Even if Uhuru Kenyatta’s government was able to miraculously achieve the objective of providing 500,000 units of affordable housing by the time he hands over to his successor in 2022, that will be not be an impressive legacy. Ditto if his government just records positive indices that speak of one million jobs being created, or that universal healthcare has been sighted, etc.
True legacy will be if he provides, in the short time left, the innovative, determined and often ruthless leadership that will set the foundation for true take-off, a take-off that guarantees that affordable housing will never again be an issue in the country long after he leaves. That universal health cover will be attained and remain sustainable, that Kenya will be an eternally food-surplus country and that our manufacturing and production base will be resilient enough to satisfy Kenya’s ever-growing demand for youth employment.
This is why the narrative about whether the Uhuru Kenyatta government will achieve his four-pillar legacy agenda must shift from focussing on the statistical objectives it seems premised on and frame the task as one of building the foundations that not only accelerate the pace towards attaining the numbers being quoted, but more importantly ensure that the success, when it comes, reproduces and amplifies to become the norm in the years to come.
Such success is going to be built on numerous inter-connected blocks. One such is to guarantee the use of as much Kenyan content as possible in the projects being rolled out. Last week for example, Interior Ministry PS Karanja Kibicho made the welcome announcement that the government had ring-fenced 78 items that it wants solely sourced from Kenya’s Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) under the Affordable Housing Programme.
The specifications and quality standards that the items must meet have been defined in an elaborately laid out manual by the National Construction Authority and covers all the stages of construction – foundation, structure or frame, walling, roofing, internal and external openings, fixtures, finishes, electrical and mechanical services, civil and external works and other facets.
But this is not the first time the government has demanded use of a certain amount of local content in projects. It has not happened despite the tremendous promise it holds. If implemented the way it is envisaged, the housing pillar alone could have a profound impact on the economy. The catalytic effect on the MSMEs that will supply the materials will be colossal. The amounts of materials required are staggering – so manufacturers fabricating the materials will benefit, the skill levels of the artisans will improve, their capacity to procure and manage productions teams must improve, etc.
Post-secondary training institutions that are supposed to produce artisans, plumbers, electricians, metal fabricators, carpenters, etc, will receive a welcome adrenaline shot as they rush to meet the demands. But they need to be ready. Even before the housing project kicks off in earnest, there are distressed industry murmurs of shortages of artisan skills.
I do not know the details of the project implementation plan but I assume that there must be a task force probably headed by the responsible Principal Secretary Charles Hinga, which in turn reports to Minister James Macharia, and he to the Cabinet Committee chaired by Minister Fred Matiang’i and ultimately to the President.
This is a typical structure that in most circumstances could suffice. But President Kenyatta is on borrowed time now. He should drive this the same way he did the SGR project and was able to reduce almost by half, the time it was scheduled to complete. It should be done the same way he is owning the rehabilitation works of the Kisumu port planned for launch in another two months.
The housing project is a complex undertaking that already has attracted controversy over funding and how beneficiaries will be determined. It will require mobilization of large sums of money, guarantees of returns to private investors that will build the houses, and an elaborate management of the many moving parts. It also has the potential to fail spectacularly if it is captured by personal, corrupt interests.
As he battles the corruption juggernaut, the President should take much greater interest in the housing project because this has the highest likelihood of giving him a foundation to actually build a lasting legacy. Legacies are appreciated over generations, not microscoped within presidential term limits.
Tom Mshindi is the former editor-in-chief of the Nation Media Group and is now consulting. [email protected], @tmshindi