What are friends for if not to first solve your (imagined) problem?

Wednesday August 04 2021

The owners of Kenya have decided to share it out — at a good profit to themselves of course. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGA


When you tune into Kenyan television stations, you get the impression that the whole of the country is on sale, as going by the adverts, the biggest commercial activity in the country seems to be selling of land.

Since Kenya is the first East African country reputed to have its “owners”, those wishing to become owners of the other five East African Community states had better watch Kenya.

At the height of the Kenyatta–Nyerere rivalry five to six decades ago, the Tanzanians called Kenya the land of 10 millionaires and 10 million beggars (there were no billionaires then) in a man-eat-man society. Kenyans quipped that Tanzania was a man-eat-nothing society. Today, Kenya’s ‘ten millionaires’ are selling off their land holdings to the ten million “beggars”/commoners.

In Tanzania, land had been preserved for everyone’s access, but need arose for ‘everyone’ to have ‘registrable interest’ and issuance of land titles was made easy. In effect, it also made land a commercial commodity — for the quick ones to amass. The quick in Tanzania have secured titles for huge tracts.

In Uganda, which was the most centrist/mixed economy in the original EAC between the extremes of Kenyan capitalism and Tanzanian socialism, there is also now a movement towards accumulation of land by a few from the many, using all means including corruption and purchase. So what is it that the “owners” of Kenya know that the aspiring owners of the remaining five EAC states haven’t yet sensed? Remember Kenya has always been ahead in matters economic and innovation.

To predict the direction of the regional political economies, start by reading the wealth/poverty rankings of our six member states in the world. Leading agencies including International Monetary Fund this year placed five of EAC six states in the bottom 15 percent of the world’s poorest nations.


Using the GDP/Purchasing Power Parity which takes into account the actual purchasing power thus weighing us more respectfully than pure GDP per capita figures, Burundi is number one from the bottom of the world, South Sudan (2), Rwanda (19), Uganda (24) and Tanzania (29). Kenya is ahead at 48.

Anytime from now, DR Congo will be admitted to the EAC, where it rightly belongs since it is number six in poverty of the world. Other neighbours who could be admitted to the EAC in our lifetime by virtue of already sharing borders with current members are world’s number three poorest state Somalia, number four Central African Republic, number five Malawi and number nine Mozambique.

We thus share much in common, with Kenya a bit different, being the poorest in natural resources but richer in reality. The world’s resource richest country is DRC and rightly belongs to EAC where its neighbours Uganda and Tanzania are quite similar in resource wealth, and also poor in human welfare.

In designing policies of the EAC, which is impatient to become a political federation, the technical people entrusted with the task need to study carefully the obvious direct relationship between abundant natural resources and abundant poverty. To design appropriate policies, they need to study cultural attitudes.

For poverty is linked to attitude. The current Covid-19 pandemic, like crises, tend to do, has brought out the real us, not the outward image we usually present. When a typical East African gets a problem, he runs to others to help him out before first looking at himself to see what he has at his disposal to handle the problem. When someone dies he opens a book to start collecting contributions. When a relative falls sick, he does the same. A child passes exams and has to progress, the same thing.

So when Covid-19 struck, East Africans went borrowing overseas. We had heard the rich countries saying their economies had been hit by the pandemic. Without checking if our economies have the same characteristics as theirs, we chorused that we had been hit by the pandemic. At the end of the financial year on June 30 our tax agencies had actually collected as much or more than the previous year, but had spent less on the closed public sectors and overseas travel. So exactly what did we borrow for?

Anyway, land has always been seen as a crucial factor of production, and its first characteristic is being inelastic. The owners of Kenya have decided to share it out — at a good profit to themselves of course. As the debt situation becomes unsustainable and ‘unpredictable’ disturbances happen, the poorer Kenyans will not target landlords, for they will be the landlords. Is that what the “owners” of Kenya have foreseen? Why are they doing the opposite of their aspiring counterparts in the neighbouring countries? Someone should interpret this!

Joachim Buwembo is a Kampala-based journalist. E-mail: [email protected]