By Beatrice Elachi

I propose we insulate the economy from politics, and especially the so-called NASA resistance wing. In football, a team is fined for its supporters’ violent behaviour. Raila Odinga is a football fan, so he would understand if political parties paid a price for their supporters conduct.

Mention politics to a Central Kenya businessperson, and you will get an earful of his fear of Raila, who is spoken of as an epic threat to every title deed, every fruit stall and every rental property in the land. Now, though, the fear has spread well beyond Kiambu.

NASA’s boycott is only the latest tactic to bring Raila’s attitude to business and private property into sharp focus; the broader business community, including foreign investors, now knows that Raila can destroy business even without being in government.

The boycotts against Bidco, Safaricom and Brookside won’t work: these companies enjoy too commanding a position in their sectors. But they aren’t really meant to work. The boycotts were announced to announce something; to keep the masses fed with this latest “Baba knows” tactic.

They should properly be read with what preceded them: promises (or threats, depending on where you stand) of rent control, land ‘rationalisation’, business-closing demonstrations, riots and looting.

Tactics that have succeeded in undermining the very economy that the Kenyans Raila claims to champion depend on for jobs. I feel sorry for the kids doing exams this week; I hope they find an economy to join, otherwise they will spend their days cheering at NASA rallies, and then rioting to make a living.

Before the boycotts came NASA demonstrations, many of which turned into riots and looting sprees, egged on by politicians. I do not know a single investor who will ever again easily contemplate investing in Kisumu, which endured the worst of the riots. Yet Raila and NASA have promised more.

The launch of the “resistance” movement, as they call it, will see even more companies boycotted, and bring even more demonstrations. Riots will be aplenty, since Raila and peaceful demonstration are terms only a gifted comedian can connect.

Then there was his promise to ‘rationalise’ land in Laikipia. You could hear Mugabe cheer from somewhere south of Laikipia, and you didn’t need to listen hard to hear the howl of protest from our British-Kenyan landowners.

Less noted was the alarm that smaller landowners from many parts of the country heard in Raila’s promise that their title deeds could also be ‘rationalised’; and especially if they were like the ‘foreigners’ who had invested outside their traditional home areas, and whom Raila in Kajiado warned should return whence they came.

These tactics are succeeding. Renaissance Capital, in its 6 November Economics Update, notes that in October, Kenya’s purchasing managers’ index suffered its sharpest one-month fall since 2014: we shall have to endure a deep dip in business confidence.

For a poor country with lots of catching up to do for its economic stagnation in the 1980s and 1990s, and whose citizens’ greatest problem is lack of decent employment, this is a price as high as it is unnecessary.

Raila is able to mount these moves because at his core, he does not believe that the market economy is the right path for Kenya. He knows that he will invariably win a huge cheer for threatening to take stuff from those who have and giving it to those who don’t.

That’s because Raila is no ‘social democrat’ in the Scandinavian sense of the word – though he tries to appropriate the term. Instead, he is one of the control-economy socialists who quickly pulled on business suits and toasted free trade to get on the right side of the West once the Soviet Union folded.

Had Raila been alive 100 years ago when the Bolsheviks took power in Russia, and established a system of government that killed tens of millions, you can be sure he would have been a committed comrade, ‘rationalising’ and boycotting his way to the grisly end of many ‘foreigners’.

Thankfully, we are in 2017. His resistance movement must not be allowed to keep sabotaging Kenya’s economy or its business. What is required is simple.

Parliament must legislate measures to insulate the economy from politics. It can start by requiring event or public-liability insurance for demonstrations, as many mature democracies do.

Perhaps political-party funding could be linked to claims from businesses that have been directly harmed by demonstrations and riots. And a few lawsuits for economic sabotage would not hurt.

 

* Elachi is Speaker of the Nairobi County Assembly