Friday, 17 February 2017

Candid Conversations on the Kenyan Polity

Parliament buildings in Nairobi.
Image: Courtesy
Progress? Stagnation? Or a combination of both? Just what description suits the state of affairs of the Kenyan Republic 53 years after independence? I am not in the business of being the jury and the judge at the same time but I endeavor to present an analysis on the insincerity, machinations, dogmatism, disillusionment, disparity, unfairness and hopefully the positives that outrightly define and deeply describe the Kenyan polity.

There is a common narrative in the public domain and more specifically in the developmental circles regarding the similar state of socio-economic affairs between Kenya, the Asian Tigers and the Tiger Cub economies in the 1960s, 70s and a better part of the 1980s. Available information indicates that these economies’ challenges were similar to Kenya’s in terms of the level of infrastructural development, absolute and relative poverty rates among other socio-economic indicators. No doubt that these Asian economies took-off while Kenya, a peer country at that point in time, is still trying to find a balance on the developmental  scale.

In cognisant of the developmental differentials between Kenya and these Asian countries in terms of the socio-economic complexities and dynamism, it is still relevant and fundamentally important to thoroughly interrogate and investigate where the rain began beating us. In any case, some degree of harshness is required when evaluating a country which at one time was classified as a peer economy to the Asian economies. Is it that Kenya’s progress, as envisaged at the turn of the independence period, been hampered by certain intrinsic factors, internally and externally?

The Wabenzi Culture
Members of the civil society protesting against corrupt leaders.
Photo: Courtesy
The big man’s syndrome, the so-called wabenzi, augmented with the get-rich-quick schemes since 1963 have often dragged Kenya’s potential to be an economic powerhouse in Africa. The various administrations and/or regimes that Kenya has had since attaining her independence have one common denominator; corruption/embezzlement of public financial resources.

The administrations of Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel Moi are a summation of 39 years of cronyism. I strongly hold the view that Kenya would be a different country, in positive terms, were it not for the malfeasance exercised during Jomo’s and Moi’s regimes as the presidents of our Republic.

One of the notable ideals that underpinned the struggle for Kenya’s clamour for independence was indeed the maxim of economic independence in which all the Kenyans irrespective of their ethnic, racial, gender or ideological orientations were to be guaranteed equal economic rights. The Jomo Kenyatta administration had the mandate of institutionalizing the independence manifesto in which economic rights were to be keenly observed.

The treachery that was employed by the Republic’s first administration under the leadership of Jomo Kenyatta engendered a wicked culture in the country’s public administration system. It was then that personal interest was placed above public interest/service hence the entrenchment of the culture of amassing wealth without any metric of accountability being taken into account.

There is no doubt that Jomo Kenyatta and his cronies furthered the challenges of the land question in Kenya which had initially been perpetuated by the colonialists. The land question remains unresolved in this country since then as the Republic has lacked a bold political leadership to right the wrongs committed over 50 years ago.

These economic crimes, of the illegal accumulation of wealth, were engineered by honchos in the Kenyatta administration who were either politicians or individuals who had strong political connections with the highest office in the land.  This is the point in time in which Kenya’s politics was poisoned whereby it became the absolute pathway to richness. Moi’s administration exacerbated the situation for 24 good years.

The culture is still in place and perhaps the situation has even intensified. Across the country, more than 90% of all the candidates for the various political offices have only one main agenda; to utilize the opportunity of occupying a political office to accumulate wealth.

Selective Application of Justice
Kenya's Judiciary.
Photo: Courtesy
Despite the reformations that have taken place in the country’s justice system, more needs to be done as far as the observation of the doctrine of the rule of law is concerned. The principle of fairness and equality before the law changes tune depending on how deep one’s pockets are or how well he/she is politically connected.

It is evident in this Republic that the economic and political elite are treated differently than other citizens even when some members of the former group are found to have planned and executed criminal offences especially the economic crimes.

The lords of graft who steal millions and billions of shillings are hardly locked up behind bars compared to the high number of petty offenders who continue to fill up the prisons. A good number of the officers within the justice system ranging from judicial officers to law enforcement officers have oftentimes been bribed to delay the administration of justice. These deliberately occasioned delays in prosecution and jailing of the corrupt wealthy and mighty (The big fish) in Kenya has always been an incentive for the increase in the rate of corruption.

The selective application of justice has all along punctured the country’s economy; it is an incentive for the politically connected individuals to steal public resources which would otherwise have been invested in viable infrastructural projects. As a matter of fact, how can serious private investors have confidence in the government if economic crimes aren’t punished heavily? This is a concern for the private investors with regard to property rights.

