This article first appeared in my weekly column with the Business Daily on July 2, 2017
Kenya’s annual GDP growth rate has been ticking along steadily at between 4 to 7 percent over the past five years. At no point has it hit the Vision 2030 target of 10 percent. Why not? Was Vision 2030 a pipe dream littered with deliberately illusory goals and targets? Why has the 10 percent target not been reached, and how can this be changed? There are three factors that can unlock the country’s economic growth at a fundamental level in both the long and short term.
The first is the long term issue of agriculture. The agriculture sector is a conundrum; on one hand Kenya’s agricultural sector is very efficient and profitable. Kenya is one of the leading exporters of black tea in the world, and the country’s floriculture and horticulture sector are important economic players in the sector. On the other hand, the country continues to struggle with food security as the maize price dynamic has illustrated. The ILO makes the point that the agricultural sector employs 61 percent of Kenya’s workforce, yet only contributes 30 percent to GDP.
This conundrum can be rectified through a multi-pronged approach that links productive sectors to less productive ones, more effective deployment of agricultural subsidies to farmers (particularly small holder farmers), and the revival of technical skills transfers to farmers at county and ward levels. Doing so will allow the labour locked in the sector to enter profitable activity either in agriculture or other sectors.
The second factor is the interest rate cap which is an overarching, hopefully short-term, constraint to meeting the 10 percent target. Earlier this year the World Bank made the point that Kenya faces a marked slowdown in credit growth to the private sector. At 4.3 percent, this remains well below the ten-year average of 19 percent and is weighing on private investment and household consumption.
Part of this massive slowdown can be attributed to the interest rate cap which has compromised two fundamental levers that support economic growth: access to credit and monetary policy. The interest rate cap has engendered a contraction in liquidity to SMEs in particular, essentially slowing down the country’s economic engine. Due to the cap, SMEs are unable to get the liquidity they need in order to expand and generate more jobs as well as income. The second lever compromised by the interest rate cap is monetary policy, reducing its ability to buffer Kenyans from economic volatility. With inflation standing at 11.7 percent in May, the cap has made it almost impossible for the CBK to step in with remedial measures such as raising interest rates as the consequences of doing so are unclear. Thus, in the short term, the interest rate should be reversed so that monetary policy can play the role it ought to, and robust credit access is restored to Kenyans.
The third factor is the informal economy which is not only important for economic growth but also engendering equitable growth. 90 percent of employed Kenyans earn a living in the informal sector, yet it continues to be neglected. Too much of the country’s labour is locked in micro-businesses with low levels of productivity, too inadequately skilled and resourced to drive the country’s equitable growth. Thus financial, skills and technological resources ought to be directed to the sector to catalyse the ability of informal businesses to graduate into authentic profitability, sustainable job creation and robust income growth.
Anzetse Were is a development economist; firstname.lastname@example.org