TV Interview: Is President Kenyatta’s ‘Big Four’ supported by the proposed Budget?

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On February 11, 2018, I was part of a panel discussing President Kenyatta’s ‘Big Four’ Priority Agenda


Counties starting to realise their power to drive projects

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This article first appeared in my weekly column with the Business Daily on January 28, 2017

Over the last week I have been  traveling around the country and interacting with county governments  on various assignments. What has become clear is that county governments are beginning to truly appreciate the power they have to guide the direction of development in their counties. Devolution is reorganising power dynamics at county level in several ways.

The first is that devolution seems to be engendering brain gain to counties. Professionals from private sector and development agencies are now working as technical staff in counties. This is due to both push and pull factors. On one hand, county governments are seeing the wealth of expertise in their county and pulling individuals to lead various dockets in the county governments. Secondly, as professionals interact with county governments, they begin to get excited about how they could contribute to the development of the regions in which they work and push themselves into county structures. This confluence of factors is creating a situation where county need for expertise meets the willingness of professionals to work in the county, to the benefit of the county.

Council of Governors meeting. FILE PHOTO | NMG

(source: https://www.businessdailyafrica.com/image/view/-/4281906/medRes/1870589/-/maxw/960/-/usgtixz/-/GOV.jpg)

Secondly, counties have learnt from the first phase of devolution and county structures are strengthening which has implications for numerous players. The first is that stronger structures at county level means development partners must align their funding and programs with County Integrated Development Plans (CIDP). No longer are donors coming in with thematic areas and priorities with which counties must comply; it is now the other way around.  Secondly, counties are becoming increasingly aware of the power of private sector in their counties and are taking steps to make the private sector environment positive and enabling. There is a willingness in many county governments to engage with the private sector on what county governments can do to build private sector activity in their jurisdictions with a focus on job creation and income growth.

To be clear these dynamics are not unfolding evenly across counties, but this is the general direction of the momentum being generated at county level. For example, counties are not interested in coordinating numerous donor programs each with varied objectives not linked to the CIDP; that is where the momentum sits. It is clear that in this second phase of devolution, that donors and development partners have to not only align their programs with the CIDP, they must ensure that  County Governments are aware of their activities. There is a sense of autonomy emerging. Donors aren’t the all powerful entities they used to be; either they make themselves relevant or counties will eventually have no real use for them.


(source: jamhurimagazine.com/thumbnail.php?file=47_Kenya_Counties_217764471.jpg&size=article_large)

In terms of private sector, what is clear is that there is growing interest for county governments to engage with private sector. As counties open channels for communication with the private sector, there is impetus  for private sector to effectively organise itself at county level to fully leverage the attention of county government. Private sector associations must now ensure they have representation in all counties, so that they are prepared to present their ideas on how to work more effectively at county level. Gone are the days where private sector associations had a main office in Nairobi and paltry representation at county level. Private sector must be organised and effective at both national and county levels if they are to bring strategies, relevant to the local context, to the table.

Anzetse Were is a development economist; anzetsew@gmail.com

Shared economic values can heal the political divide in Kenya

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This article first appeared in my weekly column with the Business Daily on January 21, 2018

Last year’s election highlighted the deep and bitter political divide among Kenyans, divisions usually rooted in tribal identity politics. However, if one were to ask Kenyans what they want for the country, one would likely find similar answers across the political divide. We want good schools and hospitals, decent jobs, respectable roads, security, shelter, an end to corruption and freedom from hunger and poverty. And since Kenyan politics is renowned for not being rooted in ideology, it is possible that individuals from opposite sides of the political divide could have similar views on how the government can better provide services and stimulate economic development. It is only in Kenya that two people may have identical ideologies of how they want the country to run, but then vote for different candidates due to tribal identity.Image result for 47 tribes of Kenya

(source: https://hornaffairs.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Image-Kenya-ethnic-distribution-map.gif)

This conundrum is one that can be tapped into in order to unite Kenyans. The fact that Kenyans share concerns across political divides ought to be leveraged to bring the country together. Rather than focusing on the politics of identity, Kenyans ought to focus on the politics of issues such that both the ruling party and opposition engage Kenyans on how they will or would improve the socio-economic status of Kenyans. Kenyans could unite and, as a people, make the same demands regardless of which political party is in power.

Further,  the fact that Kenyans may well share ideologies on socio-economic development could be used to tackle another monster in the closet—the class divide. Just under half of Kenyans live at or below the poverty line, and the bulk of the rest live day to day or pay cheque to pay cheque. This means that there are those on opposite ends of the political divide who have similar incomes, standards of living and daily struggles. Those who would likely relate more to fellow Kenyans who face similar issues but are of a different political leaning than those of another class but with whom they are aligned tribally. It is important that Kenyans unite around addressing the class divide in Kenya rather than letting politicians use the class divide as a tribal motivator as to why Kenyans should vote for them.


