Tag Archives: China

Liaisons Dangereuse: Kenya’s new BFFs

In the article titled “Kirubi joins Uhuru’s business entourage in China” in the August 17, 2013 issue of Capital News, the publication’s owner Mr. Chris Kirubi contends that “…it was time for Africa to look for new development partners who will strive to ensure that all parties get a fair share of the cake”.

http://www.capitalfm.co.ke/news/2013/08/kirubi-joins-uhurus-business-entourage-in-china/

This is a very interesting perspective from a man whose business empire was built courtesy of a system that restricted enjoyment of “matundu ya uhuru” to a handful of those connected to Kenya’s presidencies: the very antithesis of what the article is advocating! The distribution of Kenya’s national cake has historically been unfair and slanted in favor of specific tribes and regions – those in power or proximal to the center of power. Additionally, Mr. Kirubi’s call for “partners” that “ensure that all parties get a fair share…” reeks of contrivance given some of the business deals that built his wealth. Regarding privatization of Kenya’s telecommunication sector in, Charles Hornsby writes in his book Kenya: A history since Independence that “(T)he resulting dirty tricks and bribery allegation….led to a single preferred bidder, the Mount Kenya Consortium including wealthy…insider Chris Kirubi”; a “favoured son” who made his money in the 1980s and 1990s because of his association with then-president Moi. (pges. 642, 655). So much for giving all parties a fair share!

The tycoon then goes on to say that the west “focus(es) more on problem solving rather than helping ‘us’ develop” which begs the question: Whose responsibility is it to develop “us”? Added to this question is the raison d’etre of the current presidential junket to China and Russia. Why is Mr. Kenyatta, Mr. Kirubi and the other “tycoons” visiting these two emerging markets if not to seek their help in “helping us (Kenya) develop”?

It is disturbingly disingenuous for Mr. Kirubi to claim that western companies “pitched camp in Kenya…but there was still little to show for it” when the very core of his business empire is an off-shoot of western companies. DJ CK, as the budding media mogul is also known, acquired Haco Industries from a western country – Holland – in 1998 and built it into the powerhouse that it is by expanding its product line, hitherto predominated by American and British brands, to include indigenous consumer brands such as TCB and Palmers. The trajectory of Mr. Kirubi’s crown jewel belies the claim that there is “little to show for...” the long history of western involvement in Kenya’s economy. It is also a claim that seeks to minimize the main reasons why Kenya’s economy has lagged despite the history of western involvement: Corruption, tribalism and impunity.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/mfonobongnsehe/2011/11/16/meet-chris-kirubi-mr-kenya/

While I support the expansion of Kenya’s business relationships beyond the usual suspects i.e. western conglomerates, I think Mr. Kirubi is doing the country a disservice by pretending that the new relationships (with the Chinese and the Russians) are going to be different from the business relationships of yesteryears; deals between Kenya’s political elite and politically-connected and the west, especially Gt. Britain. The perspective that these new eastward looking unions are altruistic and will lead to fairer distribution of wealth and opportunities throughout Kenya is yet to be seen. These are liaisons dangereuse being pushed primarily by those trying to blunt the tough stance adopted by the west, USA and Gt. Britain in particular, with respect to the charges facing the president Mr. Kenyatta and his deputy Mr. Ruto at The Hague.

Mr. Kirubi’s conclusion that the new relationship with China is beneficial, presumably to Kenya, “(A)s long as it is equitable and Africa itself gains to the maximum…” is a perspective he should have applied in his stewardship of Uchumi, the supermarket chain he allegedly ran to the ground. It is a perspective belied by the analysis of Mr. Kirubi’s time as chairman of the board at the supermarket chain offered by Prof. Atieno Ndede Amadi in her book CHALLENGES OF THE DIGITAL AGE: An MIS Analysis Framework: The Case Study of a Retail Store Chain. Ms. Ndede Amadi writes that “Kirubi is pointed as the key to all the mess that led to the collapse of Uchumi.” (Pge. 34).

Finally and Mr. Kirubi’s personal ruminations notwithstanding, the call for an “equitable” relationship with China, not to mention one that allows “Africa itself to gain to the maximum” is a perspective that I hope will be reflected in the actual actions and policies of Mr. Kirubi and the country’s leadership as it fumbles and bumbles its way towards a second century of independence. 

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Filed under BRICs, China, Corruption, Democracy, Disparity - Income Distribution, Governance, Governance - Kenya, India, International Relations/Global Issues, Kenya, Politics, Russia, The Hague

Sovereignty, Nationalism and Foreign Aid

So in the past 2-3 weeks, Kenyans have observed President Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto, toting the country’s well-travelled tin cup, meet with the dreaded “foreigners” America, represented by Microsoft and Japan to ask for assistance implementing the “free laptop” campaign promise and for modernizing the port of Mombasa respectively. The two principals are seeking help from the very entities (west/foreigners) they repeatedly railed against during the run-up to the 2012 elections for “trying to finish them off”. America and Japan represent the very “wazungu” Jubilee supporters rabidly and stridently accused of usurping Kenya’s “sovereignty” and “finishing off their sons” via confirmation of charges against them at The Hague; an institution that was accused by the revered and objective leadership of the African Union of, shudder the thought, being “racist”!

