The core challenges for 2018 and beyond

Wednesday January 3 2018

A city resident celebrates as fireworks

A city resident celebrates as fireworks light up the sky as residents ushered in the New Year at Uhuru Park on January 1, 2018. PHOTO | KANYIRI WAHITO | NATION MEDIA GROUP  

By ROBERT SHAW
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Many Kenyans are happy to see the back of 2017. The endless politics replete with uncertainties, coupled with a lengthy drought, made it a tough and gruelling year.

With the election behind us and at least a modicum of rain, it is tempting to think this year will be kinder. In some ways, it may be — especially if we are not subjected to the level of adversary politics we had last year.

Certainly, the dawn of 2018 comes with raised expectations. But the latter is a double-edged sword: It puts pressure on meeting, or at least satisfying, those increased expectations. That gargantuan challenge requires action and walking the talk as opposed to a string of promises as issued last year.

Honing in on the country’s demographics helps to comprehend the heart of the challenge. Eighty per cent of the population is below 35. Over 800,000 jobseekers hit the road each year but less than 7 per cent find formal employment.

UNEMPLOYMENT

The informal sector will absorb many more but there is still a huge number of unemployed or under-employed youth. More than half of them are unemployed and the younger they are the greater the chance of unemployment.

Then there is the disparity of wealth factor. Around 62 per cent of the country’s wealth is controlled by 10,000 people. The top 10 per cent of households control around 40 per cent of the income; conversely the bottom tenth control less than 1 per cent.

But straddling the two is the dispossessed factor. Indeed, the younger you are, the more likely you are to be in the bottom 10 per cent.

The youth ‘quake’, disparity of wealth and dispossessed factors are not unique to Kenya. They surface around the world in countries as varied as Saudi Arabia and Iran — an interesting irony as the two are sworn enemies of each other.

One common thread is that the country is ultimately controlled by ruling oligarchies such as the House of Saud of Saudi Arabia or the Ayatollahs in Iran. These often elderly men live in a rarefied world that is out of touch with the bulging younger populations.

ELECTION

Kenya has been through an election and is, certainly, not in that league. But there are comparisons when you look at the extremes between the rulers and the subjects of that rule. 

A third factor that is prevalent both here and there is corruption. As is often the case, most people resent paying a bribe but know that they have no choice. What does this tell President Uhuru Kenyatta and his future team? He must have focused shorter- and longer-term objectives that run concurrently. In some cases, the policies will have the dual objective.

Growing the economy and increasing the space for greater creation of gainful opportunities is one. That said, it is much easier to look at the immediate and more urgent demands than focus on the longer term — and therein lies the danger.

INCENTIVE

But growing the economy must be a holistic and inclusive exercise. Of course, there must be the incentive for people to make money but it must be on a level playing field that gives equitable opportunity to all.

One of the things the next government must concentrate on is reduce the constraints to commercial and economic activity for opportunities to multiply.

It must go through the system and ease or take out the various handbrakes on letting people go about their livelihoods.

That does not mean throwing away the framework and the rules and regulations that go with it, but taking out the unnecessary impediments.

Needless to say, one of the most pervasive of the latter is corruption. The President has talked much on this, as has his outgoing government. But the facts and figures show that it is very much alive and kicking and, in some areas, increasing.  

 Mr Shaw is a public policy and economic analyst. [email protected]