Tuesday, July 28, 2015

It is stupid to play with only half the team

“Obama’s historic visit must sow the seeds of hope and aspiration in a land where politicians have fed citizens the rotten meat of corruption and the stale bread of ethnic bigotry. We must love and believe in this country again”. This is what I wrote in this column last week. And Obama delivered.

In his speech at Kasarani President Obama explained that corruption costs Kenyans about 250,000 jobs every year. He argued that politics of ethnicity is a failure of imagination. Obama made the youth believe again when he said that there is no barrier to what they can achieve and that they can build their future right here right now. And quoting Robert Kennedy he said, “It is a revolutionary world we live in and young people must lead”.

Obama, echoing President Kenyatta lauded the breathtaking progress that we have made in just one decade. Kenya, like other African countries Kenya is on the move. We have moved people out of poverty. Our GDP has surged. The income gap between countries like South Korea and us is closing. We enacted a new constitution, which demands more accountability from public servants and disdains a passive citizenry.

But challenges remain. The making of the Kenyan nation is still work in progress. Like I have warned in this column before, Obama cautioned that new laws could constrict the space for civil society, curtailing its capacity to partner with government in the noble but complex task of building a strong, inclusive and prosperous society. New laws could limit the capacity of civil society to hold citizens and the government accountable. New laws could preclude civil society from building social assets to counter radicalization, undermining effort to fight terrorism.

Obama like Kenyatta understands that fighting corruption must take more than strong laws, a long list and prosecution. Ending corruption will demand more from ordinary citizens and politicians. All of us must stop believing that to be corrupt is a legitimate badge of honor. We must rise up and say enough is enough. Citizens and politicians must say no to the bad habit and culture of corruption. But we must remind President Kenyatta that it will take rare resolve and courage to succeed where Mzee Kenyatta and two previous presidents failed.

President Obama spoke in uplifting terms, celebrating the achievements of Kenyan youth. He said Kenya’s future is hopeful because Richard Ruto Todosia founded Yes Youth Can, which stood up against ethnic incitement and helped bank the fires of ethnic hared in 2007. Kenya is poised for greatness because Josephine Kulea’s Samburu Girls Foundation has helped rescue thousands of girls from early marriage and repressive cultural practices. Kenya will continue to soar because technology entrepreneurs like Jamila Abbas are revolutionizing agriculture and putting money in the pockets of tens of thousands of smallholder farmers.

Thanks to President Obama, hundreds of millions of Africa’s marginalized women and girls have a friend. The girl who is passed over for school and inheritance has a powerful champion in Obama. The millions of young and ambitious girls who must get married to men they don't love because it is tradition have found an advocate in Obama. The millions of Kenyan women who want their constitutional right to hold at least one third of elected seats honored have an attorney who believes women can and must take their rightful place in political leadership. This right is constitutional and non-negotiable. 

Obama has given voice to millions of decent Kenyans like Binyavanga Wainanina who feel the weight of executive discrimination because of who they choose to love. It is not right to imagine that important priorities like water and sanitation, maternal and child health and good roads would subjugate or overturn personal liberties, and justify discrimination. There is no legitimate or right form of discrimination.

The millions of youth who lack in self esteem because they have been told they are not from the right tribe or their last name is not politically correct now have a chance to dream big and aspire to be their very best because Obama calls on them to believe they can. Kenyan youth must fight for a country where they succeed on merit and not on account of their last name.

In the spirit of Harambee, we are in this together and it would be stupid to play with only half of team Kenya.  

Monday, July 20, 2015

Kenya is an incredibly gifted and blessed country

A skinny kid with a funny name erupted at the Democratic National Convention in Boston in July 2004 and enthralled America. In October 2006 David Brooks, New York Times columnist, wrote, “the next Democratic nominee should either be Barack Obama or should have the stature that would come from defeating Barack Obama”.

On January 20, 2009, Barack Hussein Obama became the 44th American to take the presidential oath. In the last year of his second term, Obama is coming to Kenya this Friday, the first visit to Kenya by an American president.

