business environment

Time to rank County Performance

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This article first appeared in my column with the Business Daily on February 10, 2019

The first and second phases of devolution in Kenya have revealed the economic benefits Kenyans have accrued from it but has also highlighted key problems that have arisen from it. Key benefits include the devolution of financing to locations outside of major cities in the country, Kenyan professionals leaving big cities to work on county development and the creation of several devolved centre-points for economic development strategy formulation and implementation. However, key challenges have emerged. These include the devolution of corruption, poor fiscal accountability by county governments and a deterioration in the business environment in many counties. This article will focus on the last two points raised and how they can be addressed.

As mentioned a key problem with devolution has been the notably weak county fiscal performance; most counties are not adhering to the Public Finance Management Act. A report by the International Budget Partnership (IBP) shows that the average transparency, as determined by the availability of key fiscal and budget-related documents was 42 percent in September last year; the figure was 25 percent in 2017. Further, during physical checks conducted by IBP, where it was checked whether required budget documents are physically available in county offices, only 2 of the 15 counties assessed were found compliant. This performance is informed by two factors: capacity and corruption. Technical capacity deficiencies exist that truly compromise the ability of county governments to develop, disseminate and implement fiscal documents. On the other hand, there are no consequences for poor fiscal accountability which creates a breeding ground for corruption to run rife in counties particularly on the expenditure side.


A second problem with devolution has been how many county governments are making the business environment very difficult. In my conversations with both large and small business the issues of CESS and county government levies/taxes has been raised numerous times. County governments are arbitrarily raising the cost of fees of doing business in areas under their jurisdiction; one county is said to have increased land rates by 600 percent. There are multiple charges of CESS and the creation of new permits such as the onerously expensive distribution permits which are levied even at sub-county level. In addition, businesses are harassed at county level where, for example, vehicles are unfairly impounded and brides demanded for release. Part of such actions by county governments are due to pressure to generate own their revenue, but some of it is plain corruption. Many county government actions are harming business activities and thus employment and wealth creation in their counties and thus Kenya as a whole.

What can be done to address these issues? Ranking. Rank counties on their fiscal transparency and their business environment. Kenyans and other interested parties should come together and create two ranking systems that highlight the best and worst performers on both fiscal and business environment issues. Perhaps then, there will an impetus beyond individual county government values, that make them more fiscally accountable and work to improve their business environment.

Anzetse Were is a development economist

Fiscal consolidation opportunity to address private sector issues

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This article first appeared in my weekly column with the Business Daily on May 6, 2018

The government seems intent on implementing a course of fiscal consolidation that will put Kenya on a more sustainable fiscal path. While fiscal consolidation is welcome and should be supported, it raises new challenges with which the country has to grapple. The intent of government is to ramp down spending, reduce borrowing, bring down the fiscal deficit and raise revenues. The combination of these factors translates to the reality that government will not be able to finance its new agenda, particularly the Big Four, as robustly as perhaps was initially intended.

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As a result, government has already began calls for the private sector to actively engage in the Big Four. The Budget Policy Statement has made it clear that Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) will be fast tracked in order to fully leverage private sector engagement. However, there are realities of which we ought to be aware as government makes the call to private sector to help realise and frankly, co-finance, the Big Four.

Firstly, over 90 percent of the Kenyan private sector consists of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise (MSMEs). While the presence of the large companies is dominant and well publicised, the reality is that the engine of the economy is run by smaller businesses that sprawl across the formal and informal economy. MSMEs are thought to contribute at least 30 percent to GDP and employ over percent of employed Kenyans. However, MSMEs work in an environment, and have internal firm dynamics, that negatively inform their productivity and economic strength. The fact that they constitute over 90 percent of business in the country yet only contribute about 30 percent to GDP signals serious productivity problems.

Thus, while government intends to pull in the private sector to work on their agenda, they ought to be cognisant of the composition of private sector in the country. I am of the view that MSMEs can be engaged to deliver on government projects, but the nature of the engagement will likely be more involving than government initially envisioned.

Linked to the point above is the issue of the capacity and experience of indigenous firms. Given that foreign firms are angling for Big Four projects, the question of the competitiveness of domestic private sector becomes important. Will government deliberately reserve a portion of projects for indigenous private sector to ensure local participation? If not, does Kenya risk outsourcing the bulk of government projects to foreign companies, and what would be the implications?

