This article first appeared in my weekly column with the Business Daily on November 12, 2017
A few weeks ago the Kenya Private Sector Alliance stated that the business community had lost more than KES 700 billion in just four months of electioneering. This figure was arrived at by costing not only business lost due to disruptions linked to protest and general unrest, but deferred investment decisions as well. The economy’s performance this year is weaker than last year. The economy expanded 4.7 percent in Q1, down from 5.9 percent 2016, with Q2 at 5 percent, down from 6.3 percent last year. Previous analysis indicates that the Kenyan economy tends to slow down in an election year by about 1.2-1.4 percent. Of the 10 elections the country has had, 7 have been associated with slower economic growth and it takes about 26 months for the economy to fully recover from an election.
While there is warranted concern about the extent to which economic performance is tethered to politics and elections, other dynamics in the country have also negatively informed growth this year. These include the drought which led to a contraction in agriculture which constitutes about 30 percent of the economy. Additionally the interest rate cap negatively affected the financial sector which constitutes about 10 percent of the economy with knock-on effects felt in a contradiction in access to credit particularly to SMEs. Thus even without the effects of the election, at least 40 percent of the country’s economy was struggling this year.
That said, there does need to be an examination as to why economic performance during election years tends to be more muted than would have been the case if there were no election. Clearly key investment decisions from the private sector tend to be deferred in an election year while any decisive action in policy is deferred by government. The question now becomes what can be done to make the economy more resilient to politics and elections such that Kenyans are buffered from related uncertainties. Leveraging devolution with a focus on county governments and county private sector is key to achieving this.
The first step in building resilience is by encouraging a fundamental shift in the mind-set of county governments. At the moment county governments seem to view themselves primarily as expenditure units, not development units. Rather than obsessing over what allocations have or have not been made to them, county governments have to enter a mind-set where every penny is targeted at ensuring they drive economic development in their counties.
Secondly, county governments ought to listen to concerns of the private sector in their counties. Kenya’s private sector is dominated by informal businesses as 90 percent of Kenyans are employed in this sector and rely on it for their income. Yet the informal sector does not truly feature in county development documents, this needs to change. County governments, perhaps with the support of the Ministry of Trade ought to create a robust informal sector strategy that works to address structural weaknesses that compromise the sector’s robustness. These could include piloting formalisation schemes, improving technical and business management skills, and creating financial structures that provide patient capital to informal businesses. The aim should be to stabilise informal businesses so that they continue to perform even during difficult political times.
Finally, county fiscal policy must be deliberately development oriented. Dockets such as agriculture, health and devolved education functions ought to feature prominently in county government allocations. By investing in food security through agriculture and human capital through education and health, counties can play a powerful role in building a population that is healthy and educated, and thus better able to identify and exploit economic opportunities that build income.
Anzetse Were is a development economist; firstname.lastname@example.org
This article first appeared in the Business Daily on July 16, 2017
A few weeks ago East Africa Breweries Limited (EABL) announced it would set up a KES 15 billion brewery plant in Kisumu which is anticipated to help create at least 110,000 direct and indirect jobs. This investment in this factory is crucial for the country and region for several reasons.
Firstly, EABL’s investment is an investment into industry and manufacturing. A 10 point plan to catalyse industrialisation in Kenya was developed by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and the Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) which points to the significance of industrialisation to any economy in the world. Many economic development success stories owe a great deal to the role of the manufacturing sector. Manufacturing can play a crucial role in Kenya’s inclusive growth by absorbing large numbers of workers, including by creating many jobs indirectly through forward and backward linkages to agriculture, raising exports and transforming the economy through technological innovation. This investment is important as a significant private sector player that has been in the region for a truly long time, views investment into industry and manufacturing as a viable and solid investment option. This is good news for Kenya.
Secondly, this investment into manufacturing is important as it is occurring in the context of a sector that has been financially neglected. As the ODI and KAM piece points out, although aggregate finance for manufacturing has benefited from an increased stock of bank lending to manufacturing, from USD 0.8 billion in 2006 to USD billion in 2015, the share of manufacturing in total lending declined from 15 to 11 percent over the same period. Thus EABL’s investment should indicate to local and global investors that the manufacturing sector is financially attractive when the right investment decision is made.