Obama has been to many countries, some more powerful and strategically more valuable to the US than Kenya. But there is no other country on Earth where his visit invokes greater emotion and expectation, pride and symbolism. Obama’s visit is in every sense conceivable a veritable homecoming for the world’s most powerful man.

President Obama’s father was born in Kogelo village in Alego, Siaya County. He grew up herding goats and went school in a tin-roof shack. Obama’s father got a scholarship to study in a magical place, America, and met his mother, a woman born in Kansas.

The highlight of Obama’s visit will be bilateral agreements – trade; security; technical assistance – nothing extraordinary. But I believe there must be more to show after the ink on the agreements has faded. Obama’s visit could yield something more enduring for the Kenyan people.

Kenya is still traumatized by the orgy of mindless murders of 2007. Our souls and bodies bear the scars, and the memories of lost loved ones are eternally engraved in our broken hearts. Everyday, through their actions and words, politicians remind us of just how ethnically fractured we are. They remind us everyday that 2007 could happen again. They remind us that nationhood remains a hollow, distant dream.

Our politicians remind us everyday that public service is not about the building a better society for all but about appropriating power and accumulating personal wealth. Our politicians remind us everyday that this nation belongs to a cabal of the greedy and powerful few who are not bound by ethics of laws.

Convinced that politics is about self-aggrandizement, 60 percent of Kenya’s youth will not vote unless they are bribed. Over 25 percent of Kenya’s youth believe it is okay not to pay taxes. A majority of youth thinks corruption and ethnic bigotry is normal, and that our society has no place for merit.

When he speaks to President Kenyatta and leaders of the opposition he must persuade them to distrust hubris and righteous zeal. Politics must be about conversation, deliberation and reconciliation. National politics must be driven by the ability to persuade one another of common aims borne of shared values.

Obama’s message on war on terror must caution against erosion of civil liberties and extrajudicial killings. Muslims and Somalis who have been treated unjustly in the so-called war against terror must believe, once again, that their rights as citizens are protected under the law.

Obama and his delegation must be mindful that any deal or agreement that comes out of this historic visit will amount to nothing unless we turn the jangling discord our country into a beautiful symphony of one indivisible nation.

Obama must use stature and ancestral connection to Kenya to inspire Kenyan youth. Obama’s personal story – a skinny kid with a funny name who dared believe that America has a place for him too – must cause young people to aspire to be their best selves. We need to believe in our country and ourselves again. Kenya will never again so completely require the gifts and stature of Barack Obama.

Speaking at the White House press conference on the Iran nuclear deal last week Obama spoke about Kenya in the most heartfelt way. He said, “Kenya is an incredibly gifted and blessed country”.

Obama’s historic visit must sow the seeds of hope and aspiration in a land where politicians have fed citizens the rotten meat of corruption and the stale bread of ethnic bigotry. We must love and believe in this country again.


We all must find the courage to fight impunity and corruption, and resist the stifling mediocrity of ethnic division and hatred. Kenya must rise as a beacon of hope, liberty and equal opportunity for Kenyans of all tribes, races, religions, men and women and yes, gay and straight.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

In the Kenyan Press – Corruption Allegations Against Diligent Public Servants?

http://www.nation.co.ke/…/10…/2790862/-/owiir5z/-/index.htmlhttp://www.nation.co.ke/…/10…/2790862/-/owiir5z/-/index.htmlhttp://www.standardmedia.co.ke/…/uproar-over-anne-waiguru-p…http://www.businessdailyafrica.com/…/2765394/-/wfq7dgz/-/in…

I believe, like most Cabinet Secretaries, Ms. Ann Waiguru is a competent and dedicated public servant. And most importantly, her loyalty to Mr. Kenyatta is unquestionable.

She like her other colleagues have been linked with a range of corruption allegations, abuse of office etc. Mr. Kenyatta showed rare courage and leadership early this year when he presented a list of corrupt public servants. Senior government officials, including including cabinet secretaries were asked to "step aside". Since then many of them have been cleared of the allegations and charges of corruption. And we must respect the law and build confidence in our justice system.

Ms. Waiguru was not on the Mr. Kenyatta's list. But the allegations against her have an uncanny similarity to those that hounded her cabinet colleagues out of office. And yes, they were just allegations, pending substantial evidence to warrant a trial. However, Ms. Waiguru and supporters have dismissed these allegations with contempt and maintained that she is a victim of witch-hunt and malice.

