Government is the biggest challenge facing businesses in Kenya

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Government is the biggest challenge facing businesses in Kenya

By Haron Wachira

Where doth my help come from?

When my daughter asked me recently, “Dad, what has been your biggest challenge so far in business?” I immediately thought, Government.

I closed down a manufacturing under bond warehouse because the customs officials would not give us peace unless we paid bribes — they found fault with our computerised record keeping system, insisting on manual ledgers from DL Patel, the major stationer at the time. When we bought the DL Patel ledger books, the officials said that our security grills were not of the right quality. When we leased a bigger, over-secured warehouse, they said we had to first make the windows on our current location secure first. We closed the business, which then employed 25 people.

We won a tender that would have gotten us into the big league (when I was aged 36). The awarders, top government officials, invited me to a closed door meeting in which I was asked to produce their commission. I preached the gospel to them instead, and lost the contract. For the part we had already performed, it took us two years to get paid.

I had to resign from a business I co-owned with others because all my co-directors wanted us to corruptly share money that was to be injected by a social development organisation for the purpose of funding a large farmers’ capacity building programme. The programme collapsed.

On and on… I could cite 20 other examples.

But instead, I told my daughter, “Learning to trust in the Lord in extreme circumstances.” I couldn’t have been more honest, I thought. Because, in each of the above and other incidences, the consequences of standing on the side of God’s truth has been the real challenge. Government corruption is incidental. Accepting to pay the price when I say no to it is the real test. My whole body, my mind, my business associates and society in general scream loudly, “You are being a fool; everyone does it.” But, unable to interprete God’s Word differently, I say no against all my natural instincts.

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Soon after my daughter’s Q&A session, and as if on a cue, our truck’s driver and a mechanic who had been servicing the vehicle, called me, on their way from returning our truck to an government inspection point, to confirm that we had complied with a court order issued earlier — after we refused to pay a bribe — to have the truck fixed “to NTSA standards”. Admittedly, there had been a crime: my driver had ran away when he saw the cops on the road, knowing that we wouldn’t pay the Shs 100 that every other truck driver passing the check-point was paying. The police officers called in the breakdown service to haul the vehicle 200 meters to the police station and demanded a payment of Shs 17,000. Three days later in court, the magistrate let the driver off with a half-day’s labour (sweeping the court compound) and then asked for a bribe of Shs 5,000. I sent back my usual message: I am a Christian; I do not pay bribes. The consequence: a list of required fixes: replacement of all tyres, repainting the entire body of the truck, replacing the fire extinguisher, re-fitting brake pads, and a host of other fixes — all eating up an additional Shs 60,000.

“We have been arrested again,” The mechanic now told me.

“Why?”

“They say that our front parking light has a crack.”

They were hauled off to be charged. Shortly afterwards, I learned that they were at Kianyaga Police Station. I got a bit excited, because just a few days earlier in that station I had established a “friendship” with a police woman who had treated me very kindly when I went to obtain an abstract in respect to a lost ID. I called her now and explained that my truck, driver and a mechanic were at the station and the circumstances. And reminded her that “all because as a Christian, I refused give out money for a bribe.”

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She called me three minutes afterwards, and explained to me that our crime was “very complicated.”

“Why?”

“You know, I know you to be an honest person. But your driver! He has just insulted the inspector?”

“How?”

“He threw the keys of the truck very rudely to the inspector.”

“I am sorry to hear that,” I played along “But is there anything you can do now?”

“Well, you see, now we have to talk to the inspector. That is the problem.” Talk to the inspector. I understood. Code for bribe money.

“Then I guess we just have to go through the court process,” I said, restraining myself from truly expressing my anger and frustration.

“Ohhh… is that what you WANT?”

“I didn’t say that is what I WANT!” I replied, starting to raise my voice, checking myself. “What I really want is a bit of grace. We have just come out of a very expensive….”

“But you see,’ she interrupted, “the problem is the conduct of your driver!”

“So what do you suggest?”

“I told you, we’d have to talk to the inspector.”

I wasn’t willing to “talk to the inspector” so the case went on to court. Fine: Shs 20,000 for driving an unroadworthy vehicle and Shs 5,000 for an “expired” fire extinguisher.

In my frustration I wasn’t able to see the connection between that incident and the conversation I had just had with my daughter. Later in the day, it suddenly dawned on me: I had made a claim regarding my greatest challenge in business – that of learning to trust the Lord. And, clearly, I had not learned. I had found a possible easy way out in a “friendship” with a police officer and the Lord wanted to demonstrate to me how vain that was. The false stronghold had to be demolished, so that, in all things, every day, all the way, I could honestly claim that my help came only from Him alone. What a lesson!

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