Thirdly, investment in the food and beverages (F&B) sector is a significant job creator. USA’s food and beverage companies are the biggest source of the country’s manufacturing jobs. The advent of a manufacturing facility out of Nairobi will create viable, good quality jobs for the millions of Kenyans in the region who are unemployed, under-employed or employed in the informal sector. The quality of jobs, particularly the direct jobs created by this investment, will allow numerous households in the region and country to benefit from the stability that comes from a stable and well-informed investor.
Fourthly, EABL’s investment has clear linkages to agriculture. As Kisero points out, it was David Mwiraria when he was Finance minister, who first to come up with the idea of introducing tax remission for beer made from sorghum, millet and cassava. The remission is only valid if the company develops and invest in a comprehensive value chain for these food crops. Thus EABL, knows that it is obligated to invest in agriculture that will feed into its investment. This presents a huge opportunity, particularly for small holder farmers, to diversify into more profitable crops; an option that did not previously exist. Thus the effect of EABL’s investment may well reap dividends for the local community in agriculture.
Fifthly, as an investment in 2017, EABL will likely invest in a state of the art facility that will encourage a reorientation of skills required to service the factory. In Trinidad, a survey on their F&B industry revealed that technology has led to an increase in automation in the manufacturing process. This engendered a shift for skills in manufacturing process away from manual labour to skilled machine operators. EABL’s investment will play a role in pointing to the skills deficit and skills requirements for F&B manufacturing in the Kenya. As a result, the local and national labour market could make good use of this opportunity to re-skill or up-skill for the development of a labour pool skilled for an industrialised Kenya in the 21st century. To be clear, this will not be easy as education policy and educational training is still largely outdated, oriented towards social sciences and not linked to industry needs. EABL’s investment presents an opportunity, along with other new investors in manufacturing, to get a true grip of the types of skills required to drive F&B manufacturing forward in the country.
And finally, this is the first new investment in the Nyanza region for a significant period of time. Western and Nyanza have long complained of being neglected in terms of significant investments. And although efforts have been made to revitalise Mumias Sugar Factory and Pan Paper, the economic logic of these investments have been questioned, and rightly so. EABL’s investment is being made with a clear vision of return, and this will extend beyond financial returns. While the bottom line is likely a focus for the EABL team, the investment will generate forward and backwards linkages into the local and national economy in a manner that grows income for the local communities. Thus, it would be an interesting exercise to analyse not only the financial, but also social returns created by this investment.
Bear in mind that Kenya has the Kenya Industrial Transformation Programme (KITP) developed by government to catalyse industry in the country. The EABL investment should be one of many aimed at pulling Kenya into an industrial age of prosperity and engender economic growth in a manner that informs economic development and regeneration.
Anzetse Were is a development economist; email@example.com
This article first appeared in my weekly column of the Business Daily on June 4, 2017
It is estimated that Africa’s coastline hosts a blue economy estimated at USD 1 trillion per year. The UNECA defines the Blue Economy as that which covers both aquatic and marine spaces, including oceans, seas, coasts, lakes, rivers, and underground water encompassing a range of productive sectors, including fisheries, aquaculture, tourism, transport, shipbuilding, energy, bioprospecting, and underwater mining and related activities.
According to Stellenbosch University, Africa’s oceans can and should be an important source of economic activity and growth for the continent, pulling up the standards of living and wealth of Africans. Africa ocean territories are estimated at 13 million km², all of which can drive a blue economy.
The University of Queensland estimated that the annual economic output of the Western Indian Ocean of which East Africa is a part, is the fourth largest ‘economy’ in the region after South Africa, Kenya and Tanzania. It holds a total asset base of at least USD 333.8 billion and according to UNEP, produces more than USD 25 billion in goods and services every year. The main assets for the region’s blue economy according to the University of Queensland are fisheries, the coastline itself, mangroves, carbon absorption, seagrass beds and corals reefs, carbon sequestration and fisheries. According to UNEP over 60 million people live along the Western Indian coast, many of them deriving their livelihoods from the ocean. In South Africa alone, the blue economy is said to be able to generate 1 million jobs by 2033.
