Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Africa is at a crossroads, bright and uncertain future

The Lions of the Savannah have roared. Our economies have been growing at about 50 per cent faster than the average global GDP. In Ethiopia, for example, the rate of GDP growth is about 111 percent faster than average global average.

But there is another side to the Africa growth saga. Huge chasms of inequality have burst open across the continent. Rural economies are comatose. Agriculture is trapped in a cuticle of unproductive low input and low technology subsistence production systems.

Moreover, an urban underclass is on the march. Hundreds of millions of Africa’s surging urban population live in squalid sub-human conditions. They lack access to basic social services such affordable housing, security, water, sanitation, health and education. Jobs are in short supply. A majority of young Africans are either unemployed or underemployed. Working poverty among relatively well-educated youth is becoming a significant social challenge.

A new challenge, borne out of Africa’s modest progress, is emerging. According to recent population projections by UN Population Division, Africa’s population will more than double from the current 1.2 billion to about 4 billion by 2100. Africa’s demographic trends and projections will compound every conceivable challenge we face today.

A large and youthful population will severely constrain sufficient and equitable provision of basis social services. Currently Africa faces large food deficits and must rely on external food aid. Investment and productivity in African agriculture is stagnant and falling compared to Asia and Latin America.

Less than 30 percent of Africans in Sub Saharan Africa have access to improved, reliable and sustainable water and sanitation. About 40 percent of Africa’s population lives under water stress today and is on course to increase to 64 percent under climate change and given the rate of population growth.

Water stress will have significant consequences both for agriculture and livestock production, touching off or exacerbating conflict over water and pasture resources. Declining domestic water supplies could erode health gains, causing a surge in water borne diseases especially among children under five years. Unchecked, rapid population growth will compound poverty, lack of economic opportunities, exacerbate inequality and heighten the risk of social and ecological decline, and trigger political instability on the continent.

Africa’s youth need jobs urgently. There will be no demographic dividend without job well-paying jobs for Africa’s relatively well-educated youth. And yes, there will be socio-economic turmoil without jobs for the youth. 

Creating jobs will not be trivial. And it will not be business as usual for Africa’s political class. Estimates by IMF show that Africa will need to create 18-20 million new jobs annually over the next 25 years. By 2050, Africa will need an about 700 million new jobs for the additional 1.3 billion that will be added to the continent.


Can we leverage the demographic dividend and grapple with the urgent challenges posed by a burgeoning population and of climate change? Can we harness the last decade of impressive GDP growth to drive fundamental economic transformation and produce equitable prosperity? 

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Electoral malpractices reveal deep ethical, moral crisis in our society

After a bruising and noisy campaign, Kenyans went to the polls in August to elect their president. According to the pollsters, this was one of the closest elections. Millions voted peacefully, and as always believed their voices would count.

As is their custom, election observer, notably the European Union Observer Mission and the Carter Centre found the election to be largely free and fair. Foreign missions were quick to congratulate the people of Kenya for a peaceful election. The will of the people was upheld and democracy was on the march. 

Mr. Raila Odinga, leader of the National Super Alliance (NASA), refused to concede defeat. Mr. Odinga claimed the elections were rigged. Initially the leaders said they would not file a petition at the Supreme Court to challenge the elections. A country with a history of post-election violence was on edge again.

First forward, the opposition was persuaded to file a petition to challenge the outcome of the presidential election. The petition was premised on two critical issues. First, that presidential election was not conducted in accordance with the principles laid down by the constitution and the law relating to the elections. Second, there were irregularities and illegalities committed in the conduct of the 2017 elections.

In a ruling that stunned the a nation and the world, restored confidence in our courts and made law students and young lawyers proud, Kenya’s Supreme Court declared the 2017 presidential election invalid, null and void. Justice Maraga also declared that incumbent, Uhuru Kenyatta, the third respondent to the petition was not validly declared president, and hence the declaration by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) Chair was invalid, null and void.

The Supreme Court directed the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission to organize and conduct a fresh Presidential Election in strict conformity with the constitution and the election laws within 60 days. “It is so ordered”, Justice David Maraga declared.

First, Kenyans have very little faith in public institutions. We don’t trust our justice system. The police and judges have a price. Second, we are a society where corruption is neither immoral nor criminal. Third, elections and politics are a zero-sum game.

The scale of the irregularities and illegalities in the manner in which IEBC conducted the elections suggests that Kenyan citizens, acting in their private and official capacity were compromised. Bribes were given and taken. I have said that as a society we are gravely deficient in trust, moral standing and integrity.

What has been revealed about the 2017 elections validates the disturbing findings of the Kenya youth survey. The survey revealed that young Kenyans were highly inclined to corruption, rule violation (impunity) and electoral fraud.


Ours is a case of a rotten barrel causing to rot every new harvest of apples. We must reflect deeply on the words of Chief Justice Maraga; “The greatness of a nation lies in its fidelity to its institutions and strict adherence to the rule of the law, and above all the fear of God.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Women key to achieving shared prosperit


Ethiopia, Rwanda and Tanzania are often hailed as Africa’s success stories. But Kenya is never left too far behind. Consistently, we have exhibited hope and positive prospects. Huge development opportunities abound. Our challenges persist. 