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Linked to the point above is the issue of PPPs, where it has been widely noted that domestic firms do not have the financing, experience, and enablers that foreign firms do. For example, domestic firms get credit at 14 percent while this figure can be as low as 2 percent for foreign firms; this reduces the former’s competitiveness. Government seeks efficiency in the context of limited funds thus the question becomes how domestic private sector can secure contracts and competitively deliver on them in the context of international competition.

In truth, fiscal consolidation will shine a spotlight on the domestic private sector and the factors that inform their ability and competitiveness. Government and private sector ought to use this opportunity to address key issues decisively, such that the process strengthens the domestic private sector.

Anzetse Were is a development economist;

Kenya can do more on Ease of Doing Business

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This article first appeared in my weekly column with the Business Daily on November 5, 2017

Last week the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Report was released which revealed that Kenya’s standing had improved by 12 places. Kenya is now ranked 80 among 190 economies and is the top improver in Africa. The last time Kenya was ranked this highly was in 2008 when the country stood at number 84. Kenya is now the third highest in Africa with only Mauritius and Rwanda higher than Kenya at 49th and 56th place respectively. The report stated that Kenya’s improvement was credited to five reforms in the areas of starting a business, obtaining access to electricity, registering property, protecting minority investors and resolving insolvency.

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These improvements are important for several reasons the first of which is that the report is an important signaller for investors, particularly foreign investors. Improvements in ranking are positive signals for foreign investors in particular. Some may argue that the report makes no difference to the ordinary Kenyan but the truth is that SMEs and informal businesses are tethered to larger businesses who often seek foreign investors. Thus an indication that the investment climate has improved bolsters investment opportunities for large formal businesses who can that pass business on to SMEs and informal businesses as suppliers, distributors or service providers.

Secondly the report is important because it gives an indication of how easy it is to start and run a formal business in Kenya. The easier it is to start and run a formal business in Kenya, the higher the chances are that informal businesses may take the path toward formalisation. With about 90 percent of employed Kenyans sitting in the informal economy, efforts to formalise are welcome as formalisation is associated with higher productivity and profitability, better compensation, better working conditions as well as business stability.

That said, there are areas not covered in the report, the first of which is that it does not give an indication of the business environment for informal businesses where most Kenyans are employed. Informal businesses are affected by unique factors such as high vulnerability to corruption, lack of formal business premises, lack of supportive policy action and lack of access to credit and financing precisely because of their informality. Kenya could take the report further by creating a process through which the business environment in which informal businesses function is also assessed and recommendations made for improvement.

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Secondly, the report does not breakdown the business environment to the county level. While it may be out of the scope of the World Bank to do a comprehensive county investment climate assessment, Kenya needs it. Thus a process ought to be developed through which the business environment at county level is assessed and rankings published. Ranking counties will do two important things; first it will signal to domestic investors where they ought to invest. Secondly county ranking will create positive peer pressure between counties and catalyse a process through which county governments more firmly effect improvements in county business environments.

Thus as Kenya celebrates the gains made in the Ease of Doing Business ranking we should be cognisant of how the process can be pushed further to catalyse further improvements in the domestic business space.

Anzetse Were is a development economist;



TV Interview: Effect of the elections on the Kenyan economy

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On November 2, 2017 I was part of a panel on Citizen TV that analysed the effects of the elections on the Kenyan economy.

TV Interview: Impact of an extended election season on the economy

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On September 20, 2017, I was part of a panel on Citizen TV discussing the impact of the extended election season on the Kenyan economy.


TV Interview: The effect of the elections on the economy

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On September 7 2017, I was on a panel on Citizen TV discussing the effect of the elections on the Kenyan economy.

Industrialisation in Kenya: What do political party manifestos say?

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This article first appeared in The East African on July 24, 2017


Further development of manufacturing can play a central role in driving economic transformation and job creation in Kenya. There is now a window of opportunity for Kenya (and other East African countries) to capitalise on positive underlying factors in the global economy – including rising wages in Asia, the rebalancing underway in China, and strong regional growth in Africa – and significantly expand its capabilities and global presence in export-oriented, labour-intensive manufacturing within the next 20 to 30 years.