The focus for Kenya’s blue economy according to the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Institute is centred on coastal tourism, offshore oil and gas exploration, deep and short-sea shipping, cruise tourism, fisheries and aquaculture, inland water way transport, offshore wind, blue biotechnology, marine mineral mining, marine aquatic products and ocean renewable energy. However, according to Kenya’s Permanent Secretary for Shipping and Maritime Affairs, Kenya loses KES 90 billion per year in the sector and fails to generate hundreds of thousands of jobs due to a lack of financial support to the sector exacerbated by the under-management and failure to invest in building skilled human capital for and of the sector.
Sadly, Africa’s ocean areas also tend to be poorly governed with high levels of insecurity that facilitate illegal fishing, sea piracy and armed robbery, drug and human smuggling. According to Greenpeace, Western African economies are estimated to be losing USD 2 billion a year to illegal fishing alone. There is also the problem of chronic mismanagement of blue economy assets. A report led by the World Wildlife Fund found that 35 percent of the fish stocks assessed in the Western Indian Ocean are fully exploited and 28 percent are over-exploited. If the trend continues, Tanzania and Kenya could lose 18 percent of mangrove cover over the next 25 years. Further over 50 percent of the region’s shark species are threatened and 71-100 percent of the region’s coral reefs are at risk.
As Kenya begins to design the priority areas of the Medium Term Plan III under Vision 2030, the blue economy ought to receive special attention. Bear in mind that it will likely be difficult to wrestle the blue economy from the control of illicit players but there is a need to not only do so but also more effectively monetise the sector so that it can become an important generator of economic and social development for the country.
Anzetse Were is a development economist; firstname.lastname@example.org
This article first appeared in my weekly column with the Business Daily on January 8, 2017
Cabinet Secretary for Education, Matiang’i, stunned the country when he released the results of the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) late last year. Only 141 As were earned compared to over 2500 in 2015. The pattern was similar in all other grade classes, with far fewer students earning the top grades when compared to previous years. Some schools that were top performers barely managed to garner top grades this year. While this has surely aggravated some schools, students, teachers and even parents, the importance of how Matiang’i supervised and structured the entire KCSE exam process should not be underestimated.
Firstly, it seems clear the rot of dishonesty and cheating had overtaken the education system with ominous results; corruption had become a way of life in Kenya’s education system. When schools, teachers, students and parents all collude to cheat their way into earning top marks, the very core of the future of the country is compromised as cheating becomes an accepted way of life. Students witness adults devising schemes to cheat as normal. How then can a country expect to create a generation of honest, hardworking Kenyans when the young see such profound deviousness embodied by their elders? If anything, the dubious manner in which previous exams were conducted cemented the culture and essential acceptance of cheating and corruption in the minds of future generations.
Secondly, the culture of cheating was crippling the country; students were no longer interested in learning. An analyst made the point that the culture of cheating had eroded the importance of learning in the minds of millions of students. Many students saw no need to pay attention in class as they were assured of being leaked the final exam papers just before the exams. Consequently some saw no need to focus and absorb what they were being taught as they were assured of As regardless of whether they understood the content or not. This attitude then would follow students into further education, where again schemes were created to earn the top marks without having learnt the content required for the course. This has had serious consequences: firstly, transcripts presented to potential employers mispresented the students’ competencies and strengths. As a result, employers had no tool with which they could select the best and position them in relevant positions. Secondly, cheating meant many students entered the workforce as essentially incompetent as they had not truly learned the full body of knowledge expected of them. As a result, employers quickly realised that top marks account for nothing and thus had to spend millions more training job entrants in basic skills. This is a waste of millions of shillings that could have been better spent had honesty been the norm. Additionally, those who cheat their way through school bring with them a culture of eating where they have not planted, of reaping where they did not sow and of viewing corruption as a legitimate tool to use in professional life.
