How to develop light manufacturing in Kenya

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This article first appeared in my weekly column with the Business Daily on June 11, 2017

Last week I attended a meeting organised by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), the Africa Centre for Economic Transformation (ACET) and the Government of Ethiopia aimed at analysing and sharing lessons on the development of light manufacturing in Africa.

The development of light manufacturing is an important part of Kenya’s plan for industrialisation as articulated in the Kenya Industrial Transformation Programme (KITP) developed by the Ministry of Industry. The Special Advisor to the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Arkebe Oqubay, made some interesting points about key features of light manufacturing of which countries should be cognisant as they implement industrialisation plans.

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The first is no secret; light manufacturing is labour intensive. This feature makes light manufacturing attractive for African countries as an entry point into industrialisation as it has the ability to absorb large pools of labour. While this is attractive, it seems to me that it can create considerable pressure to rapidly skill up a relatively low skilled labour pool. Human and technical resources have to directed to a young and inexperienced labour pool in order to develop a sector with high labour productivity and high profit-making potential. Clearly it can be done, but has to be well thought out with clear links to education policy.

The second point made was that countries cannot implement a light manufacturing strategy without addressing issues in agriculture. Whether it is textiles and apparel, leather and leather products, or food and beverages (F&B) manufacturing, agricultural inputs are crucial. In this sense Kenya faces a conundrum because certain segments of the agricultural sector such as tea, horticulture and floriculture are highly productive, but the rest of the sector wallows in poor productivity and considerable inefficiencies. It is no secret that textile and apparel firms in the EPZs in Kenya import their fabric from abroad, a factor that dampens the ability of this value chain to be an even bigger employer and income earner for Kenyans. The leather value chain in the country is also sub-par and the production capacity for domestic agricultural input into F&B manufacturing is lacklustre. What is clear is that Kenya cannot make serious forays into light manufacturing until the issues in the agricultural sector and value chains are fundamentally addressed.

The final point Oqubay made was that the sector should be export-oriented if scale is to be achieved in a manner that restructures the economy. Insights from ODI on this issue point to the importance of conducive trade rules and trade facilitation measures that lower trade costs both in terms of accessing inputs and export markets. If manufacturers cannot get the inputs they require and reach target export markets, the sector cannot effectively scale.

Other factors important in industrial policy, as pointed out by ODI, is collaboration and coordination between public and private sector in a manner that creates consensus on the strategic direction of the sector and country at large. When coupled with effective investment facilitation, SEZ creation/industry cluster development, and infrastructure development, it creates an environment where light industry can take off.

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Kenya can build on the successes being registered in infrastructure development and expedite the creation of SEZs, learning from countries like Ethiopia. However, the country needs a sharper focus on improving agricultural productivity, a more coherent skills development strategy, vastly improve investment facilitation and more effectively encourage public-private dialogue on the development of light manufacturing in the country.

Anzetse Were is a development economist;


How fiscal policy can attract the right type of investment for Africa

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This article first appeared in my column with the Business Daily on March 30, 2017

Someone once told me that there are three types of foreign investors in Africa. The first are those who invest in the country in order exploit raw natural resources and direct them to their projects outside the country. The second are those who invest in countries in order to flood the country’s markets with their products. The third are investors who invest in the country for the long-term in a manner that creates employment, builds incomes, contributes to GDP growth and of course, generates profits. Africa seems to have little problem in attracting the first two investor type, but often struggles to secure the third type. The question for Kenya is, which type of investor is the country attracting? And what can be done to attract the third type of investor?

These questions are important in the context of fiscal policy, of which a key event will take place today when the National Budget 2017/18 will be read. Fiscal policy ought to and can play an important role in attracting the right type of investor to Kenya.

Over the past ten years, the government has been on an investment drive to build the country’s infrastructure. In principle, efficient public investment in infrastructure can raise the economy’s productive capacity by connecting goods and people to markets. The national budgets over the past few years have thus has allocated significant amounts to energy and transport infrastructure such as LAPSSET, the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), Rural Electrification and the Last Mile Project. With the SGR due to be completed this year, it will become clear what dividends the country will reap from such heavy fiscal commitment to infrastructure. That said, infrastructure investment is a prerequisite to attract the third investor type as the ease and cost of transporting goods are an important business cost and variable.