Haunted by the Ghosts of the 1960s
Pupils in a congested public primary school.
Courtesy: Standard Media
At the turn of independence, the then government was focused on eradicating three notable challenges; poverty, disease and ignorance by institutionalizing viable economic policies, establishing an effective healthcare system, and setting up an efficient education system. As a matter of fact, a national blueprint, African Socialism and its Application to Planning in Kenya, was drafted to fast-track the process of achieving the targets set by the then government.

Unfortunately, the development plan was never fully implemented and the same fate faced the subsequent policy frameworks formulated to improve the living standards of the citizenry as I illustrated in a previous article. Significant strides have been made in the course of the last 50 plus years of independence but there is lot that needs to be done to tackle poverty, improving healthcare and the education standards.

As much as there has been progress in the education sector, the government must be committed in improving the conditions especially in most of the public primary schools. These schools have a poor teacher-pupil ratio, dilapidated facilities and a chronic shortage of learning equipments. I am longing for the day that most members of the political elite, the upper-middle class and the wealthy will take pride in enrolling their children in public primary schools.

The conditions in the public health facilities must be greatly improved for the benefit of all the citizens. The political leadership; the Executive and Parliament, has never been fully committed in establishing a universal healthcare system in the country. The political class doesn’t even have confidence in the public healthcare system because it is ill-equipped. This has contributed to medical tourism where each year there is an increase in the number of patients traveling to countries such as India to seek for medication. The billions of shillings looted in the Ministry of Health in each fiscal year is enough to set up modern health facilities that are fully equipped with modern machinery for treating the non-communicable diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and others which are on the rise.

Tribalism: The Dark Paradise
An IDP camp following the 2007/08 PEV.
Photo: Courtesy
Negative ethnicity is real in Kenya with a good number of socio-economic and political arrangements/deliberations taking shape along the ethnic divisions. Since independence, the successive governments have been characterized with deeply entrenched tribalism as a result of the “we” versus “them” mentality. This has really worked against the realization of Kenya as a one united nation.

Kenya’s politics is largely based on ethnicity. In a nutshell, the doctrine of ethnicization of the political system is pronounced in our Republic. Just as I have noted earlier in this article, most of the challenges experienced in Kenya can be traced to the first post-colonial government and these mistakes haven’t been rectified by the successive governments.

Tribalism isn’t confined to politics but it is alive and kicking in other structures of the Kenyan polity especially regarding employment opportunities, awarding of tenders and contracts or even access to public services which all the citizens are entitled to.

Negative ethnicity has troubled our Republic and this has significantly hindered economic progress. Following the 1992 general elections, there were ethnic clashes that took place and even the 1997 elections had certain parts of the country recording ethnic flare-ups. Despite the fact that the 2002 general elections were peaceful, regions such as Kuresoi in Nakuru County experienced ethnic clashes. The mother of all ethnic explosions rocked the country in 2007 following the disputed results of the presidential elections. The 2007/08 post-election violence (PEV) was much more than the election results; the existing unfair distribution of national resources was the primary factor precipitated by the “we” versus “them” mentality.

Taking into account that the PEV was our Republic’s critical juncture in restructuring the systemic challenge of negative ethnicity, profound measures such as the formation of the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) and the enactment of a new Constitution were put in place. To ensure that there is fairness in the distribution and redistribution of national resources, the aspect of devolution was indoctrinated in the Constitution. However, the tragedy has been the failure by the political leadership to implement the recommendations of the TJRC report and this puts the country at risk of another major ethnic outburst.

Various parts of the country continue to witness occasional fighting among some of the communities. These cases are common among the Pokot, Turkana and Marakwet communities; along the border of the Kipsigis-Kisii, Luo-Nandi, Kisii-Maasai, Kipsigis-Maasai, and Orma-Pokomo among others. The fights have disrupted the economic activities in these regions.

The Economy: A Distorted & Non-Inclusive Complexity
Jua kali artisans.
Courtesy: Business Daily
The economy is growing but hardly developing; the rate of structural transformation in Kenya’s economy has been extremely slow. This is why cases of extreme and/or absolute poverty continue to be on the increase. Of course the national government and its honchos will always viciously defend the economy’s progress but their defense is anchored on the estimates of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) which is a foggy way of analyzing the economic progress of any economy.

