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It pays to focus on growing our core areas before venturing out

By MUTUMA MATHIU
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On Monday at the start of the matatu strike, I thought I was going to have a heart attack.

The combination of impatience, the panic of getting to meetings late and the sheer effort of will required not to flip my gearbox to manual, slide my right foot out of my shoe and glue it to the gas, ram the gear lever in my fist and commit some track day-type atrocities, was enough to kill an ox.

That awful day demonstrated the futility of Jubilee’s brand of economic development, as far as I am concerned.

What is the purpose of development? To improve the quality of life.

If I leave my house before 7am, and it takes me two hours to drive nine kilometres in the most horrible and unhealthy conditions, it does not matter how much money I have in the bank.

Development ought to iron out the inconveniences and irritants of life before it even attempts to fix the big ones.

The purpose of government is to provide services in a timely and convenient fashion.

Has anyone tried to obtain a passport lately? Have you tried to get the government to pay for services or goods it has taken from you? You would have to bribe someone to see your money.

This is not Japan, this is Kenya. Each country in the world is unique.

If you are put in charge of managing this economy, you can’t start running it like it’s Norway. You must have read that on Monday, Tanzanian President John Magufuli kicked the private sector out of buying cashew nuts, raised the farm gate price from Sh134 to Sh148, banned all deductions from farmers’ pay — they had incurred credit for inputs — asked a government bank to find the money to pay for the nuts and put the military in charge of the whole thing.

Why would Dr Magufuli bring his iron hand to this humble nut? Because it is Tanzania’s second most important crop, after tobacco and one of its top foreign exchange earners — $340 million in the year ending April 2017.

Tanzania is, of course, a wealthy nation with gold and gemstone exports raking in the bulk of the money, but cashew nuts put money in the pockets of the poor in Mtwara, not diamonds.

If you are managing the Tanzanian economy, you pay lots of attention to the nuts, perhaps not as strongly as Dr Magufuli, but it’s the thing to do.

Kenya is about tea, cut flowers and coffee. There are other things which we sell and make lots of money, but this is the core of our economy, the low-hanging fruit.

Coffee has been in decline, if we fix it, we can quickly make lots of money. So you would imagine that our investments should focus on growing these core areas and then expanding that growth to other sectors.

You would also expect that we would put every effort into reducing imports by producing what we need at home. Such as growing, rather than importing sugar, for example.

But if we grow sugar how will the big men make money? Fixing coffee and sugar puts money in my pocket; it’s development. Just like making sure that the cashew nut roasts right.

But development is not just putting money in my pocket, it should also make life easy, convenient, safe, healthy and pleasant for me.

If you go and take a loan from the Chinese and build a very expensive railway line, I can see ways in which it will put money in the pockets of the Chinese.

I can also imagine how it will put money in the pockets of well-heeled big people, in cuts, deals and bribes, but I can’t see for the life of me how it will put money in my pocket. What will I put in that railway?

Now, as for using that train, there are no seats when I need it most, during the holidays. And I will have to drive to Mlolongo in the middle of the night to catch the train, which, in any case, will leave me in the middle of the African mainland at the coast. It will not drop me off at Whitesands or help me to avoid the ferry.

A tram service to Thika will not transport Congolese timber to China, I know, but I can imagine a quiet, clean, probably expensive compartment, where I can go over my PowerPoint and be in the office in 15 minutes, on time, no hassles.

I can afford to live in a big compound, with 20 dogs, and ride a bike to the station every morning. I will be well exercised, loved by my dogs, on time, healthy and happy.

I’d not be surprised if the money that is going into the SGR would be enough to build a light rail system with the capacity to transport every soul in Nairobi with convenience and comfort.

Of course that would mean we continue trucking clinker to Jinja and put holiday makers in the bus.

I agree with President Kenyatta: reforms in the management of land records is urgent and a matter of great national importance.

I don’t know whether former colleague Farida Karoney is aware that thousands of Kenyans are every year losing their property through fraud involving her staff.

Records are easily substituted, fake title deeds produced and signed by Lands officials, police and sometimes the courts are compromised, violent but well-connected con men invade the land and the fraudsters sell the property or borrow from banks.

It is a great injustice that can be prevented by digitising and backing up the records.