But the recent performance of the Kenyan manufacturing sector has been weak. The share of manufacturing in Kenya’s gross domestic product (GDP) was only 9.2 percent in 2016 (well below average for a country with Kenya’s level of income) and this share has been declining in recent years. Several decades ago, Kenya had a relatively complex and substantial industrial sector by regional standards, but its East African neighbours have been catching up in recent years.

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Decisive and comprehensive action is required in order to reverse the decline, double manufacturing production and employment, and increase the share of manufacturing to 15 percent of GDP within the next five years. With this in mind, the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) developed a 10-point policy plan to transform Kenyan manufacturing and create jobs. These 10 points, based on close co-operation amongst a range of stakeholders, aim to inform pre-election debates and can also be used by the new government to implement a more focused and effective industrialisation strategy.

There has been an analysis of the manifestos of the three main political parties to determine the extent to which they support manufacturing in Kenya and the region. The manifestos of Jubilee, the National Super Alliance (NASA) and the Third Way Alliance were launched at the end of June 2017. All three parties emphasise the industrial agenda as central to Kenya’s economic transformation in general terms, which is encouraging, with NASA emphasising innovative initiatives and especially the small and medium enterprise (SME) and informal sector, and Jubilee and the Third Way Alliance being more specific in their recommendations.

There are a range of notable similarities with the 10 policy priorities in the KAM-ODI booklet. Firstly, all three parties prioritise addressing either general or specific aspects of the enabling environment. The Third Way Alliance commits to addressing counterfeit goods, one of the KAM-ODI action points. Secondly, all three parties want to enforce a fiscal regime that is predictable and fair, a key action point among the ten policy priorities, and emphasise fair taxation in particular. Jubilee further discusses the action point on devolution. The Jubilee manifesto discusses the KAM-ODI action point on land banks and NASA and the Third Way Alliance discuss industrial parks, which need land. The Third Way Alliance pledges to work with county governments to set aside land for industrial parks, offering a practical way to implement the KAM-ODI action point on securing land for SEZs and industrial parks.

The feasibility of the creation land banks and setting aside land for industry will be linked to issues of acrimony over land title and cost of relocating populations on said pieces of land. For example, an SEZ was due to be set up in the Western part of the country but had to be scrapped as an agreement could not be reached on what land could be used due to claims of title on the piece of land. Thus all parties will have to undergo a thorough land audit in the areas the government intends to develop industrial parks and SEZs and begin with areas where there is clear land title that is not contested.

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In terms of energy, NASA discusses the need for an energy policy. Jubilee highlights the need for lower electricity tariffs for industrial usage and the Third Way Alliance calls for liberalisation of the energy sector and revisions to electricity billing and pricing to reduce the cost of electricity for key manufacturing sectors. Both NASA and Jubilee highlight the need for investment in electricity infrastructure. Jubilee also emphasises green energy and, in a similar vein, NASA and the Third Way Alliance focus on ramping up clean and renewable power generation.

What most of the manifestos are not clear on is how they will reduce the cost of energy in the country. For example, Kenya needs a reduction of five cents per kilowatt hour would bring the cost down to that in Tanzania. It is only the Third Way Alliance manifesto that states they will tackle the cost of energy issues by liberalising the energy sector and revising electricity billing and pricing. However, an additional problem with energy in Kenya is power outages; Kenya has more power outages than Uganda, Rwanda and Ethiopia. None of the manifestos are not clear on how this will be addressed. All three manifestos are vague on the type of reforms and investments needed to address inefficiencies and incentivise investment in power transmission and distribution.

All three parties suggest the establishment of industrial funds or development banks specific for industrialisation, such as an export-import bank (Jubilee and the Third Way Alliance) or a co-operative fund for agro-processing (NASA). But none of the parties place strong emphasis on suggestions for financial sector development. Similarly, the three parties’ manifestos do not give attention to foreign direct investment (FDI) to promote industrialisation. While these plans sound feasible, the implementation of these financing schemes will determine uptake by private sector. Ideally, the funds should offer financing perhaps at concessionary rates. The most important factor however is that the funds need to be patient such that private sector has time to use the capital effectively and generate returns over a realistic period of time. Yet the manifestos are not very clear on how financing to the sector will be structured. The Jubilee manifesto comes closest to specifics, stating that they seek to provide long-term credit funded by long-term bonds; one wonders why this strategy has not already been deployed. Further, none of the parties place strong emphasis on suggestions for financial sector development or how to promote FDI to support industrialisation.