Ann Waiguru's cabinet colleagues made similar statements; Ms. Ngilu did, so did Mr. Chirchir and Mr. Kamau.

I think Mr. Kenyatta and Ms. Waigur run the risk of sending a message to the public and to members of his government and the civil service that there is such a thing as a "sacred cow". And that there are two scale of justice; for special hardworking people and the rest.

At this point, and in view of the incessant flood of allegations of corruption against Ms. Waigure, I think the best thing for her, and in the interest of the man he has served with fierce loyalty and dedication, Ms. Waiguru should leave office and allow investigations against these allegations.
Moi let Biwott go over Ouko assassination allegations. Kibaki let Mwiraria and Murungaru go over Anglo Leasing. Deep in gut I believe Ms. Waiguru is innocent. What she needs is the courage to prove that she is indeed innocent. And I believe both her and the Mr. Kenyatta know that the right thing for her to do is to "step aside" and allow her innocence to coming shining through like the morning sun.

Keeping Waiguru in office, amidst all these allegations, founded or unfounded is a painful and needless distraction to Mr. Kenyatta, who must get on the work of the people.

Just like Julius Caesar's wife, Ms. Waiguru must be beyond reproach.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

We need more creative models for funding development

This year, 2015, will go down in history as one of the most pivotal in modern history. This year will define in a large measure how we balance socio-economic prosperity and the Earth’s fragile ecological resource base.

In December 2015, the world will gather in Paris for the 21st conference of parties to the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. This year  also marks the end of the implementation period of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the start of a framework for development under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) framwork. And the 3rd Finance for Development (FfD) conference is underway in Addis Ababa.

The consultative process around the SDGs was impressive. All views counted and that is a very good thing. But it seems to me that a majority of stakeholders, especially from low income countries were under the illusion that a proliferation of development targets and goals would equate, invariably, to more money in development finance. At the moment, there are 169 proposed targets clustered into 17 goals. Hence, the SDGs are too sparwaled and unweildy. The largely unmet MDGs had 21 tragest grouped into 8 goals.

It is estimated that meeting the SDGs would cost between $2 trillion and $3trillion annually over the next 15 years. This scale of spending would be equivalent to between 3 and 4 percent of world GDP or 3 to 4 times the combined GDP of all African countries. In 2013 Africa received $55.8 billion out of $135 billion in global Official Development Assistance (ODA) flows.

According to the African Development Bank, the cost of funding Africa’s infrastructure priorities; energy, water, transport and ICT by 2040 is estimated at $360 billion, and nearly 80 percent of this cost is needed by 2020. At a cost of $2 to $3trillion annually, the cost of the SDGs is unfeasible, and it will need more innovative fiancing options, beyond traditional ODA.

This week, July 13-16, 2015, the great and the good are assembled in the Ethiopian capital to figure out, ahead of the UN General Assembly meeting on September 2015, how to finance the post-2015 development agenda.
My sense, based on previous global processes, is that the 3rd FfD conference will yield no more than a perfuntory and innocuous laundry list of so-called declararations, targets or concensus. But we must not hold our breath or expect any concrete action. This will be another global waffle fest, just like the previous FfD conferences.

What came out of the Monterrey Consensus in 2002 and what lessons are we bringing to Addis Ababa? What happened to the UN target, re-affirmed in Monterrey, to increase ODA contribution from member countries of  Development Assistance Committee (DAC) to 0.7 percent of GNI? Today only Denmark, Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom have honored this obligation.

The least we can expect from the 3rd FfD conference in Addis Ababa is a broad framework for development financing, which recognizes that the world hase changed and more than seven times of total ODA flows now comes from foreign direct investment, loans, and private philanthropy. Moreover, private capital flows, tax revenues and remittances are surging ahead as significant sources of development funding in the developing world. It is also important to note that there are new and significant players in development finance; Brazil, China, Russia, India and Turkey.

