When Josiah Mwangi Kariuki referred to Kenya as a nation of 10 millionaires and 10 million beggars, most people marveled at how someone could capture the problems bedeviling a country in one statement. What is even more surprising is how 41 years later, our economy’s performance and the relationship to the people (in terms of direct benefits) confirm, repeatedly, the genius that statement was.
When news hit the country that we had gone a notch higher from importing toothpicks and sugar (among other things that are easily produced in the country) to importing fish in Kisumu, despite Lake Victoria, there was a momentary dramatic uproar. Isn’t it surprising how leaders from these regions are now shouting in front of cameras like they have no idea what goes on in their own backyard? But I digress.
The 2016 economic survey published by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) paints an interesting picture of the international trade in light of these revelations. Firstly while it was good that exports increased by over 8% and imports declined by over 2% in 2015 compared to 2014 and thereby improving balance of trade. However, it is rather surprising that despite Europe being our biggest export market after Africa, accounting for over 25% of total exports, Asia on the other hand was our biggest import destination accounting for over 60% of total value of imports in the country.
This begs the question why Asia when we don’t seem to have a good bargain in terms of balance of trade? What is that we badly need from Asia that we can’t get in Europe that already is a good destination for our exports? Lest one thinks this is a mere witch-hunt against Asia, or China for that matter, it would be wise to interpret the data in light of JM Kariuki’s statement. Who stands to benefit? Who becomes a millionaire? Is it ten individuals in a population of 44million or the rest? Again, I digress.
On matters governance, the survey shows that governance, justice law and order registered improved performance in service delivery. The yardsticks here, especially with regard to law and order was the bolstering of Kenya Police by commissioning of the national surveillance, communication control system in Nairobi and Mombasa, procurement of armored police vehicles and recruitment of more officers. This is despite numerous extra judicial killings, the corruption cases that haven’t been closed due to police incompetence or bribery and many other ills that affect governance, law and order during the period under review. Perhaps, KNBS should also consider human rights as a factor when giving a score card on governance or law and order.
Interestingly, the same survey shows that while the number of crimes reported increased by over 4%, the number of individuals reported to have committed crimes decreased by over 8%. What does that say about trust between citizens and the Police? One could interpret that those reported find their way out and come for the whistle blower hence the reduced number of individuals reported, which further cements the argument about the need for human rights to be used as an indicator of good service delivery.
Also worth noting is that despite a decline in prison population by over 10% cases handled by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) increased by 4,013 in 2014 to 5551 in 2015.
Aside from the international trade and governance, the 2016 economic survey has a rather optimistic outlook for the year. For instance, number of schools in the country increased by over 4% and improvement was at all stages: Pre-primary, primary, secondary, Technical and Vocational Institutions (TIVET) and Universities. Nonetheless, the issue of quality remains a tussle, especially because enrollment exceeds the facilities in place.
Consequently, we had more children born in hospitals in 2015 compared to 2014 which indicates that health services are probably reaching remote areas of the country. However, the twist to this data is that, number of registered births declined by over 63%. Meanwhile total death registrations declined as well.
More interesting perhaps is the fact that while NHIF membership increased by over 17% media reports indicate more people are paying for their medical fees from their pockets. This could mean the increase in membership is more out of a requirement by employers rather than effectiveness of the service as should be the case.
What the 2016 economic survey shows at a glance is that Kenya is very capable of leading not only the region but Africa, especially because of the potential in several sectors like Agriculture, Energy, Mining, Horticulture, just to mention a few. Nevertheless, the country cannot achieve the desired status with selfish leaders who are bent on making Kenya a country of ten millionaires and ten million beggars. Food for thought for our members of Parliament would be to consider revising laws around our international trade. That is where the selfish leaders undermine the country’s potential the most.