When Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore conceived his Vision in 1965 for the development of his country, he had three clear-cut goals. To make his country completely self-reliant, totally corruption -free, and take Singapore from third-world to first-world country in his own generation. And he achieved all the three goals much before he died recently in 2015.
When Mwai Kibaki launched Kenya VISION 2030 in 2007/08, modeled on the Malaysian experience and drafted by McKinsey International, he only had a few materialistic goals—to transform Kenya into a newly industrializing “middle income country providing high quality life to all its citizens by the year 2030”, and to increase an average GDP growth of 6% in 2006 to 10% by 2012. The Vision 2030 is also based on three “pillars”: the economic, the social and the political, and implementation of six or seven “flagship” projects within the next few years.
Almost eight years down the line the country is still struggling to have a GDP growth of about 5.5%, lower than what it was in 2006. The foundations on which the three “pillars” were built are somewhat shaky, or even crumbling. And out of the six or seven “flagship” projects, only the controversial SG Railways Project between Mombasa and Nairobi, funded, designed and procured by the Chinese Government is under construction. All other flagship projects have not even taken off the ground, except cutting of ribbons.
The main reason why Kenya has failed to realize its VISION 2030 is because we come up with grandiose plans, copied from others, with unrealistic growth scenario, and without any clear-cut goals or core values. If one was to borrow Lee Kuan Yew’s three core values, then Kenya would fail miserably on all three of them. The country has still not learnt the value of self-reliance. It is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. And it is a highly unequal society thriving on political patronage and tribal affiliations. Let us discuss some of these issues briefly.
Kenya, as a country lacks the spirit of self reliance as we are always begging or borrowing from multinationals or bilateral institutions to finance, design and construct all our infrastructure projects, without building our own human resources to undertake such projects on our own. And unlike other emerging markets, Kenya (and most of Sub-Sahara Africa), has not yet developed its entrepreneurship and technical skills to take up industrial growth itself. This is the reason why we are always inviting foreign countries from the East to come and set up industries in Kenya and we simply become sleeping partners.
And the culture of dependency is even worse at the grass root level, with a large number of them either living on handouts dished out by politicians and richer relatives, or on NGO’s, teaching them how to take care of their basic needs, including keeping their home environment clean.
With regard to corruption, it is across the board, especially at the top level, where the elites only know three things—trading, ‘tenderpreneurship’ and ‘cutting deals’. And some of the mega infrastructure projects are making the matters even worse in perpetuating mega corruption, both in private as well as public sectors, and sucking in several foreign countries in the scam.
And it must be realized that the seeds of mega corruption are sown at the top level, when the new institutions are created or existing ones merged to suit vested interests, new appointments are made on political basis, new projects are created out of thin air, deals are cut on an ad hoc basis, and tenders awarded to the chosen few.
And finally with regard to the third core value of Kenya becoming a wealthy nation. Yes, the top 5% of the total population (the upper middle class, including 0.5% tycoons), enjoy the incomes, amenities and living standards of the rich countries. However the rest (15% middle class and 35% lower middle class), can barely meet their ends meet, with another 45% living below the poverty line. It should be remembered that the top 0.5% have the same wealth, probably even more, than the bottom 50%. And it is only the upper middle class, the top 5%, who can afford to buy their own property. The rest 95% are either living in a hut in a rural area, or a shack in the slums, or a rented accommodation in the low-cost housing estates. That is why Kenya is still considered a highly unequal and a polarized society.
So far, VISION 2030 has failed the country. Perhaps we should go back to the drawing board and revise our VISION based on some fundamental core values like self-reliance, integrity, and an inclusive society devoid of negative ethnicity. Only then can we make Kenya a prosperous nation.