Creative Commons

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Creating jobs for youth must be a priority

If the legion of jobless youth does not find work the consequences could be dire – from increased poverty and inequality and economic decline to social and political instability. 

The sponsors of the National Youth Employment Bill understand the fierce urgency of the unemployment crisis, especially among youth. The Bill is intended to enhance access to employment as provided for in article 55(c) of the Constitution. The authors of the Bill regard youth as a marginalized and minority group under article 56 of the Constitution and must be provided special opportunities for access to employment as stipulated in article 56(c).  

The Bill seeks to create the National Youth Employment Authority, which will maintain a database of unemployed youth and facilitate increased employment of youth in the public and private sector. Moreover, the Authority will facilitate counseling of youth to improve absorption in employment as well as providing national and county governments with policy advise on youth employment. The Authority will also facilitate internship placement for college students and graduates.

In my view, maintaining a national database of jobseekers and information on available job vacancies is critical. This would the first time we have reliable information on labor market dynamics­ – who is looking for a job, which sectors are hiring, skills needed in the labor market and skills job seekers posses.

However, I am not sure that we need a law and a publicly funded money guzzling bureaucracy to link youth to internships and jobs and to maintain a labor market database. This is a function, which can be performed by the Huduma Centres. All one needs is a mobile application to submit their resume to a database linked to vacancies and they will receive appropriate notifications.

More importantly, the reason we have an unemployment crisis is not because we do not have a National Unemployment Act or Authority. The reason is there are no jobs, period. The recent impressive GDP growth figures is largely due to expansionary fiscal policies, which do not create jobs for school leavers and college graduates. The reason there are no jobs is because Kenya’s export sector has been sluggish for the past 25 years. Tourism has been buffeted by insecurity and poaching, especially over the last couple of years.

The reason there are no jobs is because we have become a warehouse for cheap imports goods from China. Kenya’s average share of manufacturing value added in GDP is estimated at 10 percent, unchanged from the 1970’s. Our manufacturing sector employs on 280,000 people. The reason there are no jobs is because agriculture is comatose, rural productivity has been in decline for more than four decades. 

The reason there are no jobs is because on average 56 percent of graduates from East African universities lack basic and technical skills needed for the few jobs that exist. Moreover, our schools are not places for forging curiosity, critical thinking, complex reasoning, creativity and innovation.

Even with high unemployment, Kenya faces a crippling skills shortage. Talk to anybody in construction and they will tell how difficult it is to find a good electrician, plumber or mason. Those of you who bother to maintain your cars understand that it take lots of prayers and luck to find a good technician. It is not surprising that we have Tony Blair leading Mr. Kenyatta’s Presidential Delivery Unit. And look who is building our roads, railway, pipeline and ports.

A revitalized smallholder agriculture and livestock sector can create millions of jobs in production, value addition and marketing. The boom in the construction sector could create hundreds of thousands of high quality jobs for engineers, plumbers and masons and project mangers. The nascent oil, gas and mining sectors will demand thousands of highly skilled workers: welders; electricians; plant operators; technology specialists.

We could learn from India’s network of institutes of technology and Brazil’s focus on vocational training, which saw spending on vocational training soar from $385 million to $3.8 billion in one decade. We need incentives for “Made in Kenya” and “Make in Kenya”. We must provide incentives for private sector to investment in training and hiring.


Most of all, to create jobs and build the requisite human capital, we must align our education and training programs and tax incentives with development policy, the labor market, as well as with the needs of industry, business and the creative sector.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Cancer is an urgent public heath issue

Between 40,000 and 80,000 new cancer cased are diagnosed each year. According to a report published in 2010 and posted on the website of Kenya Network of Cancer Organization, 18,000 cancer deaths were reported in 2005. Cancer kills about 27,000 Kenyans every year, a majority of them in the prime age.

About 80 percent of reported cancer cases are diagnosed when it is too late. In 2006, 65 percent of women who were diagnosed with cervical cancer died. The National Cancer Control Strategy 2011-2016 admits that cancer is the third as a leading cause of death after infectious and cardiovascular diseases.

The proportion of the overall disease burden in sub-Saharan Africa attributable to cancer is rising, and the region is predicted to have a greater than 85 percent increase in cancer burden by 2030. Experts now believe that there is a relationship between the increase in cancer cases and the persistence of infectious diseases associated with the risk of malignancies. It is estimated that infectious viral and bacterial agents cause around 2 million cancer cases each year, most of them in Africa.

The National Cancer Control Strategy is unambiguous about what action is needed; screening, early detection and treatment; efficient referral systems, prevention, control of infectious diseases linked to cancer, enhancing access to cancer treatment services, human capacity development. But what really is going on, beyond having a strategy?

In my view, the dominant perception among health policy officials in this country is that cancer is not a serious public health problem. This perception has a significant influence on public health policy and resource allocation. That is why Kenya has only two cancer machines, both of them located at Kenyatta National Hospital in the capital city of Nairobi.

