Why Political Dialogue is Central for Economic Growth

By Phyllis Wakiaga

Every election cycle is a chance for us to evaluate our democratic and political maturity as a nation. One of the ways we do this is by creating public platforms of civic engagement through which dialogue between the aspirants and the electorate can be held. The nation-wide gubernatorial debates organized by the business community led by KAM are an example of such platforms which seek to interrogate the gravitas of our in-coming leadership. Do they have a vision and what is it anchored on? And as well we should. As the citizens of this country, tax payers who create jobs and sustain the economy, we ought to deep-dive into these manifestos and promises beyond the general utterances made on public daises. These debates are very central to the reconstruction of our idea of political leadership as a people, because they advance accountability as the true measure of effective governance.

Since devolution transformed our relationship to national politics by localizing policies, regulations and the national agenda, it meant that county leadership became very central to the realization of the country’s political and economic growth. Additionally, it brought us, as a people, closer to the workings of government especially with regard to the distribution of resources. With this knowledge, more citizens are becoming actively involved in demanding for change, transparency, better governance and socio-economic advancement. This feedback along with progressive ideas and opinions are brought forward during these debates in order to shape prospective governments into delivering for their constituents. Another thing, not only are these debates about accountability but also accessibility as well. Trust is earned when the citizens can talk to their leaders and are assured of a mutual understanding of progress and development.

In counties where these debates have run successfully, for example in Nairobi, Nakuru and Kisumu, the business community interrogated the potential governor’s manifestos and development agenda, and more importantly, offered their partnership to develop these counties into investor-attractive destinations. Other than outlining the pain-points of industry, the business community has offered solutions and brainstormed with the leaders how to make the next five years impactful through job creation, increased business development and growth. This will then translate into revenue for county governments to build infrastructure, invest in physical planning, provide quality and affordable health care and sanitation services among other basic amenities.

The debates, therefore, create a space where politics can be molded into issue-based agendas, potentially shaping the political culture of our country to one that focuses on economic development. For a country that is touted as East Africa’s economic giant, whose capital has been recognized as, the most intelligent city in Africa by the Intelligent Community Forum, our politics cannot be stuck in a time-warp reminiscent of 1970s. The gaps in governance are currently quite conspicuous especially in the challenges experienced in issues such as an unpredictable business environment, multiple charges and levies, waste collection, security, water and sanitation among others. These illustrate the costly damage that results from a disconnect between leaders and stakeholders in the county. Especially when the leaders do not change and adapt their leadership style from one that is passive, one-way and remote, to one that is active and engaged and ‘switched-on’ to the citizens immediate needs.

Achieving economic sustainability and social development for societies means centralizing engagement with stakeholders at all levels. As a leader, one’s understanding of development and progress must be in sync with the constituents understanding of the same, so that when the community holds them accountable, the outcomes are tangible because they are self-evident.

The ten point priority agenda driven through all of these gubernatorial debates, for instance, laid out the low-hanging fruits to achieve the above, demonstrating their tangibility. One of the priorities was to make industry competitive through developing a coordinated value chain approach – meaning finding ways to facilitate collaboration between formal and informal industry along value chains. This approach has a ripple effect as it promises to expand the value chain, thereby creating more productive jobs for those in the county and at the same time, elevating local businesses to a position that enables them to trade effectively and successfully with their regional counterparts. It also ties into the endeavor to promote locally made products, first to the local market within the county, then country wide and eventually to regional and international markets. Moreover, in creating this link between the formal and informal industries, we widen the tax base to ensure that the local government has a revenue stream.

Governors, as the Chief Executives of these counties have a critical role to play in ensuring that they come up with sound policies that are geared towards economic development. Vision 2030 goals will be attained through counties, and the business community through the debates have shown a willingness to partner with in-coming governors to make this happen. Establishing a mutually beneficial take-off point means that the governments can rely on the business community to provide solutions and apply their expertise towards social development.

Our political culture therefore should start tending towards active engagement, dialogue, accessibility and issue-based politics if Kenya is indeed to attain Vision 2030 and remain a force-to-reckon with in the region.

The Writer is the Chief Executive Officer of the Kenya Association of Manufacturers and the UN Global Compact Representative for Kenya. She can be reached on ceo@kam.co.ke

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