A relatively well-educated youthful population, expansion of access to education and huge investment in infrastructure present great opportunities. Intractable poverty, growing inequality and ethnic discord pose the greatest challenge to our progress. These are challenges of our own making. And only we can and must resolve them.

Reducing inequality is perhaps Kenya’s single most critical challenge and, it is integral to delivering shared prosperity. According to the New World Wealth 2014 report, 8,300 people or 0.02 percent own about 62 percent of the country’s wealth.  It is estimated that the poorest 10 percent of receive only two percent of the national income.

The emergence of extreme wealth among the African elite, after independence, was driven by systematic and sustained political in which personal interests of politicians, their families and lackeys influence state decisions and abuse office for personal business and financial gains. Things have not changed. The stakes just got higher, with new opportunities through large infrastructure and public sector service deals.

Regional inequalities are equally stark. These inequalities map neatly along ethnic, and political cleavages. Geography, as expressed by natural endowments – rainfall, temperature, vegetation and soils – exerts a huge influence on livelihood options. The inequalities also track the footprint of the commercial and administrative interests of the British colonists.

In counties like Wajir, Mandera and Turkana poverty rates are above 80 percent. Maternal mortality in Mandera is 3795 per 100,000 live births; giving birth is death sentence. In Turkana County, a skilled birth attendant delivers less than 25 percent of babies. At 227 deaths per 1,000 live births, Siaya County has the highest child mortality in the World. The country with the highest child mortality in the world has 156 deaths per 1,000 live births. 

Devolved governments, working in partnership with the national government must double down and grapple with the challenge of creating shared prosperity. Citizens at the county level must now begin to ask questions about public spending priorities. Their voices, backed up by their taxes must count. Government, national or county must be about service equitable service delivery.

While the big project investments are critical, the household level and especially the role of women is vital to stimulating and driving shared prosperity. We must pay attention to women, increasing their participation in education, training, business, leadership and employment. The minimum acceptable level of women participation must be parity. It is estimated that less than 30 percent of those earning formal employment wages are women. And even the few women in formal employment don’t receive equal pay for equal work compared to their male counterparts

Moreover, we have to take of the shackles of culture and tradition. Issues around property rights and assets for rural women must be attended to urgently. Women must have unfettered access to productive assets.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Efficient management, re-use, recycle of plastic bags is more sensible than a total ban

Kenya has banned the manufacture and use of plastic carrier bags and flat bags used for commercial and household packaging. However, the ban does not apply to plastic bags used in primary industrial packaging.

The ban took effect August 28, 2017. This landmark law has been widely acclaimed, especially by environment and conservation aficionados. The Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Program, Erik Solheim, tweeted, “Fantastic news! Kenya bans plastic bags. Congratulations!”

The shining role model for Kenya is Rwanda, which banned the use of plastic bags in 2008. The streets and residential neighborhoods of Kigali are nearly spotless clean. This is in sharp contrast to Kenya, where public and private spaces are choked in garbage, with plastics being the most visible trash.

The negative impacts of plastic bags are indefensible. Here in Nairobi, plastic bags are chocking storm drains and strangulating our rivers. They litter our streets and precious open public spaces. Plastic bags are an eyesore when they dangle from our trees. In the ocean plastics kill fish, seabirds and other forms of marine life.

Reliable evidence suggests single use plastics valued at $80-120 billion is lost to the global economy annually. About 32 per cent of plastic packaging is improperly disposed generating unknown but staggering costs by fouling water systems and damaging urban infrastructure. The production of plastics is also associated with emission of greenhouse gases.

We have demonized plastic bags. Hence, on the face of it the ban in Kenya is the right thing to do. But the real demon dwells in the revolting levels of corruption and dysfunction in urban governance. Waste management is private and unregulated. Waste is not sorted and disposal is run by greedy cartels that have politicians in their pockets.

Such chaos hampers the development effective after-use systems and effective environments for innovation. Hence, there is another side to the plastic bags saga. An opportunity beckons; through efficient management of plastics we can achieve better outcomes, for the economy and the environment while continuing to enjoy the benefits of plastic packaging. 

The opportunity is the ‘circular economy’, a term not well known a few years ago but has stirred imagination globally, as a practical option to the current linear take-make-dispose economic model. At the heart of the circular economy idea is the fact that circularity must be a concrete driver of production innovation and value creation in the 21st century.

The material savings potential of the circular economy is estimated at about a trillion dollars annually. Studies have shown the in Europe 53 per cent of plastic packaging can be recycles in an ecologically efficient way. The job creation potential across the circular economy value chain exceeds a million in the European Union.


The tradeoff is loss of the opportunity to create a new industrial system that is restorative and regenerative. Thousands of new products and millions of quality, durable jobs could be created. And yes, re-use plastics could reduce demand on finite raw materials and save the planet.

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