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In terms of skills, NASA and the Third Way Alliance highlight the importance of general education, whilst Jubilee prioritises the need to nurture a globally competitive work force to power industrialisation. NASA and Jubilee stress the importance of linkages between universities and the rest of society, although Jubilee seems clearest on this and explicitly mentions the need to develop formal linkages between the private sector, academia and government. At the moment, there is a sizeable gap between what is taught to students and what the job market requires. Therefore, if curricula are not significantly revised and linked to a push to encourage students to take up of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects, any partnerships with academia may not be fruitful in terms of creating a labour force with skills required for industrialisation. Jubilee manifesto’s pledge to promote the study of science, technology, engineering and maths but again, one wonders this has not already been done. Both the NASA and Third Way Alliance manifestos do not contain specific details on which subject areas to target for educational improvements.

NASA and Jubilee highlight the role of a fit for purpose civil service to support industrialisation. NASA stresses the need to reduce contractors’ cost of doing business with government, streamline procurement, process payments promptly and inculcate a zero tolerance approach to corruption. Jubilee wants a truly fit for purpose public service, and mentions the importance of reducing waste, dealing with procurement and rationalising the public sector wage bill. The Third Way Alliance has a narrower focus on measures to combat corruption. This element will likely prove to be the most difficult to implement as Kenya has notoriously been unable to hold those implicated in corruption scandals to account. Thus, it is dubious as to whether any of the parties have the political will required to implement this element of the manifestos.

The Third Way Alliance manifesto places strong emphasis on developing value chains in priority manufacturing sectors, including agro-processing, textiles and leather; but some of the Alliance’s proposals to support value chain development are quite protectionist in nature. The NASA and Jubilee manifestos also mention value chains, with the NASA manifesto emphasising synergies and linkages amongst enterprises. The issue of value chains is closely linked to agriculture and what has become clear over the first iteration of devolution is that agriculture seems to be neglected by both county and national governments in terms of budget allocations. According to the International Budget Partnership (IBP), national government allocated the sector as follows: 2 percent in 2015/16, 1.3 percent in 2016/2017 and 1.8 percent in 2017/18. As IBP points out, the Maputo Declaration 2003 calls for allocation of at least 10 percent of total national budget towards agriculture. The average expenditure on agriculture in Africa is 4.5 percent; Kenya’s national allocations are clearly sub-par. Thus for the value chain manifesto declarations to work, there is need to more robust allocations to agriculture at national and county level and better coordination between the two levels of government; none of the manifestos articulate how they would make this happen.

In the context of the EAC, the push for exports in the KAM-ODI booklet is important. Both NASA and Jubilee press for better market access, NASA for SMEs in particular. Improving and/or maintaining market access in the EAC is an important element of the NASA and Jubilee manifestos, aligning well with the KAM-SET call for an export push. The Jubilee manifesto focuses on expanding Kenya’s access to the US in textiles, whereas NASA emphasises market access for MSEs. In contrast, improving access to markets for Kenyan exports is not prioritised in the Third Way Alliance manifesto.

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To be clear, access to EAC for manufactured goods is riddled with problems. Total exports from Kenya the EAC registered a 4 percent decline in 2016 to KES 121.7 billion, with exports to Uganda and Rwanda falling by 9.3 percent and 2.5 percent respectively. Further, opportunities offered by the EAC’s integrated market has institutional and regulatory barriers to trade such as such as customs clearance, standards and certification, rules of origin, licences and permits, truck inspections and language barriers.  None of the manifestos address these issues. Further, the entry of China and India into the regional market has eroded Kenya’s EAC market share from 9 percent in 2009 to just 7 percent by 2013.  The World Bank claims that Kenya’s trade performance is declining quickly due to an influx of goods from China into Uganda and Tanzania, which are major export destinations for Kenya.  In the manifestos it is not clear how EAC market access issues will be addressed. The Jubilee and NASA manifestos make general statements about Kenya’s role within the EAC, but there is little detail in either manifesto in terms of specific measures or priorities to support access for Kenyan goods in the EAC market. The Third Way Alliance’s manifesto does not make any reference to Kenya’s role in a regional context.

Anzetse Were is a development economist;