When the Cabinet Secretary Michael Kamau received the first consignment of 4000 tones of rails for the Standard Gauge Railway in January 2015, he said the government would push China Road and Bridge Cooperation to complete the 609-kilometer line before the next general election in 2017. We have not seen such urgency and zeal in addressing the plight of Kenyans suffering from cancer.

Simeon Munda, the Chief Executive Officer of Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH), revealed that 1,300 cancer patients are on the waiting list, with appointments stretching as far as 2017. Tens of thousands more cancer patients could wait beyond 2017 to receive cancer treatment at KNH.  

Cancer is an urgent public health issue, which demands immediate attention. Given that we have half decent population health records and that cancer is also linked with infectious diseases, my guess is that we are staring at a catastrophic epidemic.

Think about this. Bacteria that cause ulcers can cause stomach cancer. The parasite responsible for bilharzia can lead to bladder cancer. People infected with HIV have a substantially higher risk of some types of cancer. Three of these cancers, AIDS-defining malignancies are Kaposi sarcoma, cervical cancer and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Moreover, people with HIV are five times more likely to be diagnosed with liver cancer.

We need national and county population-based cancer registries. This means that we must step up screening and diagnostic capacity at the county level. The registry system should be used to report on cancer incidence, cancer type, gender, age, socio-economic status, race/ethnicity, year of diagnosis, trends, survival and prevalence. 

The data will be critical to supporting cancer research to understand the specific causes and developmental mechanisms of cancers that are prevalent in our society, and specific to socio-economic, infectious disease and genetic risk factors. The data will also help build public awareness and provide evidence for advocacy for funding as well as put pressure on the government to implement the National Cancer Control Strategy 2011-2016 before it expires.

The conversation about cancer must go beyond the outrage about the breakdown or shortage of radiation therapy devices. It must be about the strategies and action needed to build a health infrastructure, leveraging both public and private investments to cope with the double burden of infectious and non-communicable diseases.

We must address the crippling shortage of healthcare personnel. Over 1,800 doctors and hundreds of nurses have resigned from the public sector since the management of health services was devolved to the counties.


Without enough doctors, nurses and community health workers the gains against infectious diseases will be reversed and we will certainly, not forestall the onslaught of cancer and other non-communicable diseases.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Plan to solve Nairobi’s traffic mess inadequate

Last week Cabinet Secretary Michael Kamau observed that it takes 45 minutes to fly from Kampala to Nairobi and 2 hours to drive from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to Nairobi’ s city centre, a distance of 18 km.

The observation by Mr. Kamau is not extra ordinarily enlightened. Nairobi’s commuters have to endure endless and excruciating traffic gridlock. Commuters now think traffic jams are an inextricable feature of life in Nairobi. The immobility and frustration, and the cost to business and the economy are both indefensible and shameful.  It is an indictment of our urban planning and governance.

Nairobi’s traffic catastrophe has been years in the making. Our technocrats and decision makers have aided it consistently and deliberately for the past half-century.  And a passive and self-interested public has actively abetted it. Now the chickens have come home to roost.

Four factors have converged to create Nairobi’s traffic catastrophe. First is the expansion of major road arteries into Nairobi; more roads more cars. Second is a substantial rise in car ownership owing to two things; influx of cheap used cars into the markets and expanded access to unsecured bank loans. Third is unregulated expansion of high-density affordable housing in the sprawling suburbs, buoyed by road expansion and lack of land use zoning in contiguous counties. Fourth is a large and growing urban population; Nairobi is home to about 1 in 10 Kenyans.

Other factors that explain Nairobi’s unconscionable traffic gridlock include inadequate, 19th century urban road infrastructure, a total absence of any form of rational traffic management, lack of public transit system and the drop the price of gas.

Last week Nairobi’s Governor, Evans Kidero and Michael Kamau, Cabinet Secretary for transport and infrastructure admitted that Nairobi’s traffic congestion was a matter of great concern. There is task force and it has a plan in place to address the traffic mess. The plan includes: an intelligent transport system backed by a traffic management centre (How different is this from a similar system, with lights and cameras was installed in Nairobi in 2012); removal of all roundabouts between Waiyaki way and Mombasa road; review of PSV termini to reduce number of matatus entering the CBD, suspension of licensing of PSVs in Nairobi subject to demand analysis; expansion of existing roads and construction of bypasses.

In the long-term, under a memorandum of understanding, the national and county government will build a Bus Rapid Transit and a Light Rail Transit. Also in the works is the so-called institutional framework through the Nairobi Metropolitan Transit Authority to address Nairobi’s transit issues.

That the government is grappling with Nairobi’s horrendous and shameful traffic is laudable. The plan proposed to resolve the traffic mess is grandiose but myopic. The plan has been greeted with enthusiastic cynicism. The plan fails to put any burden on private motorist, and instead suggests, contrary to existing evidence, that matatus account for a large part of Nairobi’s traffic congestion problem.

