TV Interview: State of the Nation with a focus on the economy

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On Monday February 27, 2017 I was interviewed by Citizen TV on the State of Kenya’s Economy.

TV Interview: The economy and upcoming elections

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On Sunday February 26, 2017 I was part of a panel that was interviewed by KTN on the economic issues that ought to be addressed by political aspirants.

TV Interview: The state of the Kenyan economy

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Yesterday I was interviewed by Citizen TV on the state of the Kenyan economy.

Devolution can give birth to issue-based politics in Kenya

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This article first appeared in my column in the Business Daily on January 15, 2017

As the election season begins to heat up with various aspirants vying for seats at national and county level, the electorate should begin to think about how to ensure to their issues and concerns are addressed by the next crop of leaders. As we all know, at national level, political alignments are defined by tribal groupings and affiliations. This formula of politicking is unlikely to change at national level, however this need not be the case at county level. Although in some cases, tribalism has been devolved to the county where there is a growing obsession with clan-based politics, such trends can be stopped and be replaced by issue-based politics.

Outside the major metropoles of Nairobi and Mombasa, relative tribal homogeneity dominates most of the other counties, especially rural counties. Ergo, in most cases, the direction of how that county will vote at national level will be informed by tribal political affiliations. However, for county posts the possibilities are more fluid as many of those who will be vying for office, particularly in rural areas, will be from the domicile tribe. This provides the opportunity for issue-based rather that tribe-based politics to dominate at county level. Devolution has provided an opportunity for the electorate to ensure that, at the local level, their issues, concerns and priorities take precedence over tribe or clan-based political jostling. It is at county level that Kenyans can make sure all aspirants talk about issues, rather than copying the tribe-based political back and forth dominant at national level. It is at county level that Kenyans can force aspirants to get off the ‘tribe’ pedestal and instead stand on the ‘issues’ pedestal.

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Now, as mentioned, in some parts of the country, devolution is leading to the devolution of tribalism. Some Kenyans are now voting, at county level, based on which clan different aspirants belong to. This is pure folly that dangerously mimics tribally aligned politicking at national level, the damage of which Kenya has seen in the past. Thus, the time is now for Kenyans at county level to insist on aspirants speaking to addressing issues rather than focussing on clan-based affiliations. Kenyans have a window of opportunity to make certain that the culture of selecting county leaders on issues takes root.

Indeed, once the election period is complete and the new administrations at national and county level have been selected, Kenyans can truly exert pressure at county level for the issues to be the focus of the incoming administrations. At national level, there will continue to be tribe-based political tensions, this need not be the case at county level. Kenyans must leverage the power that has been afforded them through devolution and organise themselves at county level into issue-focussed caucuses that pressure county leadership and technical executives to communicate how county issues will be addressed.

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Finally, devolution can enable issue-based fiscal policy formulation at county level. At the moment, budget making at county level is haphazard and disorganised defined more by personal agendas than county needs. Kenyans can follow the lead of Elegyo Marakwet county and devise budget formulas that prioritise county needs, not personal agendas. The Elgeyo Marakwet County’s Equitable Development Act 2015 creates a budget formula that distributes the county budget based on equality and equity. Such strategies ought to be encouraged in all counties as they are a first, crucial step to ensuring equity and equality inform county budget making and fiscal policy formulation.

In short, there is ample room for Kenyans to use the upcoming elections to ensure that their issues take precedence at county level. And in encouraging issue-based politics to take root at county level, such thinking may trickle up and direct national politicking to be focussed on issues, not tribe.

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

Dynamics to look out for in 2017

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This article first appeared in my column with the Business Daily on January 1, 2017

As 2017 starts it is important to take note of key dynamics that will define the year in Kenya. Most of the dynamics will be related to the elections at both national and county levels. There are several issues married to this concern the first of which is political and civil stability. There are already signs that the race for office at both national and county levels will be intense with potential for unrest. It is important that all aspirants as well a security minimise any instability that may emerge from the elections to limit its potentially negative effects on the economy. Kenya’s election year tends to be associated with lower economic growth. It is time to break away from this by securing stability regardless of whether it is an election year or not. This can only be achieved if aspirants from both sides of the political divide are responsible in their speech and actions and are all committed to well governed elections.


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Secondly, there has been and will continue to be an intensification of tribalism associated with the elections. The problem with tribalism is not only that is it morally abhorrent, it is foolish. The folly of tribalism related to electing leaders is that is engenders a culture of unaccountability in leaders. Regardless of how the leaders of the ruling or oppositions parties behave and perform, they are guaranteed that Kenyans will vote for them depending on tribal bent. Thus leaders do not need to meet promises made, develop the country or be accountable because they know when elections come around, none of the aforementioned will affect their vote; only tribe will. Thus it is wonder that Kenyans complain about poor leadership yet it is the obsession with tribe in this country that feeds that culture of unaccountability in leadership. This year Kenyans should start the process of ending the culture of tribalism by demanding ideological positions from aspirants on how they will rule at national and county levels.

