This article first appeared in my column with the Business Daily on November 27, 2016
The year is coming to an end; what have been the key economic themes that defined 2016?
The first, and most obvious was heightened political tension going into an election year. Once the budget was read mid-year, election mode kicked in fully. Sadly this means the economic realities linked to an election year started early. Elections in Kenya tend to be associated with two phenomena: instability and dampened economic growth. Politically charged rallies, demonstrations and related civil instability occurred over the course of the year, all of which negatively informed economic growth. The fact that economic performance still seems tethered to election is a reflection of the immaturity of socio-political and economic institutions in the country.
The main means through which this can be addressed is for major politicians to refrain from tribally oriented, inflammatory and irresponsible comments across the political and related tribal divide. Further, political parties should be aligned to ideology not tribe so that analysts can anticipate what type of administration the winning party would likely espouse. Sadly, this year made it clear that the tribal formula still reigns supreme with regards to political alignment and related electioneering.
Secondly, financial mismanagement was a central theme. Over the course of the year and stemming from last year, numerous, large scale cases of allegations of grand corruption in government have been highlighted in the media; and opposition has made it clear that at national level, accusing the national government of corruption will be a major election platform. However, bear in mind financial mismanagement is at both national and county level. Indeed, my experience indicates that there is gross mismanagement of funds at county level headed by individuals aligned to the ruling party as well as opposition.
However, the attention of Kenyans is fixated on national government, and although this is warranted, county governments deserve such scrutiny as well especially because there is no real pressure on the latter to be financially accountable. This is due to a number of factors; firstly the theme has been to ‘go gently’ on county governments and give them the benefit of the doubt so that devolution can take root in the country. Secondly, there are serious capacity constraints with regards to financial expertise at county level which makes embezzlement easier and tracking of financial performance more difficult. The final factor behind the lack of robust monitoring on county spending is linked to the fact that national government is not willing to highlight corruption at county level not only because it will turn attention to an issue that has bedevilled them, but also because they do not want to be seen to be speaking in a manner that can be interpreted as attempting to stifle devolution.
As we go into December and an election year, corruption is likely to gain more attention. Kenyans can expect to hear pledges at both national and county level from aspirants sharing plans on how they can finally kill the beast called corruption. Kenyans should not be distracted by such antics but rather work with local and international partners to create and strengthen institutions that monitor spending.
Finally, a key theme of the year has been the disconnect between GDP growth figures and the lived reality for Kenyans. Major factories have shut down, thousands of jobs have been lost in key sectors and Kenyans feel as though they are not reaping the fruits of economic growth. As I have stated previously this seems largely linked to the neglect of the informal economy and related micro and small enterprise where most Kenyans earn a living; this must change.
Anzetse Were is a development economist; firstname.lastname@example.org