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The second fiscal strategy that can bring long term investors as well as bolster food security and manufacturing is tax incentives to create productive agricultural value chains. Fiscal policy can more effectively engender a shift from subsistence to commercially productive farming by identifying commercially viable agriculture value chains and linking small holder farmers to manufacturers. Through incentives such as tax remissions along key food and beverage manufacturing value chains, fiscal policy can incentivise higher productivity in farming and contribute to making manufacturing more dynamic than is currently the case. The key however, is consistency in fiscal policy with no abrupt changes in tax remissions or other incentives so as to engender long term investment in food value chains.

Thirdly, the right investor type can be attracted to the country through investment in Kenya’s human capital. As the IMF points out, more equitable access to education and health care contributes to human capital accumulation, a key factor for growth and an improvement in the quality of life. Fiscal policy has two roles here; the first is creating incentive structures for private sector investment into the country’s private and public education and health networks and the second being the country’s own fiscal commitment to health and education sectors. National budget allocations to education stand at about 23 percent, while commitments to health are at about 6 percent of the national budget. Health allocations are paltry and while the education allocations look impressive, a great deal of the funds are directed to free primary education. In order to develop a healthy, highly skilled and productive labour pool, government ought to consider reorienting the almost obsessive fiscal commitment to infrastructure towards more robust allocations to health and post-secondary education. This should be complemented by the creation of incentive strategies that attract investment into national priority nodes for the sectors.Image result for health kenya


The fourth means through which fiscal policy can attract the right investors is by managing tax rates at national and county levels.  At the moment, private sector is facing numerous tax burdens due to the lack of harmonisation of tax rates between national and county governments. Fees and charges at county level are unpredictable, non-standardised and onerous; business face multiple payments for advertising and transporting goods across county borders. While these are not technically taxes, they are a form of tax exerted on private sector with no clear link to the service that should be expected for such payments. At national level, the main concern for private sector beyond VAT refunds, is that a small segment of business and individuals are onerously taxed due to the narrow tax base in the country. Thus national government ought to develop a long-term strategy for broadening the tax base.

A key component of broadening the tax base is addressing informality in the economy where millions of informal businesses do not pay taxes. The aim here is not to tax informal businesses, as most are micro-enterprises barely making profits, but rather creating an ecosystem that encourages the development of informal business. Again, fiscal action can be taken by government to direct financing focused at developing micro, small and medium enterprise through more the strategic deployment of the Youth, Uwezo and Women’s Funds. The financing architecture of these three funds has to be fundamentally rethought to focus on building technical skills and business management capacity, and improving productivity and profitability in the informal sector.

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Additionally, the government ought to develop a strategy for Kenya’s cottage industry which is the Jua Kali (informal industry) sector linked to solid fiscal commitments. Through fiscal action, the government should create an investment environment that attracts traditional investors as well as non-mainstream financing such as angel investors, impact investors and venture capitalists to invest in Jua Kali. In this manner, action will not only invest in the informal sector, it will create incentives for investment into a sector in which over 80 percent of employed Kenyans earn a living, in a manner that complements fiscal policy.

Anzetse Were is a development economist;

Land issues hampering Kenya’s development

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This article first appeared in my weekly column in the Business Daily on August 21, 2016

Kenyans are well aware of the tensions and dynamics around land ownership in the country. The contentious issues around land are often linked to tribal and ethnic tensions; indeed land issues informed the ferocity of post-election violence in 2007/8. But beyond being a tension between different communities, land ownership issues are hampering the country’s economic development.