The plan places no obligation on urban and regional planning and makes no reference to the role of the governments of the contiguous counties of Machakos, Kajiado and Kiambu, which account for a significant volume of commuter traffic into Nairobi. Moreover, the plan does not involve the private sector in providing solutions to Nairobi’s traffic mess. It is big on spending your money.

I offer four suggestions. First, we need a public private partnership to build and operate park and ride facilities 10 km from the CBD and reliable high occupancy bus shuttles into the city. This should be accompanied by the elimination of 40-60 percent of street level public parking in the CBD and a congestion levy for private cars entering the CBD.

Second, Nairobi County should enter into an agreement with neighboring counties to regulate the conversion of farmland to high-density residential use. Planning regulations should outlaw development of high-density settlements beyond 15 km from a major urban centre.

Third, a partnership among Nairobi County, the Rift Valley Railway (RVR) and the Kenya Railway Corporation could increase the capacity of RVR to modernize and expand its services, and get more private cars off the road.


Fourth, do not rush to replace roundabouts with four-way intersections. Globally, roundabouts have been shown to perform better and are safer than other intersection controls modes. What is needed is clever re-design and better controls at the roundabout.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Kenya’s economic growth is shallow

Kenya has made progress in the last decade. We are resilient. We bounced back when ethnic bigotry threatened to destroy our country. But the task of building a stable and prosperous society could never more urgent.

A report by the Institute for Security Studies revealed that with 40 percent of the population living in extreme poverty, Kenya is the sixth poorest country in Africa. Last week the World Bank declared that Kenya’s economic growth is among the fastest in Africa and GDP was expected to reach 7 percent in 2017.

This paradox is not inexplicable. Ambitious government spending in infrastructure, especially in energy and the standard gauge railway due to expansionary fiscal policy characterizes Kenya’s impressive headline GDP. But a majority of Kenyans remain poor, disconnected from the benefits of economic growth because Kenya’s manufacturing sector is stagnant and agriculture is comatose.

Kenya’s formal manufacturing sector is minuscule and the outlook is bleak. It employs 280,000 accounting for just 12 percent of Kenya’s labor force. Moreover, productivity of the manufacturing sector is depressing. The value added per worker in Kenya’s manufacturing sector is only $1.11 per day (about Sh. 100). Kenya’s average share of manufacturing value added in GDP is estimated at 10 percent, unchanged from the 1970’s.

A majority of Kenya’s farmers and agricultural workers are trapped in collapsing rural economies. The dysfunction of Kenya’s rural economy has been aided by poor infrastructure, especially roads, energy, water and essential social services such as health care and high quality schools. Low investment in agricultural research, compounded by broken extension services has contributed to low productivity and little innovation. Productivity in Kenya’s agricultural sector is estimated by the World Bank at about $1 per worker per day, compared to about $13 in Nigeria.

Kenya’s export sector has been sluggish for the past 25 years. Tourism has been buffeted by insecurity and poaching, especially over the last couple of years. About 40 percent of Kenya’s manufactured goods are exported to the East African Community. But our regional exports are under competitive pressure from imports from China and India. Furthermore, depressed economic output from the European Union has huge consequences for Kenya’s export sector as well as tourism.

A strong hand of the state through expansive fiscal policy underlines Kenya’s growth in the past decade. However, as exemplified by low productivity in both the agricultural and manufacturing sectors, the fundamentals for a broad based growth are feeble. Moreover, integrating into global financial markets through sovereign bonds makes Kenya vulnerable to external financial shocks. Hence, a large part of Kenya’s impressive GDP growth is not organic and is therefore unsustainable.

The path to economic prosperity takes more than a narrow expansionary fiscal policy vision.  Inclusive growth and shared prosperity demands careful social and fiscal policies that re-engineer’s Kenya’s flawed economic structure.

Of what value is an ultra modern railway line and a 10,000 MW energy capacity achieve when agriculture and manufacturing are declining? We must invest in higher education and research capacity to drive growth in productivity to boost output and competiveness. Our universities must be the engines of growth and structural transformation, through research-intensive programs, unleashing technological advancement and innovation.
Public universities are underfunded and burdened by intensive and mediocre teaching programs. We are woefully short of vital execution capacity. This is why we have Tony Blair leading Mr. Kenyatta’s Presidential Delivery Unit. And there are innumerable expatriate advisors in the civil service.

The same zeal for public spending on security, roads, railways and energy must be applied to building technological capacity, human capital and investing in smallholder farmers and pastoralists. Critical public research infrastructure must move to the university. Hence, research organizations like Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization, Kenya Medical Research Institute, Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute should be integrated into research and teaching programs in public universities.

Sustainable and inclusive economic growth will not come inevitably through expansive fiscal policy. There is no such thing as trickle down from big government spending. Building inclusive prosperity demands careful, deliberate investment especially in research and teaching in our universities to shape public policy, drive technological advancement, spur innovation and raise productivity on our farms and rangelands, and on the factory floor.


GDP growth will not count until tangible wellbeing outcomes flow to farmers, pastoralists and the semi-skilled laborers who toil hard and long for this great land.

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