Developed and the newly industrializing economies experienced structural transformation due to the fact that their governments were committed in making heavy investments in the manufacturing sector. Kenya’s manufacturing sector currently makes up 11% of the country’s GDP compared to 16% in the 1970s and part of the 80s. This decline is largely due to the lack of bold political leadership to effectively implement the development blueprints/economic policy frameworks and also the Bretton Woods institutions (IMF, World Bank) are partly to be blamed following the fantastic failure of the Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) back in the 1980s.

At the moment our economy is faced with the twin deficit problem; trade deficit and fiscal deficit. The trade deficit has been occasioned by a large volume of imports compared to the relatively lower volume of exports as a result of lacking a vibrant manufacturing sector. The fiscal deficit has increased tremendously under the Jubilee administration presenting a possibility of a debt overhang.

The major reason why Kenya resorts to borrow largely to finance its expenditure is because of the low levels of savings within the economy. Savings play a crucial role in financing investment projects and in due course cushioning the economy against the shocks that may emanate in the case of the externally sourced funds. Currently, the level of savings in Kenya is around 14% which is low for any economy seeking to have a strong economy.

Kenya’s economy is largely reliant on the informal sector and this has significantly contributed to the rising levels of unemployment. More jobs are created in the informal sector compared to those created in the formal sector. Unemployment is a ticking time-bomb and in any case a concern for the country’s political stability. The frustrated, unemployed “army” is a threat to national security. History has shown that economic frustrations are bound to generate political turmoil in a polity.

Food security, as detailed in an article co-authored by my colleague and I, is still a major challenge to the government fifty-plus years down the line. The successive governments have always adopted reactionary measures in approaching the issue of food insecurity and it seems learning from history has been a tall order for the country’s political leadership.

So, where do we stand as a country? Are we on the path to prosperity? Is the political leadership committed to transforming the country’s economic landscape? Find the right the answers.

This article was first published on

Friday, 3 February 2017

Kenya’s Policy Dilemma in Perspective

An artist's impression of Nairobi under Vision 2030
Image: Courtesy
If nearly all the socio-economic policies that have been formulated in Kenya since 1963 were to be fully implemented, there is no doubt that this country’s economy would feature among the newly industrialized economies not just in Africa but in the whole world.

The implementation of these policies would have translated to low levels of poverty in the country, enough food for all Kenyans, a vibrant manufacturing sector, a high number of formal job opportunities, a better healthcare system, a highly developed transport system, proper access to clean water among other positives that are associated with an economy that is undergoing structural transformation.

In evaluating and reviewing a good number of these policies, there is a consistent feature that clearly defines the policy process/cycle in the country; the aspect of policy dilemma. The policy process involves several stages with the most pronounced phases being policy formulation and policy implementation. The formulation of socio-economic and/or public policies involves the input of the various stakeholders and the implementation phase largely depends on the rate of efficiency of the government- ministries, agencies, state departments and institutions.

Policy dilemma, in this case, refers to how magnificent policies are formulated but implemented in a flawed and inconsistent manner. This has led to the recurrence of the socio-economic challenges/problems that bedevil the country creating a developmental scenario of making three steps ahead and five steps backwards. With reference to this, it is not a surprise that some of the challenges that faced the nation in the 70s, 80s and 90s have never been amicably solved.

Take for instance Kenya’s first comprehensive development blueprint, Sessional Paper No.10 of 1965: African Socialism and its Application to Planning in Kenya. This policy document highlighted the course of action that was to be followed to steer the country’s nascent economy with the public sector and the private sector playing an important role in its implementation. Three challenges were to be solved by this policy; poverty, disease and ignorance implying on a large-scale that all Kenyans were to have access to affordable healthcare and education as well as better living standards. Several gains were made but its implementation was thwarted along the way by both internal and external forces.

Women fetching water from a river in Kenya.
Photo: Courtesy
The current water shortage problem experienced in the country would be non-existent if most of the water policies that have been formulated over time were effectively implemented. The most notable policy initiative to solve the problem of access to clean and available water can be traced to 1974. During this year, there was the formulation and subsequent launch of the National Water Master Plan Initiative whose slogan was: Water for All by the Year 2000. The implementation of this policy never came to fruition.

In 1986, another policy paper was drafted; Sessional Paper No.1 of 1986 on Economic Management for Renewed Growth. This policy paper incorporated the Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) and it was formulated following the conditions issued by the Bretton Woods institutions (World Bank & IMF) on the supposed economic restructuring the government was to adopt in return for financial assistance from these institutions.

