As Kenya heads into elections on March 4, 3012, we outline challenges facing the nation that should be addressed.
Issue 1: Job creation
Only 40 per cent of high school leavers are expected to join private or public universities and colleges. The rest join the estimated 1.2 million young people between the ages of 20 to 24 currently looking for work.
Unemployment is highest in this age group, which at 32 per cent, is more than twice the national rate of 12.7 per cent. And though the informal sector currently accounts for 80 per cent of total employment in Kenya, the quality of jobs generated by this sector is poor.
Issue 2: Food security
Every time Kenya suffers droughts, which are becoming more frequent, at least 2 million people face starvation, and at least $1.5 billion is spent getting food aid to vulnerable people.
The proportion of undernourished people in Kenya has remained virtually stagnated since 1990 at 32%, though in absolute numbers the figure has grown from 8 million to 11.2 million.
Kenya needs to effect a solid strategy to ensure her people have enough food, not ‘‘knee-jerk’’ reactions as has been the case.
Issue 3: Health care
Kenya is one of eight countries in Africa that have made no progress in reducing maternal deaths since 1990.
The MDG target is 200 deaths per 100,000, but Kenya is at 488 deaths. Poor remuneration of doctors and lack of facilities means that 80 per cent of doctors leave the public service, leaving only 1 doctor per 10,000 people, against a global average of 14 per 10,000.
With virtually no healthcare insurance to speak of, getting sick is a luxury few can afford.
Issue 4: Education
Free primary education has increased enrolment from 6 million in 2002 to 9.3 million in 2010. But transition rates into high school are still low at about 60 per cent.
The quality of education has also come under question—nearly 10 per cent of Kenyan standard 8’s cannot do a long division math problem expected of a seven-year old in standard 2.
The greater question is if the country is producing the kind of human capital it needs to transition into a middle-income country by 2030.
Issue 5: Energy
Only about half of urban dwellers and a mere 5 per cent of rural households are connected to the grid. The country experiences an average of seven blackouts a month.
In order to transform Kenya into a middle level economy, the country’s power demand needs to increase to 16,000MW up from 1,200MW.
A number of clean geothermal and wind energy deals have been signed over the last few years but how soon can they actually be operational?
Issue 6: Water and Environment
Kenya is the most water-scarce country in East Africa: each Kenyan only has 636 m3 of water a year. Hydrologists consider 2,000 m3 per person per year as the point when a country is considered “water-stressed”.
Nairobi water demand stands at 750,000 m3 a day against a supply capacity of 530,000 m3. It is projected that the daily demand in 2030 will stand at 2.2 million m3.
Conserving the country’s water towers and increasing forest cover from the current 3 to 10 pc should be a priority.
Issue 7: Social protection
The number of Aids orphans in Kenya is currently estimated at 2.5 million. Although cash transfers reached 250,000 people in 90,000 households in 2010, 90 per cent of these orphans are still without any official support.
Healthcare is one of the biggest drains of household expenditure. In Kenya, 77.2 per cent of private health expenditure comes from the pockets of patients against a global average of 44 per cent.
Issue 8: Public infrastructure
The port of Mombasa is a huge bottleneck for business. Volume at the port has been growing by more than 10 per cent annually, but port’s efficiency is around half of those in West Africa and a fraction of a modern port in Europe or the Far East.
Rail transport carried around 80 per cent of goods transport transiting Mombasa in the early 70s. By the 80s, this had dropped to 15 per cent, and today, only an average of 5-7 per cent of Mombasa’s freight moves on rail.
Issue 9: National Security and Foreign Policy
Kenya’s foray into Somalia is costing the country Sh200 million a month. But expenses aside, this intervention has seen Al Qaeda and Al Shabaab vowing to wage an all-out war in Kenya.
This puts the country in a vulnerable position. Studies show 40 per cent of youth in Kenya reportedly joined rebel groups for lack of jobs. How will the government stem the tide of youths joining these groups?
How can Kenya gain more clout in world affairs as a rising African power?
Issue 10: Boosting exports
The current account deficit now stands above 10 per cent of GDP. Kenya’s four main export earners —tea, tourism, coffee and horticulture—do not even earn enough to pay for its oil imports, not to mention other imports.
In 2000, manufacturing was Kenya’s second largest economic sector after agriculture. By 2009, manufacturing slipped to fourth place. It only accounted for 271,300 jobs in 2010, a mere 0.7 per cent gain from the previous year.
Issue 11: Devolution and Public Service Reform
Devolution is a central promise of Kenya’s new Constitution. The hope is that Kenya will become a more equal and economically balanced country, but making that hope a reality will take time, particularly given the current economic uncertainty. The immediate priority is to preserve the existing service delivery.
Issue 12: Ethnicity
Negative ethnicity is one of the leading hurdles to more rapid development in Kenya. Indeed, the Kenya Vision 2030 aspirations cannot be achieved before this dragon is slain and buried.
Kenya needs to upgrade the fight against tribalism to the top of its national priorities and to sustain it there until the dragon is no more.