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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

An "offensive" article in the Economist magazine forces the Kenyan Government to cancel crucial global trade talks

By John Oyuke (

An offensive article in an international magazine forced the (Kenyan) Government to withdraw from a high-level political and business forum last week.

The inaugural business roundtable with the Government, billed as a first in East Africa, was to give business leaders opportunity to engage with a high-powered team led by President Mwai Kibaki.

The meeting, organised by Economist Conferences, the events division of Economist Group, was to run from July 17 to 18 at the Intercontinental Hotel, Nairobi.

Finance minister, Mr Amos Kimunya, said the meeting was cancelled because of an offending article in The Economist.

"Things were going on well until someone who claims to have returned to Kenya after 40 years decided to write a three page article claiming that no development had taken place in the country since then," he said.

The Economist Group postponed the meeting a few days to the conference, but did not explain why.

"The First Business Roundtable with the Government of Kenya has been postponed. The new date will be published as soon as we receive confirmation from the participating officials from the Government," the group said.

A number of firms had already come forward to sponsor the roundtable with Barclays Bank Kenya offering Sh5 million as sponsorship fee.

According to the event’s programme, President Kibaki was to be accompanied by key ministers including Finance, Trade and Industry, Planning and Roads and Public Works.

Other key speakers would have been Prof Njuguna Ndung’u, Governor, Central Bank of Kenya, Mr Jimnah Mbaru, Chairman, Nairobi Stock Exchange, Mr Adan Mohammed, Managing Director, Barclays Bank Kenya and Mr Nathan Kalumbu, President, Eastern and Central Africa Division, Coca-Cola and world reknown economist Professor Jeffrey Sachs.

The article, which appeared in The Economist of June 9, is entitled "Kenya: Going up or down?"

The article stated in part that for someone returning to Kenya after many years, the general state of disrepair is rather striking.

It adds that tens of billions of dollars of aid have been spent, yet in many respects the country’s infrastructure is worse than it was 40 years ago.

"Roads have crumbled away, the rail service has all but collapsed, ports are clogged and some have even closed. Many hospitals and schools are dilapidated.

Forests have been cut down, rivers have silted up; grazing land has been eroded, and fencing posts in once well-run commercial farms uprooted and burnt," it alleged.

The most visible example of Kenya’s regression is the roads, the article pointed out.

It said while in the early 1970s you could drive from Nairobi to Mombasa in four hours, now, because of potholes and diversions and hold-ups, it could take eight hours.

"Another main road, north-west to Uganda, which should be one of Africa’s great arteries, is pitted with craters often two feet deep, reducing traffic to little better than walking pace for stretches of 15km or so," the article avers.

The article poses the question of why the current mess exists and proceeds to give the answer as misguided economic policies, mismanagement, poor maintenance, sloppiness, tribalism and corruption.

Kimunya told a private sector stakeholders’ meeting in Nairobi last week, he considered their gathering a worthy replacement of the failed roundtable.

He said the Government considers The Economist a serious magazine to allow itself publish an article which doesn’t reflect the country’s real development situation, leave alone what has taken place in over 40 years of independence.

John Oyuke is a business writer for The Standard a mainstream Kenyan Newspaper

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