That day, unlike other days when we would chat endlessly on non issues, my friend was in an uncharacteristic hurry. He was rushing to his bank. LPO in hand. No time for idle chat.
This was the time when an LPO would swing open big doors. Pioneered by the now limping Consolidated bank, LPO financing was a major banking coup. Any LPO was a direct ticket to a bank loan and government LPO; thanks to Ambassador Muthaura who ensured government honored its payments, was as good as cash.
Then the digital duo happened and with them, another avenue for easy money. Their campaign slogan, Kusema na Kutender was real. The youth had miraculously arrived on the eating table. Riches was just a tender away. The floodgates of money had been thrown wide open. Only a fool would miss it. And sure enough, I did.
Trust the ever ingenious Kenyans. As LPOs acquired new currency status, River road artists opened new lines that produced instant but fake LPOs as county officials openly sold out LPOs in hotels for kickbacks. All these ended up with the gullible banks. Remember, it was around this time that banks were desperate for borrowers and would occasionally pitch tents on the streets pleading for clients.
The Kenyan digital revolution rendered irrelevant the traditional ways of making money. You did not need an office space, a factory, a farm or a manufacturing plant. All that was needed was to belong to the special groups- women, youth or disabled and with reliable connections to land a government tender. New careers were minted where the youth were paid and awarded presidential honors for insulting their elders. Bloggers, they were called.
Everything revolved around tenders whether at the counties or central government. On a good day, one could be paid upfront. It’s called it affirmative action. Specifically, for the disadvantaged relatives. Alternatively, you obtained a bank loan courtesy of the LPO, hopped onto the next plane to China and flew back with substandard goods.
Then in your free time, after the jet lag of course, you ducked into a Cyber, ordered for an invoice to be done as you enjoyed your cappuccino in the nearest Java. With the invoice delivered, you stirred your connections up there and sometimes, well past midnight, the IFMIS would spring to life and funds would be safely nestled into your account. That was getting rich, the digital way. “Money is in government my fren.”
That’s how salonists, barbers and the digital youths ended up as contractors for the government and the last mile came to be everyone’s cash cow. It didn’t matter whether you lived in a stone, mud, Mabati or carton house. It was lit. Kenya was in a hurry to develop and would not wait for you to erect a decent structure.
Our roads soon became a reflection of our economic leap. Proboxes, Fielders and Vitz; those ugly work horses the hallmark of Wazee leadership were swept off the roads and replaced by Land cruisers for the young, bold and dishonest.
Expectedly, this party would not last. The banks started getting constipation from bad loans. Three of them went burst. The Government, the official sponsor of youth swag had somehow gotten into a debt trap. They started delaying payments. At one point, it was reported that the counties alone owed more than 90 billion to suppliers!
The borrowers who rode the tide of LPOs and government generosity soon found themselves in a quandary. One by one, those sleek cars started finding their way to auctioneers’ yards as the newly rich scrambled for hospital beds to ward off mounting blood pressure.
The sudden cash crunch roped in the big retailers. Inevitably they started delaying payments. 60 days’ credit period was extended to 120 days and finally forever. Their last appeal was for suppliers to convert their debts into share capital. That’s how distraught suppliers ended up as forced owners of dying supermarkets-a story for another day.
Today, manufacturers; a victim of Chinese imports hold the largest share of bank defaults at 6.6 billion, followed by traders at 2.7 billion and Real estate at 2 billion. Personal and household loans is also a staggering 2 billion on account of the many job losses. Wueh! What a bumpy ride. My dear youth; Talk of being invited to a party only to be fried and served in the same party. Serikali saidia. Please pay us.
Evans Majeni is a businessman and director at African Market Media.