Firstly, land directly affects agricultural productivity, or the lack thereof. At the moment, statistics indicate that small-scale farming accounts for at least 75 percent of the country’s total agricultural output and 70 percent of marketed agricultural produce. In short, most of the meals eaten by Kenyans come from a smallholder farmer working away on his or her small patch of land. However, one of the reasons why agricultural productivity is so low in the country is precisely because the vast majority of farmers are farming over-worked, nutrient-depleted, small pieces of land that have been subdivided for generations. The situation is made more complex by the fact that many small holder farmers do not have the title deed to the land.

So while there may be a general acknowledgement by their community that the land they farm is indeed theirs, the costs related to registering land and acquiring titles are too high for most smallholder farmers. As a result the farmers do not legally own the land and thus cannot use the land as collateral to access credit that could allow them to make improvements to their farms and farming practices. More importantly, smallholder farms cannot be conglomerated in one large piece that can be more efficiently farmed with higher levels of mechanisation, productivity and profitability. As a result, Kenyans agriculture sector is stuck in a rut with no foreseeable way out because of the land issue. If anything, the situation will worsen as the average size of land holdings continues to reduce due to the cultural practice of subdivisions of the land for each son in the family for inheritance purposes.


Manufacturing is also affected by Kenyan’s land problem because even if a company wants to expand operations to another part of the country, the process of procuring land on which the factory or plant will be built is daunting. The lack of legal title depresses demand for land because potential buyers do not want to negotiate the complexities of proving ownership. No one wants the nightmare of procuring a piece of land that is then mired in contention that prevents business activity from moving forward. Thus it must be asked: to what extent are land issues hampering the expansion of industry and manufacturing in the country? Further, the lack of legal ownership also makes it difficult for land holders to come together and combine smaller pieces of land into a mass that can more effectively attract capital investment. In short, both supply and demand are affected by the land question.

Finally, infrastructure development is more costly, mired in delays and incredibly complex because of land issues. In some cases communities do not agree with the valuation of land engendering renegotiations, in other cases absentee landlords make the process of land acquisition long and arduous. However, the most complex is where communities live on what they consider their ancestral land but the land is legally owned by another person or entity. Who is to be compensated in such cases not only from a legal, but also moral point of view? How is compensation to be negotiated without engendering protest? Land is a core factor behind the accrual of delays and expenses in some of the infrastructure projects in the country.


In short, a great deal of Kenya’s economic potential is locked in the land. Sadly, due to the way politics is linked to tribal identity and thus land in Kenya, it may be decades before the country sees a crop of leaders prepared to address the land issue and unlock a great deal of the country’s economic potential.

Anzetse Were is a development economist;

How to improve Kenya’s economic development model

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This article first appeared in my weekly column with the Business Daily on July 31, 2016

Last week scholars from Japan shared highlights from the publication Contemporary African Economies: A Changing Continent under Globalisation in which the scholars state that growth in Kenya is not inclusive and has failed to redistribute wealth to the poor. They rightly observe that the manufacturing growth sector is becoming thinner than before and that productivity in the agriculture sector is static. They suggest government should invest in human resource development including education. Let’s look at three crucial weaknesses with the Kenyan model with regards to agriculture, manufacturing and education.

A cursory look at the agricultural sector in Kenya reveals serious productivity problems. According to the Kenya National Bureau of statistics the agriculture sector accounts for 60 percent of total employment yet contributes about 25.9 percent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Kenya. So the effort of 60 percent of employed Kenyans contribute a measly 25 percent to GDP; clearly there is a productivity problem. Systemic problems that beset the sector according to the government’s agriculture, rural and urban development sector report include the inadequate exchequer releases. So it is interesting that an analysis of the 2016/17 budget reveals that government reduced allocation to the department of agriculture by KES 1.73 billion and fisheries by KES 510 million when compared to last year. Although this was compensated by an increased allocation to livestock the reality is that agriculture, livestock and fisheries combined constituted a paltry 2.4 percent of the total budget. Although the problem in agriculture cannot be solved solely by throwing money at the problem, allocating less than 3 percent to such a crucial sector is telling.