This policy document addressed the following: market liberalization, reduced role of the state in the economy, deregulation and privatization of some of the state-owned enterprises. Since this policy was recommended by the Bretton Woods institutions, the government implemented nearly every bit of it and the outcomes were not pleasing at all; it did more harm than good. This was because its recommendations were based on the model of the USA economy and not on the local conditions that were prevalent in Kenya’s economy.

A Sessional Paper on the Micro and Small-scale Enterprises (MSEs) was formulated in 1992. The objective of this policy document was to transform the MSEs by institutionalizing a high degree of formality in them as a larger percentage were operating informally in the agricultural sector. The agricultural sector at that time contributed approximately 30% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and most of the Kenyans depended directly and indirectly on the sector for their source of livelihood.

What could be the scenario in case the Sessional Paper on the MSEs was fully implemented? A strong foundation for the manufacturing sector would be created as a result of the establishment of the agro-based industries, food production would have certainly increased hence making the country to be food secure, a high number of formal employment opportunities would have been created among many others.

A policy framework for achieving industrialization by the year 2020 was developed in 1996 specifically known as Sessional Paper No.2 of 1996; Industrial Transformation to the Year 2020. The overarching objective of this policy paper was to develop a vibrant manufacturing sector in the country that would have enabled Kenya to be a newly industrializing economy.

The entrance to Kenya's Export Processing Zone at Athi River.
Photo: Courtesy
The implementation of this policy framework was flawed largely due to the inherent institutional weaknesses and structural inconsistencies which some are in-built in the policy itself and others being explicit to the policy. Its total implementation, with the rectification of its weaknesses, would have steered the economy’s trajectory to be defined in terms of the structural transformation.

With the institutionalization of the NARC administration in 2003, great attention was paid in reviving the country’s economy. To actualize this, a policy paper was formulated; the Economic Recovery Strategy for Wealth and Employment Creation (ERS) for the period 2003 to 2007. This policy document envisaged an economic growth rate of 7% upon the completion of the five year period in which it was to be implemented. In 2007, the country’s economy grew by 7% a clear indication that this policy framework was effectively implemented.

As the period of time for the implementation of the ERS was elapsing, the Sessional Paper No.10 of 2012 on Kenya’s Vision 2030 was designed. The main objective of the Vision 2030 is to transform the country into a middle-income economy by largely investing in the manufacturing sector and key infrastructural projects. The implementation of the Vision 2030 was to occur in phases denoted as the Medium-Term Plans (MTPs). The first MTP covered the period from 2008 to 2012, the second MTP from 2013 to 2017 and so on.

In as much as some significant progress is taking place especially in the construction of infrastructural projects, certain fundamentals have been ignored, for instance, the government hasn’t been largely committed to heavily invest in the manufacturing sector. Achieving the objectives of Vision 2030 remains a mirage considering how its implementation process is being executed.

Inconsistent & Flawed Implementation
Both internal and external forces have contributed to the failure of the holistic implementation of the policy frameworks formulated since independence. The major cause of the failure to fully implement these policy documents is the lack of a committed political leadership. The country’s political leadership has always focused on enriching itself at the expense of steering the country’s economy. Politics plays a crucial role in the implementation of the policy frameworks. All the administrations that have existed in Kenya starting from Jomo Kenyatta’s era have been rocked with massive corruption. However, Kibaki’s administration was more serious when it came to the implementation of national development blueprints compared to the others.

The urge to implement the policy proposals advocated by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund without subjecting them to scrutiny has in one way led to the flawed implementation of such policies. Normally, the policies championed by the Bretton Woods institutions are ignorant of the prevailing circumstances in the developing economies and they are formulated in accordance with the model of the economy of the United States of America. These are two different and primarily distinct economic models. The challenge is the readiness to embrace the policy proposals of the Bretton Woods institutions and disregard the locally formulated ones.

An in-built weakness could also be responsible for the flawed implementation of the policy frameworks. It is highly possible that the formulation phase is executed with so many assumptions and errors. Definitely, the problem of insufficient data comes into play causing the data collection phase to majorly rely on guesswork creating a situation that is different from the reality on the ground. This ultimately leads to a disconnect between the formulation and implementation phases of the policy frameworks.

The implementation phase of the policy process is crucial and the failure to effectively execute it will not create the desired socio-economic transformation. Politics plays a significant role in this phase hence the need to have a visionary political leadership in place. Kenya’s lack of a visionary leadership coupled with the challenges of inadequate data and the pressure from the Bretton Woods institutions have collectively hindered the country from fully implementing the various policy frameworks, some of which I have highlighted in this article. With proper implementation of the policies there is no doubt that most of the recurring problems in the country will be fully solved.

This article was first published on