Had the Narc administration not revised Kenya’s long-term economic plan, 2020 would have been the year of Kenya’s industrialisation take-off, as had been projected by the Moi administration.
A well-established path to industrialisation invariably moves from easy access to land, availability of skilled labour, presence of a well-organised capital market, technological advancement and mass connections to the national power grid.
Apparently, Kenya has progressed well in having nearly all these elements in place except the first and last in part because the populace has not internalized the idea of land as a factor of production and also because national electricity coverage is still wanting despite the progress made in the last 18 years.
The latest report by the National Treasury shows that no single public primary school was connected to power in 2018/2019 despite a Sh270 billion four-year “universal access to electricity” plan that only exists on paper.
Rural electrification has traditionally been fueled by the ‘Last Mile Connectivity’, a subsidy programme that restricts access to power to homes within a radius of 600 metres from a transformer installed at public facilities such as schools and hospitals. According to the Treasury report, only eight schools were connected in the previous year, 2017/18. The numbers compare poorly with the 1,102 primary schools connected with electricity in the run up to the 2017 elections.
In short, the State pushed the rural electricity drive to the back burner immediately after the elections and should this trend continue, nothing will have changed much by 2030, the revised date for mass industrialisation.
That’s why policy makers, as well as the executive arm of government, must go back to the drawing board and chart the country’s industrialisation path afresh.
While the State has been on overdrive with its push for investment in clean energy, the initiative will amount to naught if it doesn’t translate to increased connections, especially in rural areas and emerging towns where electricity powers economic activities.
It is disheartening that previous efforts by pan African financiers such as African Development Bank to finance the subsidised rural electrification have encountered strong tender headwinds in Kenya, thereby dimming the prospects of widespread connectivity.
Whereas the goal of mass industrial takeoff is a noble one that the country ought to pursue resolutely, to realise it, the State must be intentional in putting the preconditions in place, starting with first things first.