Thirdly, cheating has a detrimental effects on economic development. If the country has a distorted means of assessing student performance, how can the country assess where the country stands in terms of the literacy and educational competence of the youth? How can the country determine subject and geographical areas that need special attention and strategy? Cheating in the education sectors makes it impossible for the country to develop relevant strategy to improve the education sector and better position the sector to be a catalyst for the development of the country.
Matiang’i and his team should be applauded for having the grit to take on the culture of corruption that had riddled the country’s education system. The next step should now be a thorough assessment of curricula to ensure that education at all levels equips the youth with relevant skills to earn a fruitful living and push the country’s development forward.
Anzetse Were is a development economist; email@example.com
This article first appeared in my weekly column with the Business Daily on September 18, 2016
There appears to be an on-going assumption that publicly funded infrastructure investment will spur economic and social growth and development in Kenya. In fact, the government is so certain of this that they are getting into substantial debt in order to finance infrastructure projects. Indeed according to the International Budget Partnership, Kenya’s 2016/17 national budget 30.4 percent of total gross expenditure was allocated to energy, infrastructure and ICT. Infrastructure investment in this article refers primarily to investment in energy and transport infrastructure.
There are several arguments that support massive infrastructure investment. The first, no brainer argument is that Kenya’s and indeed Africa’s infrastructure needs are so dire that any investment in the sector is bound to have positive effects. According to the Africa Infrastructure Country Diagnostic, the continent’s infrastructure spending needs stand at about $93 billion per year. Clearly, there is a need for this investment.
Additionally, the lack of infrastructure can be argued to be eating into economic growth. Some estimate that the negative effect of poor power supply alone reduces per capita growth by 0.11-0.2 percentage points in Africa. Further, other studies show that infrastructure investment increases the growth potential of an economy by increasing the economy’s productive capacity by lowering production costs or providing opportunities for human capital development for example.
Infrastructure is also tied into social development. According to a report by European Commission, good quality infrastructure is a key ingredient of sustainable development because countries need efficient transport, energy and communications systems. So some argue that not only does infrastructure boost economic growth, it can lead to a better quality of life for citizens as well.
This all sounds very impressive but massive and aggressive infrastructure investment carries sizeable risks. According to the London School of Economics emerging research seems to suggest that the magnitude of infrastructure’s contribution (to growth) display considerable variation across studies. So the notion that infrastructure is directly linked to or even engenders economic growth is not cast in stone. Indeed recent literature tends to find smaller effects on links between infrastructure investment and economic growth than those reported in the earlier studies. So perhaps estimates that have previously linked infrastructure investment to economic growth and development may be overstating the causal effects.
Further, it is assumed that government is making the right infrastructure investment decisions for Kenya and that the contracts are being given to the right people. The Economist makes the point that even in countries like the USA public investment is wasted on inflated contracts with politically connected suppliers. The same magazine also makes the point that even in countries like the USA whose public financial management is considered to be more transparent with lots of bureaucrats to conduct cost-benefit analyses, identifying the most beneficial investments is hard. These problems are magnified in countries like Kenya where there is limited information on how infrastructure projects were chosen, how the cost benefit analysis was done and how contractors were or will be selected.
Finally, the manner in which the infrastructure plans are implemented will inform if Kenya will truly gain from this investment drive. A study by FONDAD argues that in order for infrastructure investment to truly stand a chance to create economic and social development shifts, they have to be done with great economic scrutiny at the selection stage, integrity in procurement, efficiency in implementation, effective post-completion management to ensure maintenance and efficient operation and, continuing accountability to users. Does Kenya tick all these boxes?
It is clear that infrastructure investment is a priority for government and the continued emphasis in government spending in this docket will continue. Bear in mind that, as KPMG states, a significant portion of these infrastructure projects are debt financed. It is therefore crucial that Kenyans are cognisant of the need for infrastructure investment but risks associated with aggressive infrastructure investment, and direct the warranted scrutiny at related projects.
Anzetse Were is a development economist; firstname.lastname@example.org
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; email@example.com
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; firstname.lastname@example.org