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Kenya’s debt is an increasingly heavy millstone

Imagine having a millstone around your neck. Trying to walk would be a very difficult affair, indeed. That’s what Africa’s debt obligations to the Bretton Woods institutions is like. You are trying to move forward as a continent, but you can’t because of the heavy burden.

Bill Clinton won the 1992 presidential campaign with his rallying call “It is the economy, stupid.” Every once is a while, I am reminded that taking it back to the basics is always the right approach when dealing the vagaries of economic life.

My high school History teacher explained the concept of debt. I am sure I had heard the word millstone before the day Mr Chen stood in front of that blackboard to teach. I must have read it in the Bible, but somehow the concept never sank in.

Jesus warned his disciples that whoever was responsible for harming little children would have a fate worse than having a millstone hanged about his neck, and then drowned in the depths of the sea. I am surprised that with a description that graphic, it didn’t jump at me as it did when Mr Chen explained it.

At that time, I didn’t even realise that what I found to be so illuminating was actually a cliché. Still, I have adhered to this strict notion of commonsense economics ever since. Debt is something to be avoided at all costs. Actually, the only thing worse than debt is more debt.

So you can imagine my dread every time I see the national government borrowing. Last week it emerged that Kenya had been denied a credit facility by the International Monetary Fund last year.

Now, I know it is a stand by loan used to shore up our economy when our currency is unstable. However, our debt keeps on growing and growing. The millstone keeps getting bigger and bigger.

I am a worried man, as should every Kenyan especially those our Constitution calls the youth. I am a healthy, virile young man. I will probably be blessed with plenty of children — maybe a basketball rather than the football team I desire.

I eat my vegetables and try to stay off nyama choma when I can. I have racked up several kilometers here and there walking.With great care, reaching 90 should be no problem. Actually, let’s reduce that figure to 62 because Kenyan life expectancy hovers around there.

However, Kenya’s keen appetite for debt has me wondering. I am not sure I will be paying for my own dream. Instead, I can expect my shillings to find their way if not in the Bretton Wood institutions perhaps flowing to our new overlords based in Beijing. —The writer is a management fellow at the City of Wichita, USA —@janeksunga

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