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”.
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.
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.