From the Sunday school story of Esau and Jacob, we know that, Esau contemptuously surrendered his birthright for he was hungry after long days of hunting. All he wanted was rest and food, i.e. the stew of meat and vegetables which Jacob had in his possession. Simply said, Esau sold his birthright for miserable messes of pottage.
With this story in mind, let us take a walk along James Gichuru road which runs from Westland, cutting through Lavington, near Kawangware slums which then end up at Dagoretti corner. This walk more than anything else, reveals that, we are a nation of Esau and Jacob. Now, as you walk along this road, if you are a keen observer of man and society, you will notice two very interesting things.
On the paved road, you will see very well dressed and well fed or over fed Kenyans/foreigners sited on their big fuel guzzlers as they cruise to and fro. Also, on both sides of this road, which are dusty or muddy depending on the season, you will see a lot of shabbily poor men and women walking in very hurried manner. These poor Kenyans, are either going to work, or coming from work. But, where do most of these poor Kenyans work? They work for the Kenyans/foreigners in the big cars. The walking masses represent Esau and those in big cars represent Jacob.
Now, the reason you will see a lot of poor Kenyans walking as we describe above is because we have chaotic, inefficient, dangerous and expensive transport system made of matatus. We know Michuki tried to improve it, but, we ask, how do you improve a perversion? The question then is why is it so damn difficult for Kenya to develop a well integrated transport system? We are taught, it is very expensive. But, is it so? We deny these falsehoods which Kenyans have swallowed for 50 years.
However, before we do so, let us say this. Whenever the development of Asian nations like Singapore is discussed by our politicians and scholars, including Professor Ali Mazrui, we are told that, it is because a nation like Singapore has been led by malevolent dictator. Is it so? Mazrui is an eminent thinker, but, we deny his answers as utter rubbish. So, how does Singapore provide its citizens with world class integrated transport system? It boils down to bidding for land/space. Sample this genius in integrated transport policy and compare it with the stupidity and madness of the Kenyan transport system.
Due to lack of space in Singapore, they have developed a unique market mechanism that equalize everyone's ability to share in the benefits of that scarcity. In this scheme, motorists are free to determine the road rents they are willing to pay. They do this in auctions where they compete to secure the right to drive on the highways. Those who fail in their bids or those who do not wish to own a car, share in the benefits of the road rents which are spent on providing first class public transport.
Given the land scarcity, Singapore has a sophisticated way of controlling car growth (in Kenya, we can use scarcity of oil). The government constrains the growth of vehicles to 3% a year. To do so, it uses a range of tools which include the Certificate of Entitlement (COE), the Vehicle Quota System (VQS), road taxes and Electronic Road Pricing (ERP). Each month, a certain number of COE's are released. The vehicle entitlement is valid for ten years from the date of registration of the vehicle. Bidding is done electronically whereby, people determine how much they will pay in competition with other would be motorists.
The electronic road pricing is based on the pay - per - use principle that reflects the true cost of motoring. Singapore has extended this to points of congestion on major highways and it has been credited with having reduced the volume of traffic during peak periods. The consequence of this is that, the cost of motoring in Singapore is staggering.
In Singaporean dollars, in 2006, an Audi A 41.8 is $ 182, 000, for a BMW 328 (2.8 cc) $ 238, 000, for a Mercedes 200E: $ 201, 902, for a Volvo Estate 2.0: $ 160, 753. The alternative is you take the bus or train. Interestingly, the demand for the COE’s continues to rise and their prices in auctions that are open. This means that bidders can see what others are bidding for before they submit their offers. This reduces massive speculation.
What is the verdict of the World Bank on Singaporean transport system? It has concluded that:
(a) This system has helped attract foreign investment and there are no major negative side effects on economic growth or on the welfare of people on the lowest incomes.
(b) In addition, by rationing scarce physical space by price mechanism, Singapore has generated funds for investment in improvements much beyond transport and enabled reductions of other, less desirable taxes.
Thus, using a scheme that equalizes all citizens’ access to road/land, Singapore has been able to come up with a truly integrated transport policy. Those who cannot afford to run a car benefit from higher - quality public transport and lower taxes. In this scheme, there are no losers because road rents facilitate a sophisticated approach to sharing scarce space.
The collateral gains of this system include a dynamic economy at the frontier of technological progress and wage levels that employees of the West can only envy. No wonder, the OECD is always complaining of Singapore as an offshore since they want to hide the link between road rents and Singapore's low tax rate. However, Singapore government is keenly aware that, its success in the global economy depends on recycling rents back into its infrastructure so that equity is associated with efficiency. This policy has placed Singapore at the forefront of global commerce. Yes, fortunes are made in Singapore, but, they are not made in land speculation. That’s why in building highways, they do not reward landowners at the expense of the taxpayer as the African nations are doing.
Something to ponder about
(a) When Singapore gained independence which was at the same time as Kenya, some areas looked like Kawangware. Today, this tiny island is among the largest sovereign investors with over $ 247 billion as sovereign fund/assets. Mark you, this fortune has not been made from commodities as some suggested about Botswana. How much do we have as Kenyans in 2010? We answer mounting debts, poverty and senseless tribal conflict over land.
(b) In Kenya, if anyone wants to import a Hammer (remember the battle of Hammers in Kibera) or a Range Rover, we just allow them to import without questions and then allow them to blow dust on the poor Kenyans who fund these roads as they walk on the dusty pavements. Is this the way to build a just and peaceful nation?
(c) Does this sound like malevolent dictatorship, or a sound land policy as the foundation just like the one we have been advocating at work?
In a nutshell, if we had institutionalised this kind of land policy, we would be able to provide safe, efficient, affordable and accessible transport system for women who constitute the majority of those who walk to and from Kawangware slums along Gichuru road so as to go and clean the houses of bwana kubwa, i.e. bwana jinga.
Instead of such a simple policy, we come up with weird ideas of affirmative action to "uplift the welfare of our women." How do you separate the welfare of men from that of women? These are mere delusions which will ironically, cost these poor women even more in terms of tax to pay these so called "women leaders." Kenyans may go ahead with these schemes, but, we shall keep on shouting, yes, we know you are tired and desperate having waited for 20 years for the new constitution, but, just as Esau was tired and hungry, you have opted to denounce your birthright for miserable messes of pottage for we know he asked, behold, I am at the point to die, and what profit shall this birthright be to me? And, Jacob said, swear to me this day; and he swore unto him and thereby, he sold his birthright unto Jacob.