Ideas & Debate

Kenya can build future on ‘Big Four’, SDGs and political truce

President Uhuru Kenyatta. file photo | nmg
President Uhuru Kenyatta. file photo | nmg 

Kenyans have short memories.  Eurobond II protestations lasted one week. Eurobond I is out of sight and mind. Fiscal consolidation?  Debt treadmill? IMF consultations on a new or extended facility arrangement? All these are yesterday’s news.

This week’s news? The “Building of Bridges” political rapprochement between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga that caught many by surprise.
Mainstream media’s voyeuristic response has been to delve into its implications for our political class, rather than our people.

More on this in my next article.

Unsurprisingly, this event diverted attention away from Mr Kenyatta’s “Big Four” legacy agenda. Let’s recap the recent state of play.  Over the past fortnight Mr Kenyatta has delivered tough warnings to his new Cabinet secretaries and all accounting officers to “shape up” or “ship out”.

Fraud and waste shall no longer be tolerated. Delivery and results are the new bywords.

Most recently at Strathmore University, Mr Kenyatta offered a glimpse into his vision of Kenya’s future around technology as a key driver of this agenda.

Read Blockchain, Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence and all else that represents what is commonly termed the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”. 

Our international development partners appear to be fully on board with the “Big Four” agenda, going by the column-inches of advice splayed across our print media.

Notably, our private sector is relatively silent, as is our not-for-profit sector. But refreshingly, an avalanche of promising ideas and tough queries has pervaded our op-ed columns.

Even Parliament’s Budget and Appropriations Committee has asked difficult questions about this agenda, particularly around its hugely inadequate funding provisions. 

Unfortunately, it doesn’t help that we break the law when the budget is prepared outside of a planning framework. So we have a Budget Policy Statement; but not the third Medium-Term Plan (2018-2022) under Vision 2030.

Nevertheless, a democratic environment that encourages open and constructive debate, while promoting a healthy skepticism borne of past experience, is the one sure path to the developmental nirvana we seek.

Let’s talk a little more about “Big Four”. At first glance, the agenda — food security, universal health coverage, affordable housing and manufacturing for jobs — makes political and economic sense. 

First, in speaking to key Article 43 social and economic rights and Article 54 and 55 affirmative action group rights in our Constitution. 

Lest we forget, the latter articles demand progressive access to jobs among vulnerable groups and the youth.

Second, it has the potential of mainstreaming significant parts of Global Agenda 2030 on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into Kenya’s national developmental dream.

Think Goal 2 (food and agriculture), 3 (healthy lives and well-being), 11 (cities and human settlements), 8 (growth, employment and decent work) and 9 (infrastructure, industrialisation and innovation). 

All hopefully contributing towards the “holy grail” that Goal 1 represents — ending poverty in all its forms everywhere by 2030.

The other SDGs matter too. One assumes Goal 4 (inclusive and quality education and lifelong learning) is an outcome aspiration for our ongoing education sector reform process.  One expects that Goals 6 (water and sanitation) and 7 (energy) are key enablers of the effort to deliver on the “Big Four”.

Then there are the “cross-cutting” SDGs.  Think Goals 5 (gender equality and empowerment of women and girls), 10 (reducing inequality), 12 (sustainable resource consumption and production) and 13 (combating climate change).  Add Goals 14 and 15, about sustainable “blue” and ‘green” resources.

“Gift wrap” the whole idea with intra-national and international relations, as espoused by Goals 16 (justice, peace and inclusivity) and 17 (global partnerships for sustainable development). 

But why bring up the SDGs now?

First, the apparent “sign-off” difference between the earlier MDGs (Millennium Development Goals) and the SDGs, was that the former represented an “a la carte” menu around eight goals applicable to developing countries —which achieved mixed results — while the latter is a “buffet” that encourages all countries to pursue their specific development paths, based on national priority choices. 

Does “Big Four” reflect our 2018-2022 priorities? Is it our “a la carte” menu rather than our “buffet”? 

Second, while the SDGs encourage better prioritisation and sequencing than the MDGs, this doesn’t mean everything that isn’t priority is completely off the table.  Current priorities might well be future enablers.

There is a lesson from Kenya’s recent past here — roads, by example, cannot be the unquestionable priority until the entire country is tarmacked. Prioritisation and sequencing is still an iterative political “mix and match” process that addresses the clear and present needs of the people.

Again, does “Big Four” reflect our 2018-2022 priorities?  Did we have the right 2013-2017 priorities?

Let’s confuse this with a final rationale.  Whether one refers to the MDGs or SDGs, there existed, for developing countries, a potential “sounding board of ideas” rather than a prescriptive “developmental template” that was adaptable — positively and negatively — to local circumstances (and elite preferences).

A proper assessment isn’t available, but one observes that those countries that used these “sounding boards” to implement their national agendas are the ones delivering impressive developmental outcomes. 

Consider Rwanda and Ethiopia, the fastest-growing economies in our region, with impressive development results.  Is it about Democracy vs Development?  Or Nationalism vs Tribalism?

Back to the recent “Building Bridges” communiqué from our political leaders. 

Does Kenya’s life and death ethnic politics explain our “average to poor” performance on the MDGs, and might do as well on the SDGs?  Will a (development without politics) “Big Four” agenda deliver progress for all Kenyans without a people-led agenda akin to the outcome focus the SDGs represent?

Thinking about the people, our constitutional “hardware” effectively outlines a hierarchical order of democratic and developmental affairs: people-nation-state-government-politics. Simply, politics as means, people as end.

Yet, our “software” of values — tribalism, exclusion et al — seems hard-wired in the exact reverse order.

Might that be our real problem?