Kenya in 2030 – Reimagining a nation

By Parselelo Kantai in Nairobi
Posted on Wednesday, 11 December 2013 15:18

At the end of October 2006, President Mwai Kibaki launched the Kenya Vision 2030 project. It was to be the roadmap for economic transformation. Having spent the first three years of his term fixing the economy after a long era of kleptocracy and Bretton Woods-engineered austerity, the Kibaki administration felt sufficiently confident to chart the future.

Kibaki was politically isolated because his National Alliance of Rainbow Coalition partners accused him of reneging on a pre-election power-sharing deal.

Four Possible Scenarios
Will confusion and inertia thwart efforts at economic and political reform? if so, the status quo is maintained, tension heightens and Kenya fractures into ethnic districts with new systems of government within them.
Will the transformation concentrate the economy while resisting changes in the political structures? if so, rapid gains will not last long as tensions due to inequalities will emerge.
Will the transformation focus on the creation of democratic and locally accountable institutions while ignoring economic reform? if so, though responsive institutions will emerge, Kenya will not achieve substantial economic transformation.

Will a reshuffle of the institutions improve representation that reflects the diversity of Kenya’s people? Will this be accompanied by radical transformation of the economy to spur growth and improve distribution? if all the major actors engage, Kenya can achieve democracy and growth.

Read More: Kenya at 50 Special

In 2005, he had been dealt a crushing blow during a constitutional referendum. And yet he had fixed the economy. From negative growth in 2002, it was growing at 6% and reached a high of 7.1% the following year.

His opponents used the rhetoric of non-inclusiveness to negate any real political advantage he could gain from his economic successes. As such, at its first launch in 2006, Vision 2030 was seen as little more than a state-sanctioned campaign manifesto.

Just 15 months after the first launch of Vision 2030, the document lay in tatters in the wake of the bitterly disputed 2007 presidential elections and the violence that followed. It is almost uncanny that this state of affairs had been predicted almost a decade earlier.

In 1999, the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Society for International Development organised a series of workshops called the Kenya Scenarios Project that involved a mixed group of policymakers, academics, professionals and activists.

With the economy stagnating and the establishment under President Daniel Arap Moi refusing to budge on the business of political and constitutional reforms, there was a widespread feeling that Kenya had “reached the limits of its chosen political and economic models”, according to the two thinktanks.

They produced four scenarios. The one that spoke so uncomfortably about the Kibaki moment was named ‘Maendeleo’ – development. It suggested economic transformation engineered without political inclusiveness, “resulting in inequalities and instability”.

The Maendeleo scenario may have anticipated the immediate post-Moi future, but it also loudly echoed the central issues of the immediate post-independence era.

A blueprint for exclusion

Independent Kenya’s holy grail of economic planning – Sessional Paper No. 10 of 1965: ‘African Socialism and its Application to Planning in Kenya’ – is ostensibly a negotiated settlement between the two opposing ideological schools.

But, as former prime minister Raila Odinga points out, it was fundamentally a blueprint for the economic exclusion of large segments of the country and the populace.

In response to demands from the left for a politics of redistribution, politician Tom Mboya famously remarked: “You can’t redistribute nothing.” Kenya’s economic history has been defined by this debate.

Invariably, it is the pro-growth proponents that have won out. This has nourished the bitter politics that has defined the country to this day and is rooted in the land question.

The failure of the post-independence government to initiate an inclusive land redistribution project was not merely one of agrarian reform. Land was also the vehicle that the new elites used to capitalise themselves.

In economic terms, the immediate result of the skewed redistribution of settler lands was a spike in agricultural productivity.

With the country’s economy based on agriculture, the resultant expansion, mostly through small-holder production, served as a screen to mask rising levels of group inequality and regional exclusion.

It was the suppressed politics of exclusion that would explode violently in 2007 and, among other things, delay the journey toward Vision 2030.

‘Visions’ for everyone

In the scenarios publication, ‘Kenya at the Crossroads,’ the question of how to chart a transformative way forward to avert the El Niño scenario – economic stagnation and violent political conflict – was everywhere apparent. Can Vision 2030 do the same?

Seeking to catapult Kenya into middle-income status within a generation, the roadmap proceeds on three fronts: economic growth – the ambition is to achieve 10% growth annually from 2012; social transformation – through the efficient delivery of and equitable access to social services; and political – deepening democratic reforms and strengthening governance systems.

More than seven years after the Vision 2030 launch, Chinese-financed projects are responsible for Kenya’s infrastructure take-off.

Flagship projects include roads, railway modernisation and expansion, pipelines, ports and resort cities along the planned northern infrastructure corridor.

Across the region, ‘Vision’ projects proliferate. Almost every country in East Africa has now generated one, courtesy of the McKinsey Global Institute, to whom African governments have outsourced the task of dreaming about the future.

They do, however, symbolise a renewed sense of confidence.

Deficit spending is the order of the day. Predicated on the anticipation of a mineral resource bonanza and the availability of inexpensive international loans, regional governments, Kenya’s included, are taking advantage of the optimism around Africa’s future to trans- form their economies.

Will there be a price to pay? In Kenya, the government is enthusiastic about middle-class consumerism. In contrast, China – after the three decades in which it focused on manufacturing – is only now starting to move towards a consumer-driven economy.

In the medium term, it remains unclear how the International Criminal Court cases will define the future. The government’s stance could well turn into full-blown non-cooperation.

If economic sanctions – the consequence of non-cooperation – were on the cards during the 2013 election campaign, the embrace of China was a deliberate strategy to mitigate those effects.

“We are in the Katiba scenario,” notes Betty Maina, chief executive of the Kenya Association of Manufacturers. A decade ago, while running the Institute of Economic Affairs, she convened the Kenya Scenarios Project.

Lately, she has become increasingly sceptical of the goals of Vision 2030. “Vision 2030 anticipates rapid growth and participatory politics,” says Maina.

“The reality on the ground is somewhat different. The fundamental problem in Kenya today has always been this lack of inclusive growth. Focusing on high-value tourism, agribusiness investment and ICT [information and communication technology] expansion – all of which are supported by rapid infrastructure growth – runs against the very inclusivity you are trying to introduce. This is because it leaves out the one component at the centre of it all – cheap mass labour.”

Despite the current teething problems of devolved government, it is quite possible that the regions will resolve the debate about growth and redistribution.

Infrastructure expansion has the capacity to transform previously marginalised regions in a manner unprecedented since the coming of the railway a century ago.

Mineral and other resources in northern counties, on the coast and elsewhere could change the economic fortunes of both the counties and the country – but only if there is a commitment at the centre to see the nation beyond the prism of ethnic domination.

“We’ll just be taking off in 2030,” predicts Maina. “But the next five years are critical. I just hope we get tired of fighting and disagreeing.” ●

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