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Ideas & Debate

How Uhuru can help the broke Kenyans

empty pockets
A man showing his empty pockets. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

MIT academic Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Science of the Learning Organization was a great management tome I imbibed in the 1990s. His idea was simple; the core of any “learning organisation” is driven by five concepts which he called lifelong programmes of study and practice – personal mastery, mental models, shared vision, team learning and systems thinking.

A press snippet this week brought me here after claiming that President Uhuru Kenyatta recently wondered in an internal meeting why Kenyans are still not “feeling” the fruits (and growth) of his mega-infrastructure agenda; a question which suggests that the “handshake” for building bridges (BBI) was simply a peace-keeping instrument for the moment, rather than the basis for radical, lasting reform.

Systems thinking helps us go behind the question. To loosely quote Senge himself, “We tend to blame outside circumstances for our problems. ‘Someone else’ – competitors, press, markets, government – did it to us. Systems thinking shows us that there is no outside; that you and the cause of your problems are part of a single system. The cure lies in your relationship with your ‘enemy’”.

Today, let’s look at the system Mr Kenyatta’s Jubilee administration - with 997 days to go to August 8, 2022 – should be mulling over the next 142 weeks, applying a specific theme to each day of the week. I have shared some of these thoughts before - today I offer a thinking calendar, not an events diary.

Monday is the day of fiscal consolidation. A decade ago while working outside Kenya, I came across a consultancy report titled The Budget as Theatre which chronicled the formal and informal aspects of a national budget process in a three-scene act around budget formulation, implementation and oversight. In each scene, informal private and personal interests trumped public and national interest.

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Kenya’s current budget cycle more closely resembles a foreign language telenovela than a simple play. Budget estimates in June. Revisions in the September Budget Review and Outlook. Further revisions in the latest November supplementaries. That’s just fiscal 2019/20, yet we’re already being asked to submit ideas for the 2020/21 budget by the end of the month. Use Monday’s “blues” to sort the fiscus.

Tuesday is the day of developmental logic. The difference between Huduma Namba and the census was that; with the former we “climbed the tree from the top” (implementing a national initiative absent of law), while the reverse happened with the latter. Guess which one we’re all referencing and talking about? Think also about how we’ve done more top-down “tree-climbing” by engaging in mega-projects, then established project investment management guidelines after the fact.

Or how, after exceeding, then increasing the debt limit, we suddenly have a draft debt policy and borrowing framework from Treasury on which our inputs are now expected by the end of next week.

This administration’s success and failure is all about their “tree-climbing” preferences. It should all start from policy, not budgets and procurement, or “out of the blue” regulation. Systematically, Tuesday will restore logic to Monday’s fiscus in a way that delivers actual results, plus public trust and confidence.

If Monday and Tuesday go OK, that’s 60 percent of legacy, with the next two days for “futures” thought.

Wednesday is the day of the new economy. “Big Four” is a start, but what of a circular economy (make-use-reuse-remake-recycle-make) that opposes today’s linear economy (take-make-use-dispose-pollute)?

Or World Economic Forum November 2019 ideas on three future policy pathways for the new economy. Innovation policy for a more productive and inclusive economy; labour policy catering to the new world of work and fiscal policy towards equal opportunity and a rethought tax system for the new economy.

Even before digital, platform, sharing, on-demand or gig economies, Wednesday is “big picture” day.

Thursday narrows down into the day of Digital, given the Kenyan Digital Economy we’ve proclaimed. We could begin with eight key messages from the World Bank’s October 2019 Kenya Economic Update . First, regulation and policy that keeps pace with rapid market evolution. Second, transforming digital from a start-up to a growth culture. Third, human capital education and training as fundamental to growth of the digital economy and empowerment of the next generation. Fourth, improved digital public service public offerings and enhanced trust in online services.

Fifth, addressing digital market concentration (mobile telcos) to grow competition. Sixth, closing the digital divide, especially rural-urban. Seventh, balancing taxation on digital between enabling access and revenue potential from downstream economic activities. Finally, thinking regional and global; the report estimates that a Single Digital East Africa market would be the 9th largest in the world.

With legacy and future done, Friday is the day of Security, Governance and Enablers; everything needed to make Monday to Thursday thinking workable. Saturday (and/or Sunday) is the day for Equity and Equality – rich vs poor; plus gender, geography, intergeneration and overall inclusivity.

That’s the systems thinking “week” so let’s conclude with a final quote from Prof Senge - “(in learning organizations)…people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning how to learn together”. The system is the answer; we are the system.

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