David Ndii, the scholar and economist who designed graft index

Tuesday December 5 2017

Nasa strategist David Ndii

Nasa strategist David Ndii (entre) reacts as he leaves Milimani Law Court on December 4, 2017. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

More by this Author

Before he appeared and spoke during the launch of Mr Raila Odinga’s party manifesto, Dr David Ndii was passing off as an economist and columnist.

Few knew that he was Mr Odinga’s political strategist – a hallowed position sought by many. His recent appointment as the head of the People’s Assembly National Steering Committee confirmed that Dr Ndii was indeed in Mr Odinga’s inner circle.

As an economist, he is revered by his peers for his brilliance and has been instrumental in writing party manifestos since the advent of multi-party democracy in 1990s.

Trained in Oxford, where he was a Rhodes scholar, the economist has distinguished himself by writing stinging articles on the Uhuru Kenyatta administration. More than that, he does not suffer fools gladly.

When Mwai Kibaki’s Narc came to power in 2002, Dr Ndii was one of the economists picked to help the Ministry of Economic Planning then under Prof Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o to develop the five-year Economic Recovery Strategy for Wealth Creation and Employment (ERS).


Others in the team included Harry Mule, a retired economist who had worked with both Tom Mboya and Kibaki, and Caleb Opon, a former banker.

Although the final strategy was launched by President Kibaki in June 2003, the economic recovery was not realised as internal wrangles hit Narc. 

While Prof Nyong’o brought back Dr Ndii to do a mid-term review of ERS, together with economists Prof Terry Ryan and Mr Mule – they could not make headway as Prof Nyong’o was fired by President Kibaki after Mr Odinga led the Orange team, which was opposed to a draft of the Constitution and won the referendum of November 2005.

With the exit of Prof Nyong’o, Dr Ndii had nowhere to take his report as civil servants in the ministry were refusing to cooperate. It is not clear how much influence Dr Ndii had on the larger Vision 2030 part of which borrows from the ERS paper.


Although Dr Ndii has of late been critical of the mega-projects such as the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), his ERS paper had recommended the expansion of physical infrastructure.

When he recently criticised the building of SGR, he was taken on by former Vision 2030 director, the late Wahome Gakuru, who said: “Can Dr Ndii offer solutions to our national problems that are practical, real, and less emotional? Can he spend more time in the village instead of online and golf courses to understand real economics and avoid voodoo?”

Those who have worked with him say he is a great intellectual.


Dr John Githongo, a member of the civil society and CEO of Inuka Trust, worked alongside Dr Ndii for several years at Transparency International Kenya. He describes Dr Ndii as a brilliant and principled man.

“He is a person of tremendous intellect and moral clarity. That combination makes him very profound. He is able to reason, and to synthesize vast amounts of information,” says Dr Githongo.

He adds that when he was at the TI, “the thinking was done by Dr Ndii and without him we couldn’t have achieved much.”

Dr Ndii is credited for developing the Kenya Urban Bribery Index, a research that was carried out by TI with the economist being the lead researcher. He carried out the research in five towns: Mombasa, Kisumu, Eldoret, Nyeri and Machakos.

“Until he came along, there was a theory that it was impossible to measure corruption. Dr Ndii developed an instrument to ask Kenyans if they had ever been in a position where they were forced to pay a bribe,” Dr Githongo recalls. The ground-breaking research was replicated across East Africa.


A renowned scholar and an astute researcher, Dr Ndii, also an Eisenhower fellow, has written vastly and has been cited numerous times by fellow scholars. One of the most cited articles is “Harambee: Pooling together or pulling apart?” Published by TI and co-authored by Dr Ndii and Ms Anne Waiguru, the current Kirinyaga governor, who was by then working at TI.

Other publications by Dr Ndii include “Export Platforms in Kenya” published in 2003, which he co-authored with Graham Glenday.

He is also listed as “Faculty” in Strathmore’s Safaricom Business Journalism Fellowship. He holds a doctorate and master’s degree in economics from the University of Oxford, and another master’s degree from the University of Nairobi, where he also pursued an undergraduate degree.

The self-declared “public intellectual” Dr Ndii has quite the impressive CV. He has advised governments such as Rwanda on economics and served as a public finance expert to the Kenya Constitutional Review Committee of Experts (CoE).


When he is not penning controversial articles attacking the government, he is consulting extensively for international development institutions and once consulted for Equity Bank as chief economist.  He has also worked as an economist with the Institute of Policy Analysis.

Prof Makau Mutua, the founder of Kenya Human Rights Commission, describes Dr Ndii as a brilliant economist, a “strategic political thinking and a patriot” who cares about democracy and justice. He is seen as one of the key figures in Kenya’s second liberation and contributed significantly in drafting Kenya’s 2010 Constitution.

The economist, is an ardent user of social media, particularly Twitter where he has over 200,000 followers. His Twitter Bio reads “Economist, Public Intellectual” and he is one of the most prolific Twitter users in the Kenyan space. He tweets about his column, which often goes viral, with hundreds of retweets and replies. Many times, he will take the opportunity to “school” the seemingly ignorant critics, sometimes even recommending a list of academic journal articles to the young and aspiring economists who look up to him.


His controversy also spreads to his Twitter account, where tweets perhaps what is deemed too controversial for a newspaper column.

“Let me quote myself,” he said in one controversial tweet. “If Uhuru Kenyatta is declared winner in another sham election, this country will burn.”

Even with Nasa, Dr Ndii has been a controversial figure and before the August 8 elections, he surprised everyone when he dismissed a separate manifesto that had been uploaded on the Nasa website.

He described its creation as “a contest between good and evil, between right and wrong, within Nasa. ..That document is a bunch of people who were trying to do an implementation plan and they wanted to do specific things, all sorts of things, but it’s not the manifesto.”

His most recent article, published on 2nd December, unpacks the rise and fall of one of Africa’s oldest autocrats former president of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe. In the article, Ndii argues that “The Jubilee administration has spent the last four years burying the economy in a mountain of unproductive debt.”


From his articles, it clear what Ndii stands for; he is relentlessly against plutocracy, corruption, monopolies and aid in Africa.

One of his most memorable articles was the one dubbed “Kenya is a cruel marriage, it is time we talk divorce,” which was published in March 2016.

In the article, Ndii makes radical conclusions and calls for a cessation of the country into a “Luo Nation” and “Mt. Kenya Nation.”

Relentlessly, Dr Ndii says he fights against plutocracy, corruption, monopolies and aid in Africa.

“Frankly, he is in a class of his own. It’s evidence of the criminal nature of the Jubilee regime that a man of this calibre could be arrested for working to make Kenya a true democracy,” says Prof. Makau Mutua, another critic of the government.