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Development - Is it possible to collectively determine our future?

Monday February 25 2019

By BITANGE NDEMO
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Some unknown person said, ''The past cannot be changed. The future is yet in your power.''

This maxim is true, but only if you plan that future.

While I understand that at the individual level there is flexibility in driving your future, increasingly I have discovered that it is almost impossible to have a collective determination of the future. Yet, our future success is dictated by how best we execute projects that facilitate our collective success, which we often refer to as development.

However, there are always competing interests, biases and affiliations that distort even the most sensible direction of the future.

My motive in writing this essay, therefore, is to possibly understand how we can galvanise our communities, societies and the country towards a collective determination of our future.

Building a common ground for our future prosperity is not an irrational thought but an imperative we need in determining the future.

I will use three sectors to illustrate how frustrating it is to achieve a collective understanding of that which promises a better future and the increasing contradictions that undermine progress, usually from people who should know better.

ICT

First, I take a look at the Information and communications Technology (ICT) sector. A recent study by the World Economic Forum indicates that an increase in the digitisation of a country by 10 percent would lead to a 0.75 percent increase in GDP per capita, and a 1.02 percent drop in the unemployment rate.

While this sounds like something everybody would want for a prosperous future, it has come to my attention that several county executives play games with respect to the deployment of ICT infrastructure, demanding exorbitant fees from providers.
Whereas the providers need revenue from the investment and can pay, the burden on the consumer becomes heavy as that cost is to be eventually be recovered from consumers.

Alternatively, the counties could change their revenue models by recovering fees from, for example, advertisers or spread that fee over the years by enabling counties to grow their GDP and create employment.

In my view, such obstinate behaviour emanates from our failure to think about the future and what our role is in shaping it. Majority of public officials see themselves as gate keepers of their respective portfolios. Perhaps we need a scoring mechanism to rate their capacity to make decisions that impact community.

The annual performance contracting plays no role in impacting the behaviour of public officials since there is no punishment for poor performance.

AGRICULTURE

Second, is the future of food and agriculture sector that is perhaps of key concern for any country. In Kenya, food security is among the Big Four legacy agenda for President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Unfortunately, there is no coherent plan to address future sustainability of food. This is happening even as global agencies like the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) are sounding warnings.

In The Future of Food and Agriculture: Trends and Challenges, a report published in 2017, FAO has come up with 10 key challenges that need to be addressed if we are to succeed in eradicating hunger and poverty, while making agriculture and food systems sustainable.

Those challenges include the uneven demographic expansion that will take place in the coming decades, the threats posed by climate change, the intensification of natural disasters and upsurges in transboundary pests and diseases, and the need to adjust to major changes taking place in global food systems.

EDUCATION

Third, is the education and the future of learning sector that is perhaps most important in preparing human resource capacity for the future. Despite the fact that the entire world is pre-occupied with how to cope with the imminent changes, our institutions of higher learning are churning out courses that are outdated and completely making graduates unemployable.

The regulator too criticises without concrete steps of making these institutions prepare students for the future of work as well as adapt to the future of learning. Here too, we need the elusive collective wisdom.
In my view, we cannot have control of the future if we fail to control the processes leading up to the future.

Individual decisions by persons may not always form what we collectively want. We also make assumptions that people generally plan their futures but we all know that isn’t true.

RATIONAL APPROACH

The cultural belief in fate turns many of our lives into a random exercise. Random development for sure will confine us into poverty for year to come. In my view, we need a rational approach to our future.

Cultural belief systems are shaped by ideology, something that has become elusive among the political class. By any measure, our politicians are tied to ethnic dogmatism at the expense of wider national interests.

However, we need them to develop policies to cab rampant population growth, to protect the environment and minimise climate change as well as the reduce disasters.

Our future is dependent on the collective consensus we build to tackle pressing problems within the country. We must convince one person at a time and hopefully we can grow the spirit into a national ideology.
That is what it means by taking control of our future and ensuring sustainable development.

The writer is an associate professor at University of Nairobi’s School of Business.@bantigito