(source: http://www.msafirimag.com/wp-content/uploads/Hand.png)

Finally, Kenya can use economics to unite the country; the economics that builds incomes, creates jobs and delivers high quality government services. Kenyans ought to find those with whom they share ideologies on economic development and create fora that discuss shared concerns, no matter one’s political affiliation. In using economic development as a starting point, Kenyans will find that they have more in common with their sworn political enemies than perhaps they thought.

Anzetse Were is a development economist; anzetsew@gmail.com

Factors that will inform the cost of living in 2018

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This article first appeared in my weekly column with the Business Daily on January 14, 2017

This year started with the news that price for maize flour has increased from KES 90 to KES 115 after the stock Government subsidised flour ran out. Understandably, Kenyans are complaining with many asking how they are going to manage rising costs of living, particularly in urban areas.

There are several factors informing the increase in the cost of living the first of which is that the country has not fully recovered from the 2017 drought. The short rains have not been as robust as hoped and thus food production is till sub-par. As a result, until the country fully recovers, Kenyans can expect to continue to face upward pressure on food prices.

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(source: https://www.foodbusinessafrica.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/MaizeonShelfKenya.jpg)

Linked to the point above is continued aggressive inflation. During the last four months of 2017, average inflation was between 7.98 and 8.4 percent- well above the preferred government ceiling of 7.5 percent. Thus inflation will mean money does not stretch as far as it used to, and thus Kenyans will find basic items eating into their household budgets significantly.

Third is the reality that 2017 was a tough year for the economy due to several factors, the first of which was a struggling agriculture and financial sector. Agriculture which is about 30 percent of the economy was hit by the drought and the financial sector, which is about 10 percent of the economy, was hit by the effects of the interest rate cap. Finally, the prolonged election period affected the economy and GDP growth was revised downward from 5.9 percent to an actual growth of 4.4 percent in Q3 of 2017. Elections have tended to have a negative effect on economic growth and 2017 was not an exception. Suspended investment decisions and disrupted business activity led to the reality that Kenyans did not make as much money as they would have had it not been an election year. As a result, Kenyans are feeling the pinch of muted economic growth as having less money in their hands leaving them feeling more broke than usual.


(source: https://www.bizmalawi.com/sites/default/files/images/news/inflation1.jpg)

Fourthly, as I have stated before, the interest rate cap led to a contraction in credit growth as banks became more hesitant to extend credit in the context of capped loan pricing. Sadly, credit growth may be further stymied by the onset of the new International Reporting Financial Standard 9 (IFRS 9) where banks are required to switch from an incurred to an expected loss model. Without getting into much detail, IFRS will mean that, at least in the short term, banks will be more risk averse as they reduce lending periods to high-risk borrowers to limit the probability of default. Thus Kenyans may find that it will be even harder to get access to credit due to both the cap and adoption of IFRS. This will lead to less money in the hands Kenyans which will make them to more acutely feel the cost of living.

Finally, the cost of oil is set to rise in 2018, which is not good news for Kenya which imports oils products. Increases in oil prices will likely drive inflation upward exacerbating the already high inflation status the country is in at the moment.

In short, Kenyans should brace for a high cost of living in the short term. It is hoped that a return to stability will allow the economic engine to get back to normal and create channels through which Kenyans can earn an income to adequately meet their cost of living.

Anzetse Were is a development economist; anzetsew@gmail.com

TV Interview : Cost of Living in 2018

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On January 10, 2018 I was part of a panel discussing the cost of living in Kenya in 2018


How the interest rate cap has helped banks

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This article first appeared in my weekly column with the Business Daily on December 17, 2017

The interest rate cap and the effects it has had on the financial sector, specifically banks, has been a consistent feature in discussions about business and economics in Kenya this year. The main effects of the cap have been a notable contraction in liquidity particularly to SMEs. Banks are of the view that the cap has limited their ability to build risk into loan pricing and thus prefer to lend to government and larger companies. However, there are ways through which the interest cap, perhaps inadvertently, helped banks given the turmoil it has created in the sector.

Firstly, the cap has forced the sector to become more efficient. In order to cut costs to, partly, manage the effects of the cap, banks have put in several measures such as closing branches, reducing employee numbers and leveraging automation. Technology has been aggressively brought on board via new features, such as PesaLink, that reduce the need for staff to receive and process payments. Low performing branches seem to have been shut down and over 2,000 staff have been laid off. Perhaps the cap fast-tracked these efficiency measures since it was clear that automation, for example, had been part of long term plans for the sector. That said, the cap has forced banks to become leaner and more efficient entities in order to protect profit margins.