Another big dynamic will be fiscal policy and management. With regards to fiscal policy, the budget will be read in the middle of the year at the height of electioneering. It is important that Kenyans pay attention to fiscal policy to understand the financial plan for the country going forward. This is important as there may be a change of guard before the end of the fiscal year either at the political or technocratic level. Secondly, election year is a good time for Kenyans to ask hard questions on the management of public budgets. The issue of fiscal management or the lack thereof has beleaguered Kenya for the past five years both at national and county levels. The allegations of graft at national level have been well publicised yet those at county level are essentially ignored. This is a dangerous dualistic mind-set as continued graft at county level poses a clear and present danger to the ability of devolution to deliver on development. Counties in both ruling party and opposition dockets are culpable; this is a non-partisan issue. Therefore this year Kenyans should demand, at both national and county level, clear strategy by all aspirants on how they will address this issue of fiscal mismanagement. This should be coupled with an expectation from aspirants to devise prudent fiscal policy at national and county level.

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The final big issue is the development agenda for the next five years; what theme will define the next era of rule? It is clear that over the past five years, infrastructure has been a key theme for the government. Will this be continued for the next five years? My view is that there should now be a shift from infrastructure to manufacturing and green industrialisation. The share of manufacturing in GDP in Kenya has been stagnant for decades. As a result, Kenyans have not fully benefitted from the related job creation, rise in disposable income and penetration of Kenyan products in the African market. The time is now for the next administration to develop a clear strategy and plan for manufacturing and green industrialisation as the theme that will define the next five years.

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

Key themes for Kenya in 2016

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This article first appeared in my column with the Business Daily on November 27, 2016

The year is coming to an end; what have been the key economic themes that defined 2016?

The first, and most obvious was heightened political tension going into an election year. Once the budget was read mid-year, election mode kicked in fully. Sadly this means the economic realities linked to an election year started early. Elections in Kenya tend to be associated with two phenomena: instability and dampened economic growth. Politically charged rallies, demonstrations and related civil instability occurred over the course of the year, all of which negatively informed economic growth. The fact that economic performance still seems tethered to election is a reflection of the immaturity of socio-political and economic institutions in the country.

The main means through which this can be addressed is for major politicians to refrain from tribally oriented, inflammatory and irresponsible comments across the political and related tribal divide. Further, political parties should be aligned to ideology not tribe so that analysts can anticipate what type of administration the winning party would likely espouse. Sadly, this year made it clear that the tribal formula still reigns supreme with regards to political alignment and related electioneering.

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Secondly, financial mismanagement was a central theme. Over the course of the year and stemming from last year, numerous, large scale cases of allegations of grand corruption in government have been highlighted in the media; and opposition has made it clear that at national level, accusing the national government of corruption will be a major election platform. However, bear in mind financial mismanagement is at both national and county level. Indeed, my experience indicates that there is gross mismanagement of funds at county level headed by individuals aligned to the ruling party as well as opposition.

However, the attention of Kenyans is fixated on national government, and although this is warranted, county governments deserve such scrutiny as well especially because there is no real pressure on the latter to be financially accountable. This is due to a number of factors; firstly the theme has been to ‘go gently’ on county governments and give them the benefit of the doubt so that devolution can take root in the country. Secondly, there are serious capacity constraints with regards to financial expertise at county level which makes embezzlement easier and tracking of financial performance more difficult. The final factor behind the lack of robust monitoring on county spending is linked to the fact that national government is not willing to highlight corruption at county level not only because it will turn attention to an issue that has bedevilled them, but also because they do not want to be seen to be speaking in a manner that can be interpreted as attempting to stifle devolution.

As we go into December and an election year, corruption is likely to gain more attention. Kenyans can expect to hear pledges at both national and county level from aspirants sharing plans on how they can finally kill the beast called corruption. Kenyans should not be distracted by such antics but rather work with local and international partners to create and strengthen institutions that monitor spending.

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Finally, a key theme of the year has been the disconnect between GDP growth figures and the lived reality for Kenyans. Major factories have shut down, thousands of jobs have been lost in key sectors and Kenyans feel as though they are not reaping the fruits of economic growth. As I have stated previously this seems largely linked to the neglect of the informal economy and related micro and small enterprise where most Kenyans earn a living; this must change.

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

What is really going on with the Kenyan Economy? TV Interviews

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On November 13, 2016 I spoke on a panel on KTN on the disparity between Kenya’s GDP growth statistics and the lived economic reality of Kenyans.

On November 9, 2016 I was part of a two person panel on K24 discussing the state of the Kenyan economy.