Factors that negatively inform agricultural productivity include the high cost of inputs, low absorption of new technology and low farmer skills levels. The sad reality is that this is an old story that persists; so government’s action to solving these issues is wanting. Strategies that should be front and centre is to seriously address the land holding problem, reduce the cost of inputs and provide farmers with better schemes to improve their equipment and skills levels so that productivity is boosted.

Secondly is the manufacturing question where on average the sector has been growing at just over 3 percent per year while the economy has been growing at just over 5 percent. Thus the share of manufacturing of GDP is actually declining, not static as is the common perception. To be fair government is making effort to address problems with infrastructure but the sector suffers from inadequate financing as well as challenges with skilled labour. In my view government should leverage its own strategy as well as develop Public-Private-Partnerships to develop industry and manufacturing with two factors in mind: first absorb low skilled labour given that Kenya’s population’s average years of schooling is 6.5 years, second promote labour intensive manufacturing to create jobs for Kenyans. Again, here to be fair government is focussing on labour intensive manufacturing in the Kenya Industrial Transformation Programme of which one of the key sub-sector is textiles and apparel. However, government needs to focus on reducing cost of production, facilitate access to long term patient finance, and improve curricula to ensure students are taught relevant skills so that manufacturing can play a stronger role in job creation and economic growth.


The education problem translates into an informal employment and slumped growth problem. In terms of informal employment, education entry requirements are too high for most Kenyans to meet thereby barring them from the more lucrative, productive and secure formal sector jobs. As a result about 80 percent of Kenyans find less secure, lower paying and frankly low productivity jobs in the informal sector. Productivity is a particular challenge and a study by the World Bank indicates clear links to education levels. In the informal sector the education level of managers is highly correlated with the level of labour productivity. Labour productivity for firms with managers that have no education or only primary education is only 72 percent of that of firms with managers that have vocational training or a university degree. Although the formal sector tends to absorb better educated Kenyans, private sector consistently articulates there is a massive skills gap between what Kenyans are taught in schools, universities and vocational schools and what the labour market actually needs. Thus government strategies for education are to better link curricula with labour market skills needs and develop strategies to improve education and skills levels in the informal economy to boost productivity.

Anzetse is a development economist;

My thoughts on the Kenya 2016 Economic Survey and interview panel on the same

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This article first appeared in my weekly column with the Business Daily on May 8, 2016

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) released the Economic Survey 2016 which provided interesting insights on the state of the Kenyan economy. GDP growth stood at 5.6 per cent in 2015 compared to a 5.3 per cent growth in 2014. An important development indicator to note in Kenya however is that GDP per capita (a measure of average income per person in a country) has not moved very much marginally increasing to KES 91,588 in 2015 from KES 89,240.5 in 2014. This is because although the economy is growing, so is the population. Such robust population growth in which almost a million births were recorded last year, translates to a dilution of the ability of economic growth to significantly reduce poverty levels.

Inflation stood at an average of 6.6 percent, within the CBK preferred range of 5 percent +/- 2.5 percent. It appears that monetary policy action by the CBK which consisted of several actions such as increasing the Central Bank Rate (CBR) from 8.5 per cent to 10.0 per cent in June 2015, and further to 11.5 per cent in July 2015, managed inflation.  Interestingly however, despite the CBK interest rate hikes and a general feeling that credit is expensive in Kenya, domestic credit grew by 19.2 per cent and credit to the private sector expanded by 17.5 per cent in the 2015. Back to monetary policy, this was particularly important last year which saw the KES dip in value to the USD. This depreciation was due to internal and external factors and probably negatively informed growth as Kenya is an import economy and such depreciation created upward inflationary pressure. However the lower cost of Kenya’s biggest import, petroleum, ameliorated the inflation dynamic as oil prices fell to USD 52.53 per barrel, down from an average of USD 99.45 per barrel in 2014, which allowed government to spend KES 215 billion in 2015, down from KES 293 billion in 2014.


