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Simple strategies for big dilemmas


The case of plastic bags ban in Kenya

A story is told about a rich kid who loved writing fiction. In his home lived a poor kid who used to stay with her mother; the family’s household help. The rich kid once received an email from his uncle praising him for his fiction. The excited kid read out the email to the poor kid, “My uncle was excited to read my story. He wrote ‘Bravo!’”

Poor Kid: “Well of course he liked it. You write such great stories. What’s the story about?”

Rich Kid: “It’s about a man who finds a magic cup. Soon he learns that if he weeps into the cup, his tears would turn to pearls….And at the end of story, he’s sitting on a mountain of pearls with a blood stained knife in his hands and his dead wife by his side. “

Poor Kid: “So he killed her so that he could cry more and get rich?”

Rich Kid: “Yes, you’re very quick..”

Poor Kid: “But why couldn’t he just smell cut onions?”

The plastic ban in Kenya

When an environmental degradation nightmare occasioned by heavy use of plastic bags threatened our environment here in Kenya, the government struggled to contain it. In 2005, the government developed a 10-point plastic waste management strategy that saw the ban of plastics under 30 microns thickness and the development of a plastic recycling project, but this collapsed almost immediately.

A few years later, the then Finance Minister in his budget speech introduced a 120 per cent excise duty on plastic bags below 30 microns thickness. Sadly, widespread protests by traders forced Parliament’s Committee on Trade and Finance to introduce a green tax instead. In 2011, attempts by The National Environment Management Authority and the Kenya Bureau of Standards to ban plastics below 60 microns ran into headwinds.

These strategies were riddled with loopholes in that while it was easy to measure and control plastic bags being manufactured, there was absolutely no control on the thickness of bags in use.  Smuggled bags that did not conform to set measures could easily reach the consumer.

It was not until 2017 that a simple and total ban on plastic bags, save for industrial packaging plastic bags, spearheaded by the Environment Cabinet Secretary succeeded in achieving by far the greatest strides on the objective of ridding Kenya of the plastic bags menace. While there are still challenges with reports of smuggled plastic bags finding their way into the local market, the strategy has by far been the most successful.

Lesson; not all problems need complicated solutions.

Take home

In leadership and management, such should be the approach to strategy.

First, identify the goal, and make clear the aspired results. Secondly, find the simplest path to the goal. Of course a simple path does not imply a simple process of identifying or implementing the same. It could mean a path unencumbered by opportunistic detractors, a watertight strategy that is invariably free of loopholes. Whatever approach you pick on, make sure you stick to it and pave way for adjustments along the way only after making necessary reviews.

Muriithi Ndegwa, OGW, HSC, MKIM-KIM is the KIM Executive Director/CEO. Email: Twitter: @MuriithiNdegwa

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