that the former are driven by hard work, personal motivation to succeed, ambition, excellence, a predictable and rational reward system, and accountable politicians. They have their problems of corruption (yes, it is not a uniquely African phenomenon) but retribution is swift and condemnation universal. Corrupt Kenyans are more likely to become MPs and cabinet ministers to boot.

If Narc does not want to go down as another regime that squandered potential of Kenyans, it must stop these games now. It knows what it needs to do.

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