Agriculture continued to be the strongest contributor to GDP at 30 percent followed by manufacturing at 10.3 percent. An important note about agriculture is that the report states the weather system El Nino as a positive contributor to agriculture leading good rains and an improvement in agriculture outputs. However a point of concern is that tea production fell by 10.3 percent and coffee by 16 percent, both of which are important exports and forex earners. Although both still earned a bit more than they did in 2014, it is important that any further deterioration in the performance of these commodities is stemmed. This is because of the continued poor performance in the tourism sector, another important forex earner, where tourism earnings fell 2.9 percent from KES 87.1 billion in 2014 to KES 84.6 billion in 2015. In short, the figures seem to indicate that forex revenue generation was difficult last year. Poor performance by forex earners has numerous fiscal implications such as negatively informing government’s ability to service foreign denominated debt affordably.

In terms of manufacturing, growth remained fairly constant growing a fraction from 10 percent in 2014 to 10.3 percent in 2015. This marginal increase is attributed to reduced cost of inputs such as petroleum products and electricity. However, on-going constraints such as the high cost of credit and cheap imports continue to negatively affect the sector.

Job creation grew by 5.6 percent and an on-going trend was confirmed in that the vast majority of jobs were created in the informal sector. Informal sector employment rose by 6.0 per cent to 12.6 million persons, with a share of 82.8 per cent of total persons engaged in employment. Clearly the informal sector continues to grow and be an important job creator for Kenyans. This should provide impetus for efforts to be directed at this sector to make it more productive in a manner that alleviates poverty.


Overall, efforts need to continue to increase productivity and outputs in agriculture and manufacturing (particularly the latter), the poor performance of forex earners ought to be analysed and addressed, and the informal sector has to feature front and centre in terms of efforts to improve the performance of private sector.

Below is an interview panel in which I participated on Citizen TV last week commenting on the Economic Survey 2016:

Anzetse Were is a development economist; email:


How important are services to economic growth?

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This article first appeared in my weekly column with the Business Daily on March 21, 2016

A report by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) analyses four services sectors in Kenya to determine the role of services in economic growth. The four sectors analysed are the financial sector, IT services, transport services and tourism services.  The report argues that services are becoming increasingly important, even for non-industrialised countries such as Kenya, as they have a direct contribution to GDP, exports and employment.

Indeed according to the report, services account for 50.7% of the share of GDP; a fact with which the World Bank agrees. Kenya has already become a major exporter of services in areas such as transport services, financial services and, less significantly, ICT. In terms of exports, the export of services from Kenya nearly tripled from $1.9 billion in 2005 to $4.9 billion in 2012; far more than the exports of goods. The ODI report goes on to state that ICT and financial services in particular makes companies in other sectors more productive, help develop value chains and safeguard jobs, while tourism creates numerous jobs within suppliers. Further, services have an important role to play in the ‘servicification’ of manufacturing. Indeed the World Bank survey made the point that in Kenya, services  constitute at least 62% of the cost of manufactured goods illustrating the extent to which manufacturing relies on services.


The position ODI takes goes contrary to dogma in economic theory which argues that the most effective path to development is linear with a progression from agriculture to manufacturing and finally into services. Yet here is Kenya, a non-industrialised economy, with services as the engine of economic growth.

Given this scenario, the questions to ask include: what are the implications of a services-led economy in the context of a non-industrialised county? Is a service-driven economy sustainable in the long term? Does a preponderance of services have a negative effect on the development of agriculture and manufacturing?

Well, the report acknowledges that there are weaknesses in the service-driven model, especially in non- industrialised countries. The dominance on services means that it pulls labour in from the other sectors such as manufacturing. This could result in the exacerbation of deindustrialisation as manufactured jobs are replaced by low-productivity services jobs.  This is a key concern for Kenya which has a significant informal economy, most of which is not very productive and in which services are a notable constituent. Is Kenya facing a scenario where labour is being pulled into services from other sectors, not into high productivity services which are typically in the context of formal employment, but rather into low productivity informal employment in services?

