The gathering political storm over calls for a referendum to fix real and imagined weaknesses in the Constitution threatens to overshadow the economic gains that Kenyans have achieved since last year’s elections.
While need to resolve the political issues bothering Kenyans, including the costly governance structures protected by the Constitution, cannot be wished away, the timing isn’t right. The economy is just recovering from the impact of last year’s elections and needs breathing space to consolidate and scale up the gains achieved.
The economic environment has improved, underpinning better prospects for the implementation of the Big Four programmes that define President Uhuru Kenyatta’s legacy. In the quarter ended June 30, the economy expanded by 6.3 per cent, compared to 4.7 per cent over the same period last year, according to Kenya National Bureau of Statistics indicators. If the trend is sustained, the growth of the national output this year is likely to be higher than the 5.5 per cent World Bank projection.
Moreover, the large-scale investment in infrastructure and social development programmes in the past decade has contributed to a significant drop in poverty levels — from 46.8 percent to 36.1 percent. Nearly 10 million Kenyans are better off than they were a decade ago.
The government’s resolve should be to deepen these gains by scaling up investments in least-cost, effective programmes that would expand opportunities for growth, reducing poverty and promoting equity in distribution of resources.
The game changers in transforming the people’s lives include scaling up investments in food and nutrition security, affordable housing and universal health coverage (UHC).
The housing programme has kicked off with projects being launched in Nairobi and other counties that have offered public land for a partnership with the government. The ambitious plan is to provide social housing schemes for Kenyans who cannot afford mortgages and low-cost mortgages with interest rates capped at 10 percent for those earning Sh15,000 to Sh50,000.
Implementation of UHC has progressed through the National Hospital Insurance Fund’s expanded coverage, both in membership and benefits. The government’s plan is to scale up the membership from 16.5 million to 25 million next year and 46 million by 2022.
The healthcare agenda also includes enabling millions of low-income households to buy 6kg gas cylinders, complete with burner and gas (first time only) at a discounted cost. This is intended to reduce diseases such as bronchitis caused by use of dirty fuels like wood and charcoal and save our forests.
FOOD & NUTRITION
For food and nutrition, Kenyans shouldn’t just rely on the weather as the key determinant of food stocks. This year, good rainfall distributed well across the country has improved the performance of agriculture and increased food stocks. Last year, the situation was dire and the government spent billions of shillings on food imports.
How to mitigate the weather variability has always been the problem. The solution is to expand irrigation, not just from large dams but through small individual and community programmes for water harvesting and collection of storm drain water during the rainy seasons.
PER CAPITA INCOME
Although Kenya is classified as water-scarce, it has enough rainfall to support its population. A 2006 joint report by the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Agroforestry Centre may be dated but its conclusions are still valid. It says Kenya receives enough rainfall to support six times its population (now about 300 million people) and Nairobi alone has enough to supply water to 6-10 million people.
The government should ring-fence the investments to ensure that the political drive does not derail Kenya’s transition from a lower- to an upper middle-income country in the next decade. Kenya needs to grow at 10 per cent for just 12 years to achieve a per capita income of $3,956, the threshold of World Bank’s classification of upper middle-income countries.
Mr Warutere is a director of Mashariki Communications Ltd. [email protected]