Bad Bill aside, Kenya could still push Africa economic integration

Saturday June 29 2024

The Finance Bill 2024, for operationalising the budget, suddenly became the worst word in Kenya’s public dictionary. And why, of all the five presidents Kenya has had, did the harsh Bill have to come under President Bill? ILLUSTRATION | JOSEPH NYAGAH | NMG


When Kenya’s President William Ruto returned from a state visit to the United States last month, there was a lottery winner’s spring in his steps as the basket of financial goodies he brought home seemed big enough to silence those criticising his frequent foreign trips as being too costly for his debt-riddled economy.

The jewel of the offers he secured from the Americans was a $3.6 billion loan to construct a 440km superhighway (at $8.2 million/km) linking Mombasa to Nairobi.

As happens with such announcements, inconvenient words like “loan”and “debt” are avoided, and absent-minded listeners can think that a loving Uncle Joe (Biden) just gave the $3.6 billion to Nephew Bill (Ruto) to sort out some pressing problems.

But the tech-savvy Kenyan Generation Z, who can access big finance info in the palm of their hand are not absent-minded.

Read: BUWEMBO: It’s disheartening to see Kenya acting so helpless

For, while it is true Nephew Bill had pressing problems — the battered Kenya shilling making debt servicing particularly more expensive, as more local currency was required to buy dollars to service foreign loans than previously — adding billions of dollars to the foreign debt stock didn’t look like a good idea. And the $3.6 billion from the US curiously equalled the $3.6 billion that built a railway parallel to which the highway connecting the same two destinations recently funded by, er... China.


The national budget was around the corner and Gen Z, affected by unemployment and high living costs, waited. A raft of new taxation measures came — to fund the servicing of the growing debt and make the cost of living higher.

The Finance Bill 2024, for operationalising the budget, suddenly became the worst word in Kenya’s public dictionary. And why, of all the five presidents Kenya has had, did the harsh Bill have to come under President Bill? The Finance Bill is supposed to be an annual affair and this time the pun of being Bill’s Bill is not funny at all, for a lot of blood has been spilled over it.

But as Gen Z upped their demands for Bill to go with his Bill even after he conceded and set it aside, their understandable anger may make it hard for the two sides — protesters and president — to see the hand of external powers standing to gain from the chaos.

The president might instinctively see only local opponents in the picture, though it is hard to believe that His Excellency’s excellent intelligence services haven’t pointed at the foreign forces, who even we mentioned on this very page recently by quoting an American saying often attributed to (their second) President John Adams thus: “There are two ways to conquer and enslave a nation — one is by sword, the other is by debt.”

President Ruto started off as a beacon of hope to Africa’s economic unity, pouring new energy in the African Continental Free Trade Area. He has been going the extra mile to promote the single African market to use local currencies and adopt develop a common unit of account.

To push out or retain Ruto is for Kenyans in their sovereign state. But Africa will still, and for long, need a Kenyan leadership that is alive to the urgency to integrate African economies, which are right now prone to extortion by foreign powers using the tool called debt. As each economically weak African republic separately goes to foreign lenders to sip from their poisoned chalice, chances of pulling and pooling together become dimmer.

God or Fate endowed Africa with a huge land mass which can not only produce biofuels for clean aviation but also contains massive, rare earth mineral deposits required to transition the world’s transport from fossil fuel to clean electric energy. The need for these minerals is now an emergency. Africa can either coordinate their processing or they will be collected “free” like others before.

Read: BUWEMBO: We must confront emergency of our failure to learn

Pause and ask yourself if DR Congo’s obvious disinterest in the East African Community, which it joined two years ago, is just an oversight. Curiously, two years ago, Ruto took office and injected enthusiasm into the AfCFTA, plus Africa’s playing its role in the climate change fight, and DRC’s interest in EAC started dipping. However, Dr Ruto’s looking at external powers to finance these processes may not augur well for the continent’s independence.

Yet Kenya’s lead in matters ICT and finance can be leveraged to re-imagine a new Africa that can re-organise its capabilities and potential for meaningful development without courting conquest and enslavement, which debt will certainly achieve sooner than later.

Breakdown of law and order can accelerate the conquest. Africans might even desperately call in the “superior” external forces to help restore order, which will come at the cost of independence.