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Kenya@60: A growing economy with big dreams

Nairobi Expressway. PHOTO | State House

Singapore, a tiny South East Asian country is often a point of reference for the political class in Kenya promising to make the country a first world nation when given a chance.

The comparison is mostly anchored on what could be, rather than what should be or perhaps, what must be for that matter.

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Six decades ago when Kenya officially became a republic on December 12, 1964, Singapore was still battling internal political confrontations in a bid to break away from Malaysia, also a British colony. It was not until August 9, 1965 that Singapore became an independent country.

According to data by the World Bank in 1963, the Singaporean economy was $917.6 million while that of Kenya was slightly larger at $926.6 million.

Sixty years later, Singapore with a population of 5.9 million has had one of the most productive and vibrant economies in the world with a gross domestic product (GDP) of $466.8 billion. Kenya on the other hand with a population of 53 million has grown to have a GDP of $113.4 billion.

The Asian country also dwarfs Kenya when it comes to income per capita with $82,807.6 Ksh 12.7m) compared to the east African country’s $2,099.3 (Ksh 321,193).

As Kenya marks its 60th independence, free from the British rule, one would wonder how the country which is 793 times bigger than Singapore has lagged far behind the Asian tiger in both economic and social indicators.

“At independence, Kenya and Singapore were almost at the same economic junctures. They faced similar development challenges like poor infrastructure, poor health system, poor education systems and under- developed industries. But what set Singapore apart is leadership. Similarly, what holds Kenya from its rightful growth is leadership,” says Steve Ogutu, a development communications expert.

Africanization of the economy

The Kenyan post-independence economy can be traced back to 1965 through “Sessional Paper No. 10 of 1965 on African Socialism and its Application to Planning in Kenya” which was issued by Tom Mboya, the then Minister for Economic Planning and Development who was the second minister to hold the docket after James Gichuru in post-independence Kenya.

The paper which laid the foundations which the Kenyan economy is built on covered a period between 1964 and 1970 and sought to give locals more control on the economy which had been dominated by British settlers and Asians.

“Our entire approach has been dominated by a desire to ensure Africanization of the economy and the public service. Our task remains to try and achieve these two goals without doing harm to the economy itself and within the declared aims of our society,” President Kenyatta stated in the paper.

The paper also sought to ensure the economy which was mainly centred on agriculture that produced raw materials which were exported to Europe became diverse.

“With independence, Kenya intends to mobilize its resources to attain a rapid rate of economic growth for the benefit of its people. Under colonialism the people of Kenya had no voice in government; the nation’s natural resources were organized and developed mainly for the benefit of non-Africans; and the nation’s human resources remained largely uneducated, untrained, inexperienced and unbenefited by the growth of the economy,” the paper reads.

While the economy has grown exponentially since the endorsement of the sessional paper by Parliament in 1965 and become diverse as intended, Kenya still needs to change some things according to Ogutu.

According to Ogutu, the development of a vibrant economy will mean borrowing a leaf from leadership style of Lee Kuan Yew, the late Singapore Prime Minister accredited for success of the South East Asian Country.

“He led from the front in tackling poor governance by putting to jail his ministers, allies and anyone involved in corruption. This inculcated a culture of patriotic leadership in his government. This became the backbone of Singapore’s growth,” he adds.

A regional economic giant

Though Kenya still experiences challenges, just like any other African country struggling to find its soul after years of colonization, the country has made remarkable progress when it comes to economic development.

Since 1963, the country’s economy has expanded with sectors such as art and entertainment, manufacturing, information and technology, agriculture, trade, tourism, finance, transport and construction playing a big part in job creation.

The country for instance boasts of a significantly larger population that have a form of financial access, thanks to mobile money which was introduced by Kenya’s largest mobile service provider, Safaricom in 2007.

Mobile money has been a key facilitator of trade with 38 million subscriptions. Last year alone according to data by Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), the value of money transfers was Ksh 7.9 trillion.

In a span of six decades, the country has also invested heavily in power generation that has been critical in ensuring electricity access to homes as well as running large industries.

