It’s hope born out of despair as Kenya opens a new chapter

Wednesday March 13 2013


Robert F Kennedy once said: “...the future is not a gift: it is an achievement. Every generation helps make its own future. This is the essential challenge of the present.”

This future, Eleanor Roosevelt said, “...belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

Further, an African Proverb goes: “...tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.”

The year 2013 is Kenya’s year of Jubilee. Kenya will be 50 years old as a nation. That will be older than many Kenyans are or hope to be. It is a year of great significance.

On Monday, March 4, 2013, Kenyan’s patiently and in an exemplary fashion carried out their solemn duty and elected the men and women who will serve for the next five years as the people’s representatives, at all levels.

As this electoral process nears conclusion, the major structural changes in government and governance across the country are crystallising. With this effort, Kenya will be implementing a most ambitious social re-engineering programme. We, as a people, are on a journey that will either unite or divide us for a long time to come.

It is an ambitious project of rebuilding the Kenyan nation, a united nation. The air is pregnant with possibility beyond our wildest imagination. But it is also fraught with dangers that could render Kenya unenviable as we know it. As we internalise the heady and momentous changes being wrought right in front of our eyes, every Kenyan must ask what future they wish to bestow to their children.

As a country we face a number of challenges. We have a high and rising population growth rate at 2.7 per cent per annum, accompanied by an on-going demographic shift: a youthful, relatively skilled and urbanising population that is underemployed and unemployed.

The youth, age 15-24, comprise 43 per cent of Kenya’s population, with a 24 per cent open unemployment rate. The population 34 years and below comprises 78.8 per cent.

The economy, growing at 4.4 per cent in 2011 and expanding by 4.7 per cent in the third quarter of 2012, is performing below the Kenya Vision 2030 targets of an average of 10 per cent.

According to the Health Sector Working Group, Kenya’s disease burden remains high, with 80 per cent of Kenyans vulnerable to malaria infections, with an in-patient morbidity rate of 16 per cent. We remain a water scarce nation, with 647 m3 per person per year compared to the benchmark 1,000m3 per person per year.

This has significant implications for the economy, food and nutrition, security and general social order. Notwithstanding these challenges, there are bright spots that we can and must leverage.

The emerging natural resource boom, comprising oil, gold, coal, rare earth metals and iron ore to name a few, if well managed, is key to Kenya’s rapid and sustained economic take off.

The peace dividend sweeping the region provides opportunities beyond measure for creation of long term wealth, for the region and for us. Our place as innovators per excellence has been established by the mobile money phenomenon that is M-PESA. We are the global leaders and this is not a crown to be worn lightly.

Realisation of the technopolis that is Konza City, the Silicon Savannah, will set us apart and establish us as primus inter pares in the region and continent. And who knows, globally.

The challenges and opportunities we must deal with are set against a backdrop of global and domestic issues, including the global financial crisis, euro-zone crisis, aftershocks of the 2007 post-election violence and the threat of terrorism.

Successful conclusion of the electoral process represents the second door we must successfully close, if we are to deal with our challenges and leverage the opportunities for our long term benefit. The first was promulgation of the Constitution of Kenya 2010.

Now, we will need to focus on growing the economy, climate change adaptation, food and nutrition security, inequality and poverty, jobs and rebuild trust in public institutions, as well as harnessing devolution and urbanisation.

We must address all forms of exclusion. Our infrastructure, though fairly developed, is still a major constraint for Kenya’s growth and the fortunes of its neighbours.

This situation must be addressed by building infrastructure to support cost effective delivery of basic services as well as support meaningful regional integration.

Kenya’s domestic prospects are linked to its ability to work well with the region and the continent. This requires that we pursue effective regional integration and strengthen Kenya’s leadership role within the region.

Kenya must effectively engage in regional peace and counter terrorism initiatives, especially considering that the emerging peace dividend in the region is still tenuous.

As globalisation and regionalisation take root, it is necessary for Kenya to strengthen its ability to engage.

The Kenya Scenarios Project identified four futures of development for us, namely El-Nino, Maendeleo, Katiba and the Flying Geese.

Under El-Nino we descended into chaos and there was a collapse of social order. Maendeleo saw us focused on development only and nothing else mattered.

On the other hand, the Katiba scenario saw political freedoms being exercised in economically strained times. The Flying Geese scenario combined political reform coupled with economic growth.

These scenarios, which we have fairly ignored, are not about predicting the future but rather they should help us to understand the trending of events that will impact our welfare.

A review of Kenya’s performance, so far, shows elements of the first three scenarios and probably describes our below-expected-performance from independence to date.

In my considered view, Kenya Vision 2030 is the country’s articulation of the Flying Geese Scenario. Implementation of the Constitution of Kenya in 2010 is our initial down payment for realisation of the Kenya Vision 2030.

So, what trends will affect our future and how do we use or deal with them to ensure our overall prosperity?

It is important to understand how, the demographic changes, the diffusion of power brought about by implementation of the Constitution of Kenya 2010, and the growing nexus between energy, water, land and food, will impact the country.

How will they affect the future we want and who should we be partnering with to enable us to manage our development? What should our development policy be? What should we manage, grow or ignore? Is our current growth path acceptable?

Are our development policies dependent on decisions or actions from sources far beyond our control? What then must we do? How do we want Kenya to look like 50 years from now? What must we do to achieve that future? There should be no doubt that the choices we make now will define the options and possibilities we can leverage tomorrow.

As the judicial arm of government executes its mandate, whatever our differences, we still will and must remain as Kenyans.

To do otherwise would be an unforgivable betrayal of those who sacrificed in the past and of the trust of those for whom we strive to build for tomorrow.

Dr Aligula is the programmes coordinator at KIPPRA