Friday, 13 December 2013

15 Reasons why there is little glitter on Kenya's silver jubilee

President Obama said at the Nelson Mandela Memorial on Wednesday that "there are too many [people] who stand on the sidelines comfortable in complacency when [their] voices must be heard". As Kenyans, over the 5 decades of our nationhood, quite often we have succumbed to this manner of complacency, reducing ourselves to victims of mediocre leadership, bad governance and underdevelopment. As Kenya celebrates her 50th birthday, I refuse to be part of that crop of complacent citizens, always scapegoating and sugar-coating stuff when our unequivocal opinions against ineptitude need to be heard. This blog is a cynical one, negative if you elect to see it that way. It is by all means intended to make noise only about the unacceptable bad things that have gone on for too long in Kenya. They say there is nothing as stubborn as facts. So instead of arguing, I elected to use statistics to drive home my discontent with the status of affairs 50 years after independence. Here are 15 reasons why there is little to celebrate about Kenya's 50 years of self government:  

NOTE: The methodology employed in the analyses was entirely based on the famous pronouncement by Kenya's first president Jomo Kenyatta on 12 December 1963:  "The new government [would] eliminate three great scourges - poverty, ignorance and disease." Data was sourced mainly from the World Bank (World Development Indicators), IMF, Africa Economic Outlook, UNDP's - Human Development Index, the OPHI's Multidemensional Poverty Index, the Reporters Without Borders' World Press Freedom Index, and Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index. The data was used to analyse and track the trajectory of international indicators of poverty, education (ignorance) and health (disease). Comparisons were made with select countries in Africa (like Botswana, Uganda and Rwanda which were more or less at par with Kenya in 1963) and others in Asia (Singapore, South Korea and Indonesia) - mainly due to a common reference by leaders in Kenya to the Asian Tigers and their purported commitment to making Kenya a middle income economy. 

1. Half of Kenyans still poor despite independence promise 5 decades ago
Eradication of poverty was item no.1 in the independence government's to do list. The president in his inaugural speech declared poverty enemy number one to Kenya. Nonetheless, 50 years down the lane Kenya has ended up with nearly half of the population still caught up in poverty.    

In 2013, about 43.3% (15 million) were living on less than US$ 1.25 a day and about 47.8% were entangled in multiple dimensions of poverty and deprivation. What is more alarming is the fact that, poverty indicators are worse when sub national data is considered. The national figures mask marked extremities and chronicity in many counties across the country especially in rural areas. There is a cohort of individuals whom poverty eradication programmes and traditional service delivery channels are characteristically leaving behind.

2. Alarming inequality 
The '50 years of independence celebrations have been running on the slogan: 'pamoja twasonga mbele' - Swahili for 'together we forge on'. Therein is the connotation of oneness and a commonality in progress and aspirations for the future. The data however illustrates how far that is far from the reality. In Kenya today, the gap between the poor and the rich has widened to unprecedented breadths. The country has grown to have a minority proportion of population controlling the bulk of the country's wealth as the majority as struggle with access to basic day to day requirements for human survival. Some 4 million people (10% of total population) control nearly 40% (37.8%) of the country's total income leaving the other 37 million Kenyans to share the remaining 60%

Worse still, there is a cohort of 4 million other Kenyans (the poorest 10%) who share just about 2% (1.9%) of the country's total income. Isn’t it intriguing therefore to imagine how the country could possibly be moving ahead together when some Kenyans worry about hunger and very basic needs like a toilet as others whine about Wi-Fi and smart phones? 

3. Corruption continues to squander Kenya's prime years 
There is some commonality in the appreciation that Kenya has lost colossal amounts of public resources that could otherwise have been leveraged to improve service delivery and grow the economy to corruption. Throughout the 3 epochs of independence in Kenya (the Kenyatta, Moi and Kibaki regimes), corruption was alive, facilitating the plundering of public resources, the weakening of institutions and destruction of the national fabric. It is interesting to note how successive administrations nonetheless postured their commitment to fighting corruption even as the country witnessed Goldenberg, Anglo leasing, Oil, Maize scams etc.

