Pheroze Nowrojee: Wanted: Leadership on Economic Issues (Nairobi Star)

Is social inequity our national ideology? Are we committed to perpetuate Kenya as the third most unequal state in the world? Are we committed to social justice? Are we saying that the market will determine the social conditions of all Kenyans? Are we saying we will be a welfare state?

We do not know. Nor do our leaders.

The absence of clear national aims and ideology in our politics is showing. It is having dangerous effects. Our national politics is diffuse. We are not focusing on critical issues. Our politics divides us into small quarrelling groups. It is returning us to the politics of moneyed individuals. It prevents us from being united on national issues and against pressures from outside.

One of these unattended critical issues is the Economic Partnership Agreement that the European Community is presently offering Kenya and other countries. Without the nuances, the EPA is offering that in 25 years time our finished goods will have duty-free and quota-free access to EU markets, and we in return should give EU finished products the same unrestricted access to the Kenya market.

The EU occasionally needs our labour market. But they need our finished goods market more. We need their finished goods market, but we need their labour market more. We should be exchanging. But that is not being done. Kenya labour will not have unrestricted access to the EU labour market.

The issues raised by the initial studies are weighty. Comesa, of which Kenya is a member, concluded that the costs of the EPA would be loss of about 25 per cent of our trade taxes and 6 per cent of the total tax revenue. It identified price and quality competition from EU-based industries, and our lack of economies of scale and competitive access to latest technologies, as further expected negative effects.

As positive effects, it identified exposure to competition and the dynamic effects of the non-reversible policies that would be adopted by our government. But as another UN report found, the Comesa studies "fail to convincingly show whether the negatives will be offset by the positives."

What our farmers produce are already being produced more cheaply in the EU. We do not as yet have alternative wealth-creating sectors to absorb any decline in our agriculture. Nor will be able to absorb its political cost.

Economic agreements must bring about mobility of goods, labour, finance and services both ways. What the EPA is doing is ensuring mobility of what the EU wants - EU's finance, services and goods into Kenya.

But the EPAs do not ensure what Kenya wants - the mobility of Kenyan labour in the EU.

Kenyan labour will remain subject to extremely excluding EU immigration policies. Kenyan nurses, doctors and other categories useful to the EU will still be selectively taken in. But our biggest economic target and necessity, creating jobs for Kenyans, will not be significantly advanced.

The EU wants our economic resources but not our immigrant labour. That would have too many political costs for them. The EPA ensures this. This is unequal exchange.

Our absence of a national ideology or direction is preventing a deep, united and widely-discussed response to these proposed agreements. We need national unity to bargain out of unfavourable and exploitative offers.

Yet, we hear nothing on this key issue from those who are already announcing their 2012 candidatures. The political parties have not jointly and publicly spoken on the EPA, or stated preferred alternatives to its terms. None has urged the government to re-negotiate them, or work more closely with the East African Community to obtain needed terms, or consult more intensively with civil society.

Needed most of all, is a united government consultation with greatly threatened groups, particularly Kenyan farmers, our largest occupation group. Or we should expect our farmers to follow the example of the French farmers and come out on to the streets.

Recently there was a public procession to sensitise Kenyans on the subject. That was important and admirable.

What is not admirable is the silence on this subject from our leaders, too busy with their narcissistic concerns and 2012 machinations. Our 'politicians' have to deliver more. They have to protect the country. There was an old method of dividing and dominating Kenya before 1963. It was tribe. They are aware of that. But, they must also show awareness of the new methods of domination, like EPAs. And lead with adequate responses.

The writer is a lawyer based in Nairobi.

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