The beginning of a new year is a good time to reflect on the major happenings and trends of the past 12 months.
Today I wanted to discuss the concept known as “State capacity”.
Francis Fukuyama — perhaps the most famous economic philosopher of our time — has in recent years lit the imagination of the world’s academic community with new insights on this concept.
Simply put, State capacity measures the ability of a political system to enforce rules, implement policies, and deliver services to the people.
It is the ability of the State to dominate and coax compliant behaviour.
Countries can be divided into high capacity states and low capacity states.
Fukuyama has argued that institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund got it wrong when they dogmatically pushed for the rolling back of the frontiers of the State and insisted that African governments reduce the size of the State.
I once read a commentary he wrote in the Guardian newspaper, which the editors aptly headlined as the Return of big government.
Fukuyama’s insights into the subject are much more profound than what I have described here.
I have merely scratched the surface of what this great thinker has written on this subject. What is the state of the State in Kenya as we go into 2016?
ETHIOPIA'S STATE CAPACITY
Mark you, within this region, Ethiopia is regarded as having high State capacity.
The government there has been rolling out big infrastructure projects in record time and at a rapid rate.
It comes as no surprise that we have contracted the Ethiopians to sell to us electricity.
Isn’t it just amazing that Ethiopian electricity, despite having to travel long distances to reach Kenya, will still be hitting our national grid at prices lower than the power we produce locally?
When a government has high State capacity, it can deliver big infrastructure projects at low cost.
You can question the democratic credentials of the ruling elite in Ethiopia.
Indeed, the government in Addis Ababa holds the world record in terms of jailing journalists. But in terms of State capacity, it is way ahead of the rest.
Rwanda, in the early years of President Paul Kagame’s administration, would also have qualified as a country with high State capacity.
Where are we in terms of experimenting with ideas that can boost State capacity?
The first thing that comes to mind is the experiment President Uhuru Kenyatta tried by introducing a Cabinet full of technocrats.
Is a Cabinet composed of an enclave of unelected technocrats parachuted into the public sector ostensibly to inject private sector discipline likely to be more efficient than one composed of politicians who are always under pressure to account to their electors?
When you look at the present Cabinet — in terms of the ability of the State to coax compliant behaviour from the public —- do you see an equivalent of John Michuki?
If you compare the capacity of the National Treasury today with the Treasury under David Mwiraria and Uhuru Kenyatta, do you see initiatives as bold as Mwiraria’s move early in that administration to reduce interest rates or when the Treasury under Kenyatta in 2004 came up with the economic stimulus package programme?
How about the capacity of the Kenya Revenue Authority?
Why do I get this feeling that the taxman demonstrated stronger capacity under Michael Waweru?
These are pertinent questions because after three years on the throne, the signals out there are that President Kenyatta’s faith in the so-called technocratic Cabinet is beginning to wane.
How else would you read the recent appointment of Mwangi Kiunjuri to replace Anne Waiguru or even more audacious, Charles Keter to replace Davis Chirchir, who has stronger academic and professional credentials?
It is politics, stupid.
Former president Daniel arap Moi also experimented with what became known as the “Dream Team”.
In terms of State capacity, Kenya is in a situation of double jeopardy.
The central government is weak. Worse, you have a county government that is even weaker.
In the New Year, we need to start an extensive, nationwide discussion about the ability of the State to implement planned projects.