And while Mr. Kenyatta and Mr. Ruto were unabashedly soliciting aid from the west, their latest paramour and much-loved benefactor-of-the-month China is busy buying scrap metal from chronically unemployed and under-employed Kenyans, some who obtain said scrap metal by destroying their country’s own roads and bridges; infrastructure constructed by the same China using labor from; you guessed it: China! And as if the foregoing incestuous behavior and madness is not enough, Kenyans proceed to buy the sub-standard and disposable Haojin motorcycles, probably built using the (scrap?) metal they initially sold to China, at prices probably much higher than the sale price of said scrap metal in transactions between willing sellers and willing buyers!

http://www.nation.co.ke/News/Uhuru-secures-Microsoft-support-for-computers/-/1056/1871904/-/7i517tz/-/index.html

http://www.nation.co.ke/News/-/1056/1873230/-/w41ehaz/-/index.html

http://www.nation.co.ke/News/Scrap-metal-exports-to-China-up-/-/1056/1872490/-/103b8lqz/-/index.html

While I am happy that Microsoft (USA) and Japan are both willing to assist the very “independent” and “proud” Kenya/Kenyans, that the very people – Mr. Kenyatta and Mr. Ruto – who were vilifying and casting aspersions at the hands they are now asking to feed them speaks to the unbelievable hypocrisy of the two men and should give Kenyans and the international community (ICC) pause about their honesty and integrity, especially with regards to the real and active fear of witness-tampering and intimidation.

Beyond pointing out the hypocrisy of President Kenyatta and his deputy, I would be remiss not to question how the two deals with Microsoft and Japan line up against the very real threats posed by foreign aid as depicted in the book Confessions of an Economic Hitman by John Perkins and World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability by Amy Chu; the former critiqued by Ms. Rasna Warah in her op-ed piece titled How American governments and corporations colonised oil-rich states.

Demonizing the west while accepting their aid sets the stage for the well-documented history of duplicitous relationships between donor- and recipient-nations not to mention the insidious and potentially corrosive progression of relationships predicated on double-speak. And for those who are tempted to argue that Microsoft is a private company that would not do the (American) government’s “dirty” work, I would point them to the on-going outrage over reports that Verizon Communications, an American company that provides communications, information and entertainment products and services to consumers, businesses and governmental agencies and ostensibly a private company, complied with a court order granted by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) to give the National Security Agency (NSA) details on all telephone calls, both domestic and international.

China, a country with an economy second in size only to that of the USA but with a history of long-term planning and a long-range outlook on relationships appears to be reeling Kenya and Kenyans into its lair at an alarming rate with implications that, while not completely known, have some indicators that should prompt our “digital duo” to proceed with caution.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/guardianweekly/story/0,,2007803,00.html

http://english.caixin.com/2011-11-10/100324752.html

The one difference between the whipping boy de jour and much-maligned west on the one side and China and to a lesser extent Russia on the other is the fact that the former have open/civic societies with mechanisms such as open and free media that would not hesitate to bring attention to any misdeeds and malfeasance by their government and corporations – think Wikileaks and the Pentagon Papers – and for the record, it was a British newspaper, The Guardian, that broke the story about National Security Agency (NSA) data-mining phone numbers from Verizon! Conversely, the latter two – China and Russia – are countries with histories of keeping civic societies on very short and tight leashes. The Russians and Chinese would not hesitate to arrest those with prying eyes/lenses nor are they shy about detaining anyone perceived as “causing trouble” or “threatening national security”; something past Kenyan governments perfected!

Unlike the past when the likes of former president Arap Moi could manipulate the west and organizations such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to release financial aid by making token reforms only to resort back to status ante of repression and corruption, the era of multi-party governance in Africa and easy access to the Internet has put in place mechanisms that mitigate abuse of aid. On the other hand and as evidenced by the periodic disruption of Internet services by the authorities, several high-profile failures of infrastructure and introduction of sub-standard and/or tainted product into the market, it is not unreasonable to argue that China has yet to demonstrate the level of tolerance to criticism, vigilance nor institution of effective mechanisms that check and balance its leaders. Finally, given Kenya’s past history of impunity and corruption, one can only speculate on how effective the two sides – Kenya and China – will manage the relationship between two countries with demonstrably intolerant leadership and centralized planning.

As previously mentioned, there is a long and ghastly history of imbalanced and extractive relationships between Kenya (Africa) and the west; that of extracting resources from Africa/Kenya only to return the raw and inexpensive material back to their country of origin in shiny packaged and expensive form! Sadly, the jubilant Kenyan consumers seem willing to pay the piper from the east AND from the west and move on now that “their” sons are in power!

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Filed under Corruption, Democracy, Governance - Kenya, International Criminal Court - ICC, International Relations/Global Issues, Kenya, The Hague