Further there are questions as to whether the dominance of services in Kenya will lead to skills shortages in agriculture and manufacturing. The report rightly makes the point that there is a risk emerging where the development of skills for the service sector will preponderate, perhaps to the detriment of skills development in other sectors. More and more young Kenyans will opt to train to become bankers and HR specialists because it will be easier to find jobs in those areas of speciality than it would be if they had trained as engineers and scientists. What does this bode for the future of the country?


The final risk of service-driven growth is that, as ODI point out, too much export-oriented services have opportunity costs. It could lead to Dutch disease effects where the shilling appreciates thereby damaging the manufacturing industry as locally produced goods become expensive and uncompetitive due to a strong shilling.

In terms of the way forward, Kenya should continue to reap the benefits of service-driven growth but go through a deliberate process of rebalancing where highly productive agriculture and manufacturing play a stronger role. Further, there is a need to ensure that as long as services preponderate, it is associated with noteable job creation and secondary effects that benefit the economy as whole.

 Anzetse Were is a development economist;

The Kenyan economy continues to exhibit key weaknesses that must be addressed

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This article first appeared in my column with the Business Daily on March 13, 2016

On Tuesday last week the World Bank launched the Kenya Country Economic Memorandum with the theme ‘From Growth to Jobs & Prosperity’. Apurva Sanghi Lead Economist and Program Leader at the Bank made three core points during his presentation.

The first is that economic growth in Kenya is volatile, non-inclusive and marked by stagnation in agriculture and industry. In terms of volatility Kenya’s growth has been volatile since independence and domestic shocks such as political instability (especially during election years) affect GDP growth more than external ones.

The second point was that growth is not inclusive and the country continues to register high poverty levels, the estimates of which sit between 36-42% in 2016. Further, job creation has been marginal and slow, clearly only able to absorb a fraction of the working age population that enter the labour market each year. Further, of the jobs created, the vast majority have been informal jobs.


Another important point made by Sanghi was that economic growth in Kenya has been led by services which has been resilient with clear stagnation in agriculture and manufacturing.  Services exports are catching up with goods exports and this is partly because the sector is less dependent on raw materials and not truly affected by changes in commodity prices. In terms of agriculture, the main factors informing the stagnation include over-involvement of government in maize and sugar markets which keep prices high. In terms of manufacturing, it has marginal contribution to GDP, and Kenya has dropped 8 places in the rank of economic complexity of goods produced by the sector; in fact Kenya’s top exports are among the least complex. Sanghi also mentioned that achieving the Vision 2030 GDP growth rate target of 7% has thus far been elusive with the country reaching 7% only four times since independence. In order for Kenya to grow more robustly and with less volatility, both savings and productivity have to increase, the performance of both manufacturing and agriculture need to improve, and public investment management by government has to improve.

How feasible is this? Well with regard to savings numerous factors negatively inform Kenyan saving habits among which is the reality that there is no real social security net in Kenya. Yes government has a cash transfer system for the very vulnerable and poor but the lived reality for most Kenyans is that they cannot usually rely on government when they fall ill or lose a job. As a result, middle income pockets of Kenyans are under immense pressure for it is the middle and upper class that finance costs such as school fees, hospital bills and funerals for friends and relatives. Coupled with high dependency ratios linked to high levels of unemployment and underemployment, Kenya’s middle class has limited lived disposable income which of course makes saving very difficult.  I have thus long held the view that the hype about the spending power of the African middle class is Panglossian.


In terms of productivity, the report itself makes the point that levels of productivity vary greatly between sectors and within sectors. Further, most Kenyans are employed in the informal sector which is characterised by low productivity due to a myriad of factors such as poor management skills, poor education levels and the lack of access to finance, technology and innovations. Therefore, the question on which government ought to be focussed is how to increase productivity, particularly in the informal sector. This is not necessarily synonymous with pushing for the formalisation of the informal sector but rather, supporting Kenyans trapped in the primarily low income informal sector by skilling up the population in informal labour, developing apprenticeship programs and loosening finance into the sector.

Finally, public investment must improve with a preponderance of development rather than recurrent expenditure. Public investment strategies must be devoid of corruption in order to ensure government spending is strategic and effective.

Anzetse Were is a development economist;