Tom Mshindi: Deft and forceful moves raise the bar for Government

Even with the fixation on succession and the 2012 presidential politics, it is possible that Kenya’s unique political marriage – eagerly being watched and perhaps to be copied by unhappy Zimbabwe – may yield substantive gains for the country.

But it will require more than just the welcome attention being paid to important issues; more focus, vigilance, staying power and in some instances, shifts in priorities.

An absolute plus is earned, for instance, from the attention finally being given to the issue of illegal resettlement of people in the Mau Forest.

Worthy minds like Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai have argued the case for restoration of the priceless eco-investment on the premise of its absolute centrality to the existence of treasures like Lake Nakuru and many rivers that serve millions.

Alarm over the forest’s destruction was raised way back in the 1980s, but President Moi’s priorities then placed the environment way down the pecking order.

The Mau dilemma was a support-for-land deal in which people with homes got extra land. There is debate about how many of these are true squatters and whether they deserve compensation. National Heritage minister William ole Ntimama is right when he says that those are masquerades that deserve no compensation.

The Government must stick to its eviction deadline and ignore the petulant and hypocritical noises being made by MPs that should know better.

This selfish posturing over a profoundly important national and international resource is vain and these leaders should exercise their calling and urge those among their communities who may be affected to understand the gravity of the problem they are creating through their continued destruction of the forest.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga, after establishing the committee to advise on the best way of handling the Mau issue, headed a strong delegation to London and argued a trenchant case for foreign direct investment into Kenya.

He prosecuted his case well, though the jury is still out and the verdict may take a while. But the crowds came and listened. The right people in and outside government met him and the message was received.

Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta linked up with the delegation and squeezed in some time to make a vigorous defence of the Government on BBC’s Hard Talk, on issues like corruption, land policy, the MPs’ pay and law reforms.

Mr Kenyatta actually came through as believable except for the mismatch Kenyans will see between his statements and the reality.

That notwithstanding, it was a coordinated, multi-pronged attack-and-defend performance that has been woefully lacking in the Government’s past execution of its duties and responsibilities.

But as I watched, I did wonder: why take this assault to an important but distant and estranged friend while a lot of what Kenya needs to hasten its growth pace is available within the country and the region?

A significant portion of the immediate resources needed to kick off the Vision 2030 objectives are available within this country.

The Safaricom IPO proved that what is lacking is not the cash but imaginative and persuasive national projects that can extract money from whichever nooks and crannies Kenyans and East Africans have stashed it.

Can we see the Government demonstrate consistently the kind of zeal it showed last week in the UK by setting up time-bound, single-objective committees to tackle, for instance, infrastructure, the environment and tourism?

As Rwanda has demonstrated in the ICT sector (and in tourism too), success lies in making countries and regions competitive, focusing on clusters around which mini-economies that are integrated can be created.

Kenya’s floriculture industry is a good example of a garden-to-market cluster, though even it requires huge support to fully mature and pay dividends.

Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Southern Sudan and eastern DRC depend on Kenya for between 50 to 80 per cent of the products they need. Infrastructure that links them is the single largest drawback to business competitiveness, and the railway stands out as the key culprit.

Investment from the UK will not build the railway – development finances that exist in plenty will.

If the energy being demonstrated to woo FDI here can be harnessed to focus on local and regional priorities, Kenyans might be indulgent enough to excuse the otherwise disconcerting songs-and-dance passing for political party infighting.

They will be dismissed as amusing sideshows.

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