By Jeff Jeffries
Kenya is ailing! The economy is not growing as statistics given by the government may want us to believe. Many youths don’t have a job and don’t even have the hope of finding one, which is creating a wave of desperation across the country. Often, we blame this on corrupt government officials in the quest to have someone to blame for our problems. But this is vile because corruption is a universal menace present in all countries, even the most developed. However, the effects of corruption are felt most in economies that are suffering from other major problems. Since it is impossible to completely root out corruption, although it is possible to reduce it, trying to do so won’t heal the Kenyan economy. It’s only by addressing other social issues that our nation is suffering from that we can heal the economy.
The government is doing its best to stimulate development by improving and expanding infrastructure, but this seems to have little to no effect on the welfare of its citizens. A few days ago I was taking Nyama Choma with my friends, at the famous Kamakis, and we could not help but notice the characteristic traffic around the area. Those who frequent the area can attest to the heavy congestion experienced along this road from Monday to Sunday, January to December. Ironically, the famous joint is along a bypass that was built a few years ago to divert traffic from Nairobi city to its outskirts. The bypass fails terribly in its attempt to provide an alternate route to commuters accessing Thika road, Mombasa road, and Nakuru-Nairobi highway. It’s apparent that the Eastern Bypass needs more lanes and some serious upgrade to serve its purpose. It is easy to blame the government for poor planning and lack of a long-term strategy, which they are guilty of anyway, but there’s more to it than meets the eye.
When the Eastern Bypass was built, the area around it was deserted, but today it’s booming with business and life. Six years ago, the road was a smooth sail with no traffic, but today it’s a menace passing through it. Although it’s the responsibility of the government to think forward and counter problems before they occur, the rapid growth in population has made this hard if not impossible to do in many occasions. Traffic is not the only problem caused by rapid population growth, but the list is endless. Despite the government hiring more teachers on contract, the shortage of teachers in our public schools continues to worsen. The ratio of patients to nurses and doctors continues to deteriorate, as does all the other ratios of public service providers across the country. While this is happening, we are faced with a ballooning wage bill that the government has been saying for a number of years is beyond the sustainable levels. But what exactly is the problem and how do we solve it?
The problem is an ever-growing population. Rapid population growth creates a situation where the government is faced with the choice of improving the quality or expanding the quantity. And logically, expanding the quantity gets preference due to the social need of creating equity. If the population is growing, the focus of the government is on providing short term solutions by expanding services so that all are covered. This means that the quality of service offered is completely ignored. For instance, instead of the government rolling out a visionary project to give all students access to computer literacy and practical education, it is faced with the more urgent problem of building more classrooms and employing more teachers to accommodate the ever-expanding school population. Instead of improving healthcare in the existing, Government has to build more healthcare centers to ease the congestion in public healthcare facilities, further reducing the quality of services as patient to doctor ratio worsens. In a nutshell, as long as the population continues to expand at an unsustainable rate, the quality of government services will continue to deteriorate. Given this, expect the garbage that you would want so much collected and disposed appropriately to remain where it rests; expect to see the uncovered sewerage systems for some time; expect to not find cancer treatment in Kenyan public hospitals in the near future; expect your child not to learn how to use a computer in a public school; expect the access road to your home to remain without tarmac; expect to have no one answer your 911 calls may it be a case of fire or an ongoing robbery; expect things to remain as they are; expect to continue receiving poor quality services from the government, and probably to pay more in taxes as long as you keep giving birth to more and more kids.
To simplify this in a language that resonates with most of us, let’s say you can spare 50 shillings to buy your kid snacks to carry to school (this is for a well-doing family mark you). If you have one kid, it means you can buy an apple, maybe add a biscuit or a small packet of milk to enhance the balance of nutrients. Basically, you have a reasonable choice of things you can get your kid to carry to school every day without straining financially. However, if the second and third kid came into the equation, you won’t be able to give all of them a fruit, milk and biscuit each and every day. You may have to settle on giving each kid an orange every day. Orange is not bad, but the three kids will never carry an apple to school because it’s beyond your means. In the long run, they will be seen as the poor kids in school who only carry oranges, the third kid might even end up never knowing what an apple tastes. Bottom line, you won’t have the financial freedom to give the three kids a moderately balanced and diverse packet of snacks. You will be constrained to giving them a second-class lifestyle. But that doesn’t mean you are mean, rather that you just decided to get kids beyond your means.
The same scenario is happening with our economy. Our politicians are asking people to give birth to more and more kids, and then we are left without the ability to feed the population. Last year we had a bumper harvest of maize. Alas, farmers did not even have enough market for their product, but today, the price of Unga is shooting up and the government has resulted to importing maize. This means we need more than our land, the capital and level of technology we have are capable of producing. Some will say, improve the methods of farming, but I will ask, where is the capital to do that? Naturally, people will say stop corruption! The funny thing with that suggestion is that one is proposing people to act against the laws of nature as corruption is in human blood. Even if corruption was to be stopped, most of the production is done by private farmers, not in government farms, and it is lazy of anyone to expect the government to buy them seeds, fertilizer, till the land, and then allow the ‘farmer’ to sell the produce.
Whether you are a farmer, manufacturer, carpenter, artisan or any other private producer, you have to find your own capital to produce the goods you need. What makes it impossible for people to have any savings that they can use as capital to improve their productivity, for instance, buying fertilizers or a tractor to till their land, is spending all the money earned on supporting the dependents, not by having the government still from what they have in the granary. We shall continue lacking the much-needed capital as long as we continue with the behavior of selling all the produce and direct the gains to ‘paying school fees’ for a number of kids we have. Dependents will continue taking all our capital leaving us to look for handouts from the government to support our business.
It’s only by having small family sizes that we shall be able to accumulate savings to reinvest in development. It’s only by having a constant population that the government will be able to invest in improving the quality of services it gives to the citizens. The antidote of our Kenyans problems lies with us Kenyans; control your fertility!
By Jeff Jeffries