Thursday, February 16, 2012



The New AU Headquarters in Addis built by China

By Jerry Okungu
Nairobi, Kenya
February 15 2012

This week I listened to economists and top bankers talking about what ails us in this region. These great men and women were drawn from the East African Community member states with representation from donor institutions such as the African Development Bank and the World Bank.

It was normal to hear our Central Bank Governors decry the absence of measures to deal with prices of basic commodities such as food and petroleum products, fluctuating and of course risks hampering overall GDP growth in the region.

They were quick to add that inflation tide that afflicted the region towards the end of 2011had been “dissolved” but only temporarily adding that there is urgent need to look into the prices of food and oil which have remained  persistently high.

According to the  Daily Nation that carried the story( other papers ignored it because it was not sexy enough), the control of food and fuel prices should go hand in hand as the Central Banks maintain monetary interventions to stem soaring interest rates that are making doing business in this region a n expensive affair.

Whereas these were well meaning words of wisdom to policy makers in the region, however, who should indeed be crucified for not effecting monetary policies and controlling inflation other than the governors of our Central Banks? Isn’t it strange that as these high sounding policy statements were being made in Nairobi, Kenya's Parliament was busy censoring Prof Njuguna Ndung’u, Kenya’s Governor of the Central Bank for having ruined the Kenyan currency last year consequently sending inflation through the roof?  Was it any wonder that he was voted the worst performing Central Bank Governor of the year worldwide?

As I wrote this article, the Parliamentary Committee on Finance had already indicted the governor and made recommendations to the President of the Republic of Kenya to constitute a tribunal to investigate the professor’s professional conduct and competence.

The man went to bed for six months as the Kenya Shilling went on a free fall from Ks 82 to 107 to the US dollar.

With this kind of incompetence on the part of our managers of public institutions, we don’t need institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank to ruin our economies. We are already cannibalizing them ourselves.

If in Tanzania, food based inflation accounts for 65% of the total inflation, one may be forgiven for asking how many Tanzanians go to bed hungry. If Kenya’s inflation is 36% food related and yet they suffer so much, one is afraid to ask what Tanzanians are going through.

The true picture of inflation related hardships in East Africa can only come to the fore if we get to know how Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda are coping.

The World Bank is already warning that global food prices are set to remain high with the annual food price index for 2011 exceeding 2010 by at least 24%.

The sad thing to note is that this incompetence and inefficiency is not the preserve of East Africa alone. The whole continent is littered with bad governance, inefficient productivity and general mismanagement of our resources resulting in starvation and even death of our citizens.

Just last week, at the African Parliament sitting in Addis Ababa, Kenneth Marende; Kenya’s Speaker of Parliament decried the same inefficiency and reckless exploitation of the continent by its leaders. According to Marende, it was high time the AU revised some of its laws to allow for direct election of members of the African Parliament by the African people so that they can be accountable directly to the people of Africa.

In his opinion, electing members of the AU Parliament would rid the organ of the current nominated and moribund talk shop.
Elected leaders would pass binding laws that would check on bad governance, mismanagement of national resources and rigging of the elections which have become standard practice in Africa.

However, the question to ask is this: does Africa still have firebrand Pan-Africanists that will be ready to be elected on the platform of real Pan-African issues? And if they did, how would the remaining kleptocrats and despots take their criticism?

More importantly, who would foot the bill for this parliament when we cannot even build the AU offices on our own without begging from outside? Will we set it up and then go to China, the EU and the USA asking for funds to run continental elections and pay our Congressmen’s salaries and parks?

It is not that Africa has no resources to run an EU type of Parliament or the American type House of Representatives. We have lots of resources that we waste away stealing from our countries and banking in offshore countries in safe havens controlled by the same people we beg from.

The reason the AU is comfortable with a loose organization like the African Parliament is because it is meant to be so- toothless and useless. Current leaders will be very afraid to have a Pan African Parliament that can marshal the courage to impeach a despot, a war monger or a fugitive president on the loose in any part of Africa.

As we wait for that day, we must continue to die of hunger, famine, floods, civil strife ,  preventable diseases and of course bad roads manned by an incorrigibly corrupt traffic policeman.