The country has managed to generate 12,669.4 GWh of electricity as of last year with green sources such as geothermal and wind generation accounting for 5,517.5 GWh and 2,143.0 GWh, respectively. More than half of installed capacity is now green energy.

Similarly, the country has invested billions of shillings to develop new infrastructure such as roads, rail, airports and waterways in a bid to encourage domestic, regional and international trade.

The Ksh 450 billon Standard Gauge Railway running from Mombasa to Naivasha is the largest single infrastructure undertaken by the government to date.

The railway completed in 2019 has helped in faster haulage of cargo when compared to the more than a century old metre gauge railway line as well as reduced time it takes to travel between Mombasa and Nairobi to just 4 hours from 8 hours previously by road. Last year, the volume of freight transported by SGR stood at 6,090,000 tonnes while the number of passengers using SGR reached 2,392,300.

Kenya also boasts of having the best road network in the region following years of both public and private investments. Statistics by the Kenya Roads Board indicate that out of an estimated 246,757km of road network in the country, out of which 101,209km is maintainable around 18,000km is fully tarmacked.

Major achievements in the roads sector include, Thika Superhighway, Nairobi Expressway, Southern Bypass, Western Bypass, Nairobi-Isiolo-Moyale highway just to name a few.

Other infrastructural achievements including modernization of the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, development of Mombasa International Airport, Kisumu International Airport and Eldoret Airport which have also increase connectivity and boosted tourism in the country.

The country has also invested heavily in developing Mombasa Port which is the gateway to the region, Lamu Port and Kisumu Port which continue to facilitate trade locally and regionally.

Additionally, the country has shore up its food production efforts in a bid to ensure it permanently deal with the perennial challenge of food scarcity which continues to affect a significant number of the population.

According to the National Irrigations Board (NIB), the country could put an estimated 1.35 millon acres under irrigation. However, only half a million acres has been developed.

Kenya has since constructed 209 irrigations projects across the country and rehabilitated public irrigation schemes among them, Mwea, Ahero, Bura, Galana-Kulalu, Pekerra, Tana, Bunyala, West Kano and Lower Kuja which have helped put 35,326 acres under crop cultivation.

This has further been supported by construction of multi-billion shillings dams among others, Kariminu II, Thiba, Siyoi, Ruiru II and Mwache.

However, the country still struggles to expand employment opportunities. As of 2022, only 3.2 million Kenyans were in formal sector employment while majority were self employed or in informal sectors.

“Per World Bank, about 30pc of the youth in Kenya are unemployed, the largest in East Africa,” says Ogutu

“The Auditor General indicates that we lose more than a third of our annual budget to corruption. That’s over Ksh 1 trillion. How many industries would this build? How many hospitals and roads would Ksh 1 trillion establish? The point is, corruption is eating Kenya’s future. And to get us to where Singapore is, we will need patriotic leadership style inculcated in public service right from the top to the lowest rank.”

Becoming the next Singapore

The dream to see the country rise from a middle-income economy to a high-income economy seems bright for both citizens and the ruling class. This is evident by the establishment of the plans such as Vision 2030 blueprint launched in 2008 by the late President, Mwai Kibaki.

Under the economic and macro pillar, the country has identified six priority sectors which are expected to help Kenya achieve a GDP growth rate of 10pc from the current 5.5pc by 2030.

The sectors include tourism, agriculture and livestock, wholesale and retail trade, manufacturing, financial services, business process offshoring and IT-enabled services.

Ogutu says to achieve this and become the next Singapore, Kenya will need political goodwill and people-centric leadership style of the late Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

“To get us to where Singapore is, we will need patriotic leadership style inculcated in public service right from the top to the lowest rank. This change can take some time to materialize but it’s doable. Kenyans need to see politicians involved in corruption-no matter the position-face the law to the fullest without fear or favor. In my opinion, this is a critical way to establish a culture of good governance which is essential for sustainable development,” he notes.

Happy Jamhuri Day!

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