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Standard article on Ruto taxes raised the bar on opinion writing

By Kodi Barth

The Standard recently published a column that raises the bar on opinion writing. It was about President William Ruto’s tax regime, which hogs the national discourse like a colossus.

Titled, “What tax collections say about Ruto’s management of economy so far”, the November 6 column by Dennis Kabaara had substance, depth, and style.

On substance, the story followed through on its title, convincingly laying out the nature of the President’s taxes and how they impact the economy.

The story laid out three notions. First, that President Ruto is taxing everything that moves. Second, that officials are tone deaf. And third, that Kenya is enforcing a debt-inspired, not growth-friendly, tax regime.

On depth, the story backed up every major assertion.

Right after setting out the three arguments above, paragraph three started like this: “Let’s explore these using [examples]”.

You see right away the writer’s intent to back up assertions. That is depth. And the trend continued through the 21-paragraph story.

Finally, the story employed stylistic and literary devices in plenty, which made complex notions readable and the overall flow gripping.

Stylistic devices are deliberate use of phrases that make reading enjoyable.

Take the writer’s use of transitions. Practically every paragraph laying out a new argument started in a conversational, inclusive tone that seemed to prod the reader, “Hey, stay with me.”

Sample these:

Paragraph five: “Now here’s a twist.”

Paragraph nine: “Instead…”

Paragraph 10: “Hence…”

Paragraph 11: “Here are two…”

Paragraph 12: “Second, and relatedly…”

Paragraph 13: “Let’s stick with this…”

Paragraph 14: “Put it this way…”

Paragraph 15: “To repeat…”

Paragraph 16: “Instructively…”

Paragraph 17: “So let’s go back…”

Paragraph 21: “In the end…”

These transitions hook the reader to complete reading an argument, however complex. 

Talking about complex, literary devices simplify the reader’s understanding of otherwise complex notions.

Example: “Kenya Roads Board (KRB) plans to add Sh5 to the current Road Maintenance Levy (RML) of Sh18,” the story said.

The writer then immediately explained that this levy is paid in every litre of fuel Kenyans buy, and which roads the levy is used on: Both urban and rural.

But the writer pointed out that to Wanjiku it doesn’t matter what you call the levy or the specific use to which you tie it. It’s increased cost of government, increased cost of doing business, and increased cost of living.

To add salt to injury (our phrase), the writer raised a red flag that the government wants to add something else called “road user license”.

And the writer swiftly explained: “So, we pay to maintain roads, and we pay to use them.”

Complex concepts made easy – well, perhaps not easy, but readable.

Good job, Standard!

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