How to develop rural Kenya and take advantage of the season of promises
By listening to the political discourse in my corner of the country as well as at the national level, and considering the prevalent ideas on how to develop Laikipia and rural Kenya, I can distill a frame of reference. But first a warning. These are not documented theories. What follows is rather my own interpretation of what the politicians are saying.
I will call these frameworks of reference theories, and I will name them the theory of dominant heights, education and empowerment, support for MSMEs, urbanization, irrigated agriculture, economic blocks and the development of corridors , and finally, politicians as a theory of bosses.
Command heights theory was, in undergraduate economics, sometimes associated with Mwalimu Julius Nyerere. The theory holds that government can transform a rural economy by controlling the commanding heights of that economy.
Politicians who promise special economic zones seem to use this theory. So do those offering selected investments in what should be transformative businesses. It encounters difficulties in practice because most governments are not good at business. A now discredited strategy for overcoming this shortcoming was to find management and technical partners who could then run the enterprises the government established with them.
Pan African Paper Mills in Webuye is a classic example of what could go wrong. Management made heaps of money for three decades and then just walked away. They left behind an aging factory, millions of dollars in debt and a population angry at the loss of jobs.
The theory of higher education as a driver of social mobility is based on the idea that society reaches a critical mass of the middle class, in order to provide a sufficient market for the emergence of manufacturing industries. It is based on the idea that education is the main driver of social mobility and that almost everyone who has reached higher education belongs to the middle class.
This was the idea behind President Mwai Kibaki’s expansion of university education and President Uhuru Kenyatta’s massive expansion of colleges of higher learning, especially technical training institutes.
Like any policy, it suffered some setbacks. Technical and vocational education and training (TVET) institutions have not acquired legitimacy and suffer from a poor image associated with technical education. With few exceptions, such as Dedan Kimathi University of Technology, higher education institutions have been unable to engage meaningfully with counties and industry.
We Kenyans like to lament that we were left behind by South Korea and Singapore when we were at the same level of development in the 1960s. One of the reasons we are lagging behind is the graduate level. In South Korea, 70% of the population has a post-secondary education. In comparison, we are at 10.6% in our beloved republic!
A closely related theory is that of human empowerment and the defeat of negative feeling. This is one of my favorite theories and holds that individuals, once freed from negative feelings, will generally transform their lives on their own. The aim of the policy is therefore to free individuals from this negative feeling and to provide an enabling environment. In Laikipia, for example, we place great emphasis on small business training. Another favorite of mine is the massive support for small and small-scale manufacturing. This theory holds that no country on earth has become wealthy without manufacturing. The government’s objective is therefore to provide massive support to micro and small manufacturing enterprises, including protection against industries from other countries.
This theory rejects Ricardian ideas of free trade, claiming that rich countries grew rich by protecting their own manufacturing. He calls for the reversal of the Washington Consensus and acknowledges that free markets are rare.
Indeed, if you are not careful, and you have free trade between a manufacturing country and other producers of raw materials, the latter will specialize in being poor!
In pursuit of this policy, we at Laikipia support over 1,600 micro and small manufacturing and processing enterprises with business development services.
On the finance side, we have organized a market-based recovery program that provides 4 billion shillings in local purchase order (LPO) financing, bill discounting and working capital. These efforts resulted in doubling the business register to 25,000 MSMEs and 19,000 new jobs. The theory of organized urbanization and smart cities argues that investments in infrastructure in small commercial centers and cities can be the basis for increased commercial activity, including the manufacturing and processing of agricultural products. This strategy has been adopted by Laikipia County and Italy with some success.
Such transformation is underway in Oljabet, Kinamba, Sipili and Rumuruti in Laikipia. The early success prompted my government to seek approval from the National Treasury and the Intergovernmental Economic and Fiscal Council (IBEC) to issue a 1 billion shillings infrastructure bond, so that we could improve 10 more cities. Some opponents of this strategy say we should just focus on agriculture and improve big cities.
Water for production and diversified agriculture: A not so recent idea is to provide water for production, to drive irrigated agriculture. This strategy prevailed in Kibaki II, leading to an increased allocation of resources to build dams and water basins.
It was initially hampered by supply issues and a lack of clarity on management and sustainability. Will farms pay for water? At what price? Who will provide agronomic skills to farmers? Who will manage the technical or physical aspect of the irrigation system?
Economic blocks and corridor development: A recent view of economic transformation is based on economic blocks. However, it is still early to determine if the blocks will result in any transformation. Additionally, they are hampered by rigidities such as dual licensing as cross-county small businesses.
It was this thinking that led to the development of the Lapsset Corridor by the Kibaki and Uhuru administrations. Early signs are promising with Lamu Port now open for business and hinterland routes slowly but surely taking shape. Theory of politicians as patrons of development. But by far the most widespread theory of the maedeleo is that of the politician as patron. Most political actors and commentators look to some outside force, person or agency to develop our country.
They therefore speak in terms of strong representation to that force, person or entity – nitawatetea! The discourse is often stated in terms of help. Tusaidie.
Whenever we engage with someone perceived as eminent, it’s language. Unfortunately, the people we implore to help or help us may not have the capacity to do so. And even when they can make a decision, the implementation will take time and may not depend on them. Take for example the construction of a road. It’s a long process that starts with the design. The design determines the estimated cost, which must then be budgeted – all before a contract is announced, a contractor is selected and work begins. Therefore, the individual political leader – say an MP or a Senator – even if he can persuade the roads agency to prioritize a particular road, may not “deliver” instantly.
So beware of this season of promises. Many politicians make their promises as if they were going to use their own personal resources! Nitawajengea barabara.
A more accurate way to put it is that I will use your tax dollars to build this road. And besides, it’s up to you, the citizen, to help with prioritization by being part of the public participation in the county’s annual development plan and fiscal strategy document!