Development: Why government shouldn't be all over the place

Monday March 18 2019

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A former American professional basketballer, Kobe Bryant, once said, ''I have self-doubt. I have insecurity. I have fear of failure. I have nights when I show up at the arena and I'm like, 'My back hurts, my feet hurt, my knees hurt. I don't have it. I just want to chill.' We all have self-doubt. You don't deny it, but you also don't capitulate to it. You embrace it.''

The report of the Budget Committee to Parliament expressing doubt about the Treasury’s budgetary allocations to the Big Four agenda and the acceptance of the report by Parliament was, in my view, the height of idleness in our parliamentarians’ minds and debilitating self-doubt.

Their excuse is that the country is so heavily indebted that it will spend close to 70 percent of its revenue servicing debts. To accept this narrative, we ran the risk of danger in self-doubt.
Self-doubt, defeatism, and misdiagnosing of what ails us are some of our biggest challenges. However, in my view, our development model is the problem. We have too much government involvement in our development agenda.

The role of government is to develop enabling policies and stop there. Our broken system allows the government to implement even the most mundane things. For example, the maize sub-sector did so well when there was less government involvement until the government started buying fertilizer for farmers and buying maize.

The outcome is that productivity has plummeted and the crop that is central to food security has been effectively politicised.

President Uhuru Kenyatta had prioritised food security, affordable housing, manufacturing and universal healthcare as his legacy projects. These priority areas were plucked from the Vision 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Most of these priority sectors rarely needed direct government funding. Some have been supported by donors and only requires effective policies to deliver the desired objectives.


First, let me highlight how the Uhuru legacy projects are linked to ongoing initiatives. Under the social pillar in vision 2030, we who were in government at that time envisaged to transform the following sectors: education and training, health, water & sanitation, environment, housing & urbanisation and gender, youth, sports & culture. Under the economic pillar we targeted the tourism, agriculture and livestock, wholesale & retail, trade, manufacturing, financial services, business process offshoring and IT-enabled services.

If you carefully examine the SDG goal number two (zero hunger) and pair it with goal 12, responsible consumption and production, as well as the Vision 2030 transformation agenda for agriculture, you will effectively deal with food security.

In these goals we are supposed to improve agricultural productivity in order to meet the nutritional needs of the most vulnerable and to ''urgently reduce our ecological footprint by changing the way we produce and consume goods and resources.'' These goals impact on health, another key agenda.


Transformation of agriculture was also tied to manufacturing through value addition under vision 2030 and the aspirations of SDG 9 on industry, innovation and infrastructure that seeks to promote sustainable industries, and investing in scientific research and innovation.

Here too, there is too much government involvement, with glaring conflict of interest in a sector where, essentially, private sector should drive the expansion. Instead industry players spend more time cosying with political leaders instead of addressing gaps in manufacturing through research, incubation and acceleration start-ups in the sector.

Research shows that by 2050 more than 60 percent of Africans will live in urban areas hence the reason affordable housing appears in virtually every policy proposal including SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities).

We will never achieve this goal without significantly transforming the way we build and manage our urban spaces. Further, this agenda isn’t for government to invest public resources. Once again, we require enabling policies and incentives for investors to build affordable housing.

In Nairobi, for example, it is no-brainer to use public private partnerships to start urban renewal of the aging city estates like Kariokor, Makongeni, Jericho and Mbotela that will accommodate much more people than they do now. Instead we are getting phony companies from Europe to pilfer from the public.

This is where our problems lie and it will help if members of Parliament can address real issues than trying to divert the public attention unless they are part of development conspiracies against Kenya.


Lastly, affordable healthcare coverage can be achieved. It is a product of virtually every agenda discussed above. We envisaged it in vision 2030 and SDG 3 on good health and well-being.
President Kenyatta has made it a priority agenda but we have misunderstood it to mean wanton spending of meagre resources as is happening at the National Hospital Insurance Fund. What we needed to do is first understand what the United Nations proposed, that is, the interconnectedness of health and development, including widening economic and social inequalities, rapid urbanisation, threats to the climate and the environment. All these will address healthcare and reduce spending.

In the meantime, we need to leverage technology in the form of trusted identity to track and trace medicines, curb inflation of health costs by scrupulous providers both at hospital and insurance companies.

Self-doubt is a disease that afflicts everyone. But if we understand our problems, particularly those associated with governance, we can at least avoid giving excuses to cover up for our inadequacies in public and private sector.

We have the ability to achieve our development agenda but we must seek to have less government.

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