Options for the business sector in deceitful political times

To what extent can private sector pursue economic diplomacy?

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By Leonard Wanyama

For some reason, President Uhuru Kenyatta always seems to jump and react to concerns of religious leaders more than members of the business community. This is surprising since it can be said that he is a dyed-in-the-wool member of the private sector. As a competitive oriented entity, such occurrences should make the industry raise an eye brow in regard to this.

This can be observed, quite recently, from the beehive of activities that have emerged from the spectacle of danger following protests against the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).

Kenya has always had an inherent “ideology of order” that believes the constructs of what hold the country together must be preserved at all costs and by all means. As postulated by the esteemed Professor, the late E. S. Atieno Odhiambo, this essentially has given credence to logic allowing flexibility towards necessary evils, thus ensuring regime survival and by extension state stability.

It is for this reason that private sector organisations such as the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA) could be observed shuffling between party principals and their acolytes to try and find a solution to the impasse, for they too are great believers in this form of order as a requisite for their material gain.

Undeniably, their sifting of data to determine the quantity of losses, highlighting of issues such as a halt to protest because of expected damages, as well as engagement of other leaders or the media, is their precise role in times filled with propaganda from both sides of the political divide.

Many people might not have heard of Edward Bernays because his famous fan by the name of Josef Goebbels eventually came to personify the negativity of governing by use of public relations. It is indeed Barneys who identified plurality – in a book titled Propaganda – as a chaotic process in need of order.

It is on account of this that he postulated the existence of invincible entities “consciously and intelligently manipulating organised habits or opinions of the masses into an important element of democratic society”. Kenya’s private sector may have to consider such a role for a better ordered public life for the country

Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 8.20.44 PMObviously, aspiring to attain a status of invincibility within governance of the country raises issues of illegitimacy and comparisons to mafia like entities or the “tenderprenuering” cliques that siphon money out of government coffers.

Nonetheless, private sector should not fear ensuring vast countrywide cooperation on various progressive positions. This would be by openly and plainly offering qualities of natural leadership acquired in business, supplying desired ideas, and utilising their key position in society on matters beyond the scope of business. Generally, the merchant class has to expound need for patriotism further than the current spectrum of entrenched tribal enclaves.

Beyond the associations approach to lobbying policy positions, Kenya’s private sector should consider the establishment of a think-tank or the direct financing of organisations such as the Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA). Such would ensure evidence-based influence that harnesses social capital of entities beyond the business community. It would also guarantee new cooperative ways in guiding constructive public discussion and action that builds consensus that ensures positive stability hence securing peace.

Using think-tanks would also raise the profile of the sector as an alternative approach to special pleading committees. It would move away from the kinship talents of wise old men who have the special ear of leaders and dictate conduct on the basis of celestial moralistic codes rather than existing systemic problems.

A research orientation would move business entities away from the manipulation of the news, and the inflation of personalities that has become a trend through the uses of sophisticated public relations exercises or tabloid splashes.

Most importantly it would harness the marvel of modern communication, thereby creating greater numbers of likeminded people to respond quickly and hold effective dialogue. Essentially, this will crowd out and ultimately drown those who abuse the psyche of the country through hate mongering.

Development of a think-tank or support for existing independent research institutes offers a wide range of opportunities. First, it would break the emerging stranglehold of consultants who politically align themselves to mainly line their pockets rather than offer effective public solutions.

Secondly, it would offer the chance to tap into the experience of retired civil servants to have a wealth of knowledge and contacts on matters of public affairs. This will further allow proper archiving of history, besides tapping into valuable information at their finger tips.

Lastly, the private sector could become the lynchpin to show that patriotism is a sensibility that goes beyond the existing ideological spectrum. That the love of one’s country is a common design appreciating unity as pursued by nationalism; respect for the republic that is attained through its associated pragmatism of consensus or compromise, and the spirit of pluralism as captured by democracy.

Taking this mantle, through creating concrete ideas of Kenyan aspirations about general material welfare, would help quell ethnic misunderstanding and regimented cleavages that hold the country from attaining its full potential.

Essentially such an action could become an important step to making a new ethic. It would make the country formidable enough so as not to be captured by the likes of warlike ultra conservatives and their significant fellow anarchic pluralists who obviously don’t have the interests of Kenya at heart.

Author is a part time lecturer of International Relations; @lennwanyama

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