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(source: https://securecdn.pymnts.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/mobilebankingkenya.jpg)

Secondly, the cap may well have started a conversation among bank management on their risk assessment tools. It is an open secret that banks in Kenya are risk averse and generally want security in the form of assets or a monthly pay cheque against which they issue credit. Perhaps the cap has forced banks to rethink their risk assessment tools in order to better delineate high versus low risk clients. It is time the banking sector created more sensitive tools that look beyond assets and monthly salaries to determine whether credit will be offered or not. The reality is that there are relatively high income Kenyans who would likely be safe bets but have ‘informal’ sources of income that tend to be immediately classified as high risk by banks. It is time banks sophisticated their risk assessment tools to more clearly determine to whom they should lend. Hopefully the cap catalysed a conversation in this direction.

Image result for risk assessment banking

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Finally, the cap has perhaps woken the sector up to the need to be seen as an ally of the Kenyan people. One of the factors that informed the implementation of the cap was the widespread feeling among Kenyans that banks were greedy shylocks that deliberately over-priced loans with little concern over the onerous weight such pricing placed on Kenyans. Indeed disgruntlement with the banking sector is what led to popular support for the cap in the first place. Thus, hopefully the cap has made the sector more fully appreciate the need to be an ally of the Kenyan people by pricing loans more reasonably in the future.

Anzetse Were is a development economist; anzetsew@gmail.com

Autocracy and Democracy in Africa: China’s Influence

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This article first appeared in my weekly column in the Business Daily on December 10, 2017

I’ve been thinking about China’s growing influence in Africa, and whether it is linked to growing autocracy on the continent, especially the East Africa region. However, it is not China alone that seems to be informing a move towards authoritarianism in the region. When Africa is given examples of countries that managed to catch up economically, the Asian bloc is often presented as the case study. Look at Singapore, Vietnam, China, Malaysia, Japan and South Korea, we’re told, they all managed to pull millions of out poverty and substantially improve the quality of life of their citizens in a relatively short period of time. What is not mentioned is that, for the most part, these countries were developed or are still developing under an autocratic state-led capitalism model where government drives and leads the articulation of capitalism and, to a greater or lesser extent, monitors and guides its evolution.

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(source: www4.pictures.zimbio.com/gi/Beijing+Municipal+Congress+Communist+Party+AYzoNUVRU8Al.jpg)

Africa is also not told that even Europe and North America made significant economic gains using models that were not democratic. The USA relied on the slave trade and slave labour to build wealth that was then used to drive industrialisation. Much of Europe relied not only on financial involvement in the slave trade to amass wealth, but also colonialism which played an important role in providing colonial powers with land and labour that generated immense profits that were then repatriated to European metropoles.  So some are asking: Why is Africa being told that the continent must develop under a democracy when so many others haven’t? And is this the most efficient path towards economic development?

In East Africa, we can see a move towards autocracy; indeed it can be argued that Kenya is the only viable democracy left. Ethiopia and Rwanda have made no secret of the fact that they are essentially autocratic states. Uganda has been under the hand of Museveni for well over 30 years and in Burundi President Nkurunziza seems bent on retaining control and extending his autocratic rule beyond constitutional provisions. In Tanzania, signs of autocracy are emerging given that the chief whip of the opposition party was shot, and President Magafuli shut down several newspapers.

China has been making aggressive inroads in Africa with mega project deals. FILE PHOTO | NMG

(source: http://www.businessdailyafrica.com/image/view/-/4222430/medRes/1832547/-/maxw/960/-/g7bbas/-/china.jpg)

Beyond philosophical questions as to why there seems to be growing autocracy in the region, international dynamics are also playing a role, specifically growing insularity in Europe and North America. The Trump Administration hasn’t even bothered to table a strategy for Africa and Europe seems preoccupied with Brexit, anti-immigration sentiment, and calls to use European money on Europe rather than on ‘others’. As a result, the voice from the global north that lectures Africa on the merits of democracy is receding and the power vacuum is intensifying the influence of autocratic China in Africa. Indeed, the autocracy that is emerging in Africa seems to be modelled more against the technocratic autocracies of Asia rather than the old African autocratic model exemplified by leaders such as Idi Amin, Mobutu, Mengistu and more recently, Mugabe.

It seems it is time for Africa to ask itself some tough questions: Should growing autocracy be encouraged? And if so, what will it cost Africans in terms of freedom of expression, human rights and political freedom? Or is democracy, despite all its problems, still the best way forward for the continent?

Anzetse Were is a development economist; anzetsew@gmail.com