Opinion & Analysis

Growth lessons for Kenya’s Vision 2030 dream from global discourse at Davos

British Prime Minister Theresa May delivers a speech on the third day of the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos on January 19, 2017. PHOTO | AFP
British Prime Minister Theresa May delivers a speech on the third day of the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos on January 19, 2017. PHOTO | AFP 

According to the US-based National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and other meteorological agencies across the globe, 2016 was the hottest year in history.

El Niño was one trigger, but climate scientists seem worried by long-term greenhouse gas effects — based on human action — including accelerated warming (less sea ice) around the Arctic in the North Pole.

How ironic that Kenya’s hot political climate ended 2016 with a local NASA (National Super Alliance) as the potentially united political opposition expected to face off against Jubilee in August.

Last year was also the year that turned the 2008 global financial crisis into a Western political crisis. Read populist nationalism as the antidote to “lib-dem” globalisation.

So, on a Friday which closes with the inauguration of Donald Trump as POTUS 45, this week’s World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos has been overshadowed by his unique “halo effect” of uncertainty regarding where the world is going in 2017.

At the WEF, we watched Chinese President Xi Jinping — with one eye on the Silk Road to Europe and Asia that is central to his country’s future growth — expound on the “benefits” of globalisation.

We heard International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde remind everyone of her 2013 warning on rising inequality and the growing middle class crisis in the developed world.

Oxfam executive director Winnie Byanyima repeated her call for a human-centred economic development paradigm that supports “the other 99 per cent”.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May used the week to explain her “take it or leave it” Brexit vision, to Parliament and at Davos. The European Union persists with its “you can’t have your cake and eat it” post-Brexit sulk.

Think future Britain as “financial centre, digital hub, special economic zones or industry clusters, free trade area and tax haven with immigration controls”. Mr Trump would love this ‘open and shut’ model.

Meanwhile, Nobel Economics Laureate Joseph Stiglitz suggested the US dollar — as a reserve currency — moves away from cash, towards digital, as the anti-corruption, money laundering and transnational crime measure of the future.

Recall India Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent measure to scrap large denomination bank notes in India as the beginning of a sustainable fight against the shadow economy?

Prior to the WEF, most global press commentary focused on globalisation as a unanimous “bad”, especially for ordinary citizens in Western nations.

Now discourse has morphed into a North-South divide — bad in decimating the middle class North, great in creating a middle class South.

So the debate is turning to an inclusive growth and human development paradigm that restores, for the north, and expands for the South, the benefits of globalisation. Call it “progress with a human face”.

Stepping away from these global musings and returning to planet Kenya, it strikes me that progress with a human face might well be the rallying call for our own 2017 election.

Indeed, for smart operators on both sides of the political divide, human-centred progress is effectively the “call to arms” that our ongoing voter registration exercise represents.

It is the way to get each potential voter to start thinking about the what, then the why and finally the who of their ballot.

There is another perspective to progress with a human face. I have observed encouraging commentary in our media around how we take 2017 beyond an ethnic census towards a search for real solutions.

Skim through our recent press from a human progress perspective, that is, beyond mega projects.

First, food. Why are we still discussing drought relief in the 21st century? How do we have a hunger threat in 23, or half, of our counties?

What’s Sh50 billion and Sh20 billion in annual agriculture budgets, respectively for national and county governments — combined — actually buying? Whither agribusiness without food security?

Second, education. In a world where, as the WEF’s 2016 Human Capital Report notes, the future is about skill sets and not job titles, how is it that most Standard Three children, according to the Kenya National Examinations Council, cannot read Standard One English or Swahili, and a third of them do not even have access to regular meals and have never had access to a computer?

Let us not even get to the tertiary education stage where we expect to industrialise and digitise when most are studying the arts (humanities). I could also round on our health dilemma — not just the doctors’ strike, but the whole health package that should be universally available to Kenyans.

You will see where I am going with this. If we are not addressing the our basic progress needs around food, education and health, how do we even join a global debate that is elevating discussions around the fourth industrial revolution from artificial intelligence — that might replace, but will support humans — to intelligence augmentation that potentially builds and enhances human intelligence?

Progress does not happen without capacity, so here are some observations. Africa Capacity Building Foundation, ranked Kenya fourth on their Africa Capacity Index (ACI) in 2011.

The index looks at four capacity perspectives in relation to development — policy, implementation processes, development results (outputs) and capacity outcomes (the improved human condition).

In 2012 and 2013 we ranked second on the ACI, and placed top in the wider East African region.

By 2014, we had dropped to 12th in Africa, suddenly behind Rwanda, Tanzania and Mauritius and by 2015, we were 18th in the continent, behind Ethiopia plus the earlier three.

This trend line suggests we need to be wary of a mega project-induced ‘Harvard Death’, where “the operation was successful, but the patient died”.

As Mahatma Gandhi might have said, “Kenya has enough for everyone’s (capacity) needs, but not enough for everyone’s (private) greed”.
Shouldn’t 2017 be our own year of true-self evaluation?

Let us begin with Vision 2030, which was written before global financial crisis, the constitution, Africa’s Agenda 2063 and the Sustainable Development Goals, is now basically 10 years old, and, to be honest, as very little to tell us about our real human progress. That’s what Davos 2017 told me this week.

dkabaara@gmail.com