In essence, the 3rd FfD conference must define a new framework for development financing. First, the new partnership must define architecture for blended finance, which combines traditional aid, domestic resource mobilization, private capital (domestic and FDI), loans international trade, and remittances.

Second, the new framework must define the principles for sound policies, credible, transparent institutions, including civil society, to ensure effective delivery and impact and to help leverage the capacity of developing countries to mobilze domestic revenue and to attract private capital flows to complete the woefully inadequate ODA flows. Third, especially for Africa, there must be a link between development finance and climate finance, integrating the services of nature into national accounts.

Traditional aid, the sort that precipitates the ire of Bill Easterly and Dambisa Moyo is outdated. Financing for development must be crafted on a blended finance architecture. Blended finance must be nimble, adaptive and differentiated.


This time must be different. The 3rd FfD conference must yield more than innocuous, unbinding consensus.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Africa’s Children, an untapped potential

Africa’s prosperity, and any claim to greatness is inextricably bound to its children. Despite significant progress over the past decade, the flourishing of the African child is still staggered by poverty, malnutrition, disease and premature death.

Africa’s most valuable yet untapped potential is its children. It is not the vast reserves of oil or gas or gold or diamonds that will curve Africa’s place in the league table of great nations. Neither is it the abundance of farmland nor the growing consumer classes nor the new kilometers of road or railway that will make the 21st century Africa’s moment. What is happening to Africa’s children today will shape the continent’s future for many decades to come.

Consider that 16 of the 20 countries UNESCO judged to be least likely to meet the Education for All (EFA) targets are in sub-Saharan Africa. According to UNESCO, no African country attained the most important goal of universal primary education, defined as all children completing primary education. It is estimated that 30 million African children of primary school age were out of school in 2012. Here in Kenya, it is estimated that 2 million primary-age children were out of school in 2014.

More than 40 percent of Africa’s children are stunted. This means that they suffer significant, and often irreversible cognitive impairment. Such children are highly likley to repeat grades and to drop out of school. The psycho-socil and economic effects of stunting and cognitive impairment endure into adulthood and can be transmitted from parents to children. Stunted children will earn less and will most likely not to live out their full potential and contribute less to their communities.

Education is no longer about the African child. Education is now about the reputation of the school and the school head teachers. From very early in their lives the African child is taught not to think but to learn by rote and commit meaningless facts to memory to excel in national standardized test scores. We have transformed our schools into grade factories. And guess what, this is not about to change.

More than anything else, children must learn how to learn, unlearn and re-learn. Our education is about the curriculum and content. It is not about the child. One of my professors told me many years ago that half of what he was teaching would be out of date before I graduated. The problem is that he did not know which half it was.
The over-crowded, natural resource-poor East Asian economies have succeeded so spectacularly well on the economic front. For example, Singapore’s GDP per capita soared from USD516 in 1965 to about USD 55,000 in 2013. In the same period Kenya’s GDP per capita has increased from USD 104 to USD 1,240. Singapore’s miracle is largely attributed, among other factors, to sustained levels of investment in human capital over many decades.

Investment in education, especially for children leads to the formation of human capital and is in my view the ultimate  engine of economic growth. Human capital drives to economic growth in two ways. First, the human capital enhances an individual’s capability, leading to an increase in productivity and to economic growth. Second, a well educated population will also contribute to strengthening democracy and protecting civil liberties.
Moreover, the benefits of education are not confined to service and manufactuing sectors. Significant benefits of education on agricultral productivity were observed in East Asia in the 1970s. The contribution of education to agricultural productivity was high in South Korea.  One year of additional education was estimated to increase productivity by 2 percent  Moreover, Education also influenced the selection of technologies in farming. Better-educated farmers chose superior technology compared to less-educated farmers. This is especially relevant to Africa considering that our continent has vast but untapped agricultural land.

The miracle of the Asian Tigers­ – Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan – is something Africa can and must learn from. In the long-term, enduring and equitable prosperity comes from investing in human capital. And we must start by ensuring that our children are well fed, clothed and educated.


The African Development Bank must invest in Africa’s most crucial bridge to the future, its children, more than fancy highways. The Lion economies of Africa will not roar until every African child has a fair chance in life, unshackeld by poverty, hunger and disease.

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