In 2013, the Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index showed Kenya still trailing at position 136 out of 177 with 2.7 indicating a highly corrupt system. In fact, Kenya never scored more than 2.7 points since the inception of the index in 1995. This is despite investment of substantial public resources on legislation and institutions aiming to deal with corruption. Whilst the CPI is a useful indicator of corruption, the reality of corruption in Kenya is more pronounced, endemic and systemic (both grand and petty corruption). The prominence of corruption is an indictment on the moral fabric of the Kenyan nation and on the commitment and aptitude of the country's leadership. 

4. A hung, exam-centric education system
Despite receiving one of the largest outlays of public resources over the past five decades (average 18% of total government spending), education performance in Kenya has remained unsatisfactory especially in areas of access and quality. Learning outcomes have been low. For example research showed in 2012 that 7 out of 10 children in class 3 could not do class 2 work and over 10% of children in class 8 could not do simple class 2 math. The education system is largely exam-centric with little focus on creativity, innovation, critical thought and complex reasoning. The human capital the country has been churning out of the education system has not been sufficiently suited to for economic development. 

Moreover, there are still over 1 million school age children out of school (denied access to basic education).  Long term lack of access to basic education has precipitated skills deficits amongst young people. This has not only been counterproductive for economic growth, but also made the exit from poverty difficult and predisposed the country to violence. The system and its delivery channels still not reaching marginalised: there is need to address prevalent inequalities that limit the poorest and marginalised from accessing quality education.  

5. More than half of Kenyan women still giving birth in deplorable conditions 
Five decades after independence, over 50% of Kenyan women still delivering in deplorable conditions without basic medical care. In 2013 more than half of expectant women delivered without the aid of a skilled birth attendant. This was more pronounced in rural areas where women had to walk long distances to access antenatal, delivery and post-natal care. For some of them, even where it was accessible it was not affordable thus resorting to unsafe home deliveries that exacerbated maternal mortality, death of children before age 5 and growth of a population of physically and psychologically disadvantaged children due to birth complications. Surely, a sovereign state unable to guarantee safe motherhood after 5 decades has benefitted least from its freedom. Meanwhile peer countries and other states Kenya has aspired to be like perform way better even though they tax their citizens much lower than we do in Kenya. 

6. Over 73 out of every 1000 Kenyan kids did not live to see their 5th birthday in 2013
In 2013, at least 73 out of every 1000 children died before their 5th birthday in Kenya and the situation will not be any different in 2014. Meanwhile, the statistic was only about 55 in Rwanda, 31 in Indonesia, 4 in South Korea and 2 in Singapore. Incidentally, Rwanda and Indonesia had higher infant mortality rates than Kenya in 1963 and they both taxed their citizens lower than Kenya did over the same period. Clearly, we could have done a tad bit more with 50 years of self rule.

7. Over 70% of the population without access to proper sanitation 
How is it possible that a country and her leaders can find the audacity to lecture people about self determination in the international political arena when they cannot guarantee themselves basic sanitation - a dignified way to shit (as crude as it may sound? Even after 50 years of self determination, less than 30% of the population in Kenya has access to proper sanitation.

8. Minimal public expenditure on health
Despite having aimed to fight disease as one of the impediments to development at independence, the intentions seem not to have been followed through with policy commitment and resource allocation. Investments in health remained minimal in Kenya over the past 50 years. The government spent no more than 5.0% of the country's GDP on health. That is even after President Moi went to Abuja, Nigeria in 2001 and declared together with other African heads of state that Kenya will spend at least 15% of total government revenues on health. In fact, between 2002 and 2012, average government spending on health as a proportion of total government revenues was only about 4.1%. The World Health Organisation recommends that to meet the minimum requirements for basic healthcare, every government must spend at least US$44 on every citizen every year. However for Kenya, per capita public spending on health was just about US$17 in 2013. 

What it means is that the country’s healthcare system was deprived of necessary resources to expand facilities, procure medical supplies and to employ and sustain sufficient medical personnel. No wonder since 1975, the country’s doctor to patient ration remained very low - one doctor serving at least 10,000 people. Question is, how did we expect to nurture a healthy productive population then? Look yonder; since 2000 Rwanda has increased investment in health from 4.5% of GDP to over 10.8% in 2012. The returns are evident - marked decline in maternal mortality as well as infant mortality.

