The just-ended year witnessed two very transformational initiatives which will continue into 2019. The first was the sustained assault on high corruption, which has so far revealed an amazing magnitude of diverted public cash. Official commitment at the highest level and effective capacity building in public accountability agencies, give confidence that the war on graft can be sustained.
Corruption has derailed development and service delivery for many years, while badly tarnishing our national image and esteem. The ultimate proof of success will be achievement of sustained improvement in public resource accountability and governance, and a national culture change that embraces compliance and honesty in public transactions. This time around, failure to reign in corruption can be hopelessly disappointing.
The second 2018 game-changing occurrence was the politically courageous Building Bridges initiative between President Uhuru and Raila Odinga. This experiment appears to be genuinely sincere with a potential to define a new political landscape devoid of vicious political divisions and traumatic violence, which have routinely occurred during electoral cycles.
This reaching-out initiative should, however, be handled with utmost caution, wisdom and patience lest it implodes into a premature and distractive run-away political activity. If we have to amend sections of the Constitution, it should be through an honest consensus building process, and not high-pitched countrywide referendum campaigns.
It is important to safeguard the unprecedented calm that the country is currently enjoying to permit a catch-up with socio-economic development while ensuring uninterrupted business confidence and vibrancy.
The Four Pillar development agenda introduced in 2018 can transform the socio-economic fortunes of Kenyans if effectively delivered. The challenge in 2019 will be translating the agenda into actions that deliver early and impactful results. We need to witness early launch of actual projects and programmes, as time for conferences and studies is up. The critical success driver for the four agenda is how the ministries develop and manage effective partnerships with county governments, the private sector, and collaborating development partners.
There are many other equally important topics outside the four agenda that will deserve as much attention. Among them is the Chinese trade imbalance dilemma. In 2019 we should strengthen our economic diplomacy and engagement with China to ensure that they import more of our produce in an attempt to reduce the huge trade gap. Conversely, China can embark on value adding investments in Kenya to reduce our imports and increase exports.
Further, there is a strong perception of the Chinese unfairly competing with Kenyans for various economic opportunities which include commerce, procurement, construction contracts and even jobs. The government will need to correct this situation through judicious licensing and work-permitting while pursuing affirmative support in procurement and contracting.
Indications are that oil exports from Turkana through Lamu can be achieved by 2022. It will be important in 2019 to facilitate various LAPSSET projects to be completed on time. These include construction of the Lamu port, the Lamu/Isiolo highway, and the crude oil pipeline. Presence of infrastructure will additionally accelerate socio-economic opening up of the northern counties while fostering local security through inter-county contacts and trade.
In 2019 we may need to scale down SGR ambitions and prioritize on making Naivasha a major “dry port” and transportation hub to handle imports and exports for western Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan and upper eastern DRC.
This will relieve existing capacity pressure at Nairobi inland container deport (ICD), while maximizing utilization of SGR investments already in place. Linking the old railway to the Naivasha ICD will further increase SGR share of Uganda import/export cargo.
Yes 2019 presents big opportunities and hopes for Kenya to confidently move forward and upward. We can no longer afford the “one step forward and one step backward” modus operandi which has historically hampered Kenya’s ambitions for an economic evolution.
An environment of reduced corruption and a harmonious political environment will be critical enablers for socio-economic advancement as we continue to implement the four pillar development agenda.
We have a fast growing population of resourceful millennials waiting by the sides, and we should not disappoint them.
This year can be a turning point if we so commit ourselves.