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OPINION

The Great Kenyan Heist

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It was billed as the silver bullet to the country’s perpetual crises of youth unemployment and derisory housing, as well as the simultaneous dynamo for our long-awaited economic take-off. It was a central component of Kenya Kwanza’s bottom-up economic experiment in their ascension to power, peppered with promises to enhance the quality of life for citizens. Outwardly, the goals were noble enough and were vended as such.

Quote the Kenya Kwanza manifesto: “The bottom-up economic model will focus on opening up tenders to mama mboga and watu wa bodaboda in four key areas of national development namely (i) Universal Health Care, (ii) Manufacturing, (iii) Food Security and (iv) Affordable Housing. Opening up deal-making to hustlers in these critical sectors and their adjacent fields such as innovation, finance and banking, and education, will enable the Hustler Nation to realize its full potential and earn a good living from the government, the same way dynastic powers have been doing since independence. It is integral to our philosophy as Hustler Nation that all Kenyans should have access to the opportunities the dynastic regimes have always enjoyed with their families and friends.” But the road to hell, we all know, is paved with good intentions.

In what is turning into a slew of landmark rulings against the government of the day, “the Court of Appeal stops Ruto from collecting housing levy,” screamed one headline on Friday 26 January 2024, bringing to a screeching halt Kenya Kwanza’s foray into the real estate business. This comes hot on the heels of the president grouching about his affordable housing plans being scampered by court orders. In a nutshell, the Court of Appeal declined to extend an order allowing the government to continue collecting the housing levy, the cash cow of the affordable housing project. GoK had asked the Court of Appeal to suspend the judgement of the High Court that found the levy in violation of the Constitution. But a three-judge bench on Friday morning ruled that “public interest tilts in favor of not granting the order.” Which is precisely what everyone has been saying from the very start.

The “affordable” housing project stands out as the height of tenderpreneurism in a country traditionally replete with an overabundance. As Julius Nyerere once observed, “Kenya is a man-eat-man society.” And we have not strayed too far from that pithy observation in 60 years. Its main objective, it turns out, is to mint money out of unsuspecting and predictably passive Kenyans. The whole thing is a ruse.

To illustrate the railroad job being done on Kenyans, consider this: the project is funded by taxpayer money. Why then, are the houses being sold at market prices, or slightly above the market rate? This is the first red flag. So the government collects money from us (forcefully even, as in the case of the housing levy), puts up “low-cost” housing units, and then sells them to us at market rates? At what point does this start making sense? Case in point: a three-bedroom en-suite at Greatwall Gardens is going for Ksh. 3.5 million. A three-bedroom government affordable house, as advertised, is selling at Ksh. 4.25 million, with “purchasers required to pay a 10% deposit to qualify.” So who is pocketing the difference? Because in a country like ours, someone is pocketing the difference.  Bear in mind that the principal function of government is to provide political guidance and exercise executive function and regulatory powers, not dabble in business…

This is a total and complete heist. Our money is being taken to build houses. Once the houses are up, they are sold to us at market rates. Greatwall, on the other hand, is doing it without taking our money. Greatwall is doing it without using public land. The difference between the Greatwall experiment and affordable housing is public money. Greatwall don’t use public money. Greatwall buy their own land and use their own money to put up units they then sell at the market rate, which is still lower than what the affordable units are going for. And yet they have used our money and used public land to put up those units. The affordable housing project is the textbook definition of a heist.

So these faceless philanthropists are essentially using the people of Kenya to finance their private ventures, namely, putting up “affordable” houses and then selling them back to Kenyans at a ginormous profit. In retrospect, it was there in their manifesto all along, in glorious black and white; no need to read between the lines: “…earn a good living from the government, the same way dynastic powers have been doing since independence.” At the end of the day, they will have accumulated housing units, accumulated wealth, and laughed their way to the bank. At our expense, of course, and without spending a shiny shilling. This is not affordable housing. Whatever it is, it is turning out to be hyperbole. Kenyans may be predictably passive, but even this was never going to fly. As one trending video is asking, “Nani hana kwao?”

I listen to Spotify, write short stories, and draw pretty pictures on my MacBook Pro all day.