10. Increasing debt burden
The average Kenyan in 2013 owes way more than is justifiable. The stock of the country’s external debt increased significantly over the decades of independence. In 2013, the country owed more than US$12 billion down from less than US$2 billion in the first decade of independence. The question is: what has driven the exponential growth in the country’s debt? Was it justified? What is there to show for the increased indebtedness? For what reasons did we borrow so much? In everyday life, those who owe so much have little control over their affairs; they command little respect and predispose themselves to danger. The Kenya child born today inherits a burden of debt that has faint justification for. What is worrisome is the fact that this trend in borrowing will continue at least in the midterm.    

11. Taxing heavily, borrowing overly yet still living beyond our means
Despite heavily taxing Kenyans and borrowing a lot, the government of Kenya still operated on budgets with significant deficits over the 50 years of its independence. The country’s accounts seldom balanced. Most of these deficits were funded by increased lending (which explains the enormous external debt portfolio) and Official development Assistance which increased the country’s vulnerability to influence by donors and other development partners. This was surely antithetical to the sovereignty narrative and pointed towards low capacity and/or overwhelming resource demands. 

12. Dismally performing economy
Squandering our wealth and destiny or bankrupt of ideas? Kenya began almost at par with Botswana, and Indonesia at independence in terms of national wealth. At independence, per capita income in Kenya was US$321.8 compared to Botswana (US$ 373.3), Indonesia (US$281.0) and Rwanda (US$ 196.8). Incidentally, in 2012, Botswana was more than 11 times richer than Kenya, Indonesia more than 3 times richer and even Rwanda that started poorer than Kenya was inching closer. Economic growth has been intermittent and slow, disrupted by both internally and externally driven vulnerabilities. 

The talk of transforming Kenya into a middle income economy, transforming agriculture and industry to drive growth appears to have been no more than the rhetoric. Successive administrations articulated the prominence of agriculture – it being the 'backbone of the economy'. However, this was not followed with commensurate commitment in terms of policy, and resource allocation. The agriculture sector despite employing a large proportion of the country’s workforce and contributing substantially to the country’s GDP (average 22.7% between 2002 and 2012) remained largely underfunded, underdeveloped and inefficient. Again Kenya ratified a declaration commiting to spend at least 10% of the country's national revenue to agricuture. However, by 2012, the ountry had not only failed to beat this target but was also allocating the least ever proportion of resiurce to the sector (jus about 1.6%).  Likewise, industrial development was touted throughout the 50 years of independence as a crucial driver for economic growth. Politicians promised an industrialised economy by 2015, then shifted to 2020 (after realising the inevitability of failure).

Well facts are stubborn: Kenya is still far from an industrialised economy and the agriculture sector is still largely subsistence oriented with minimal value addition. Agriculture value added as a percentage of Kenya’s GDP declined from 35.3% in 1965 to 29.3% in 2012, in fact, save for 1976-77 (mostly attributable to the coffee boom), it never grew beyond the proportion in 1965. Likewise, industry value added as a percentage of GDP declined from 18.1% in 1965 to 17.4% in 2012 (it never went beyond 20.7% throughout our history).

13. High cost of living despite heavy taxation
Kenyans are so far among the most taxed citizens in the globe. In 2011, the tax - GDP ratio was at 19.5%. That was higher than Singapore (13.8%), Indonesia (11.8%), even South Korea (15.6%), yet the level of economic growth, infrastructure development as well as access to public goods was way higher in these countries. At nearly 20.0% of GDP, having increased the tax rate and overly broadened the tax base – the government should have been in access to domestic resources sufficient to guarantee effective service delivery and better living standards for Kenyans. 

Nonetheless, the status of public service is deplorable and the general cost of living continued to increase as evidenced by the rate of inflation. The question that begs then is what have we done with our tax money? What good do law abiding, taxpaying citizens take home besides the plethora of negatives - poor infrastructure, inept public services, high costs of consumer goods etc?  

Since independence, Kenya posed as a forward looking state seeking to embody the ideals of modern liberal democracies. A key tenet of civilised democratic societies is the openness and freedom of the press. Whilst Kenya has progressed in removing barriers to media freedom, there are outstanding issues that the country has failed to address. Legislation and regulations limiting access to information, punitive laws allowing prosecution of journalists/media houses as well as government quasi-control of the media have derailed the pursuit of free press. The Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index has ranked Kenya below the ‘satisfactory situations’ category since its inception in 2002. All the rankings have been under ‘noticeable problems’ implying that Kenya has failed to address pertinent issues crucual to realising free press. 

No comments:

Post a Comment