Ideas & Debate

My personal trending thoughts for New Year

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Summary

  • I have a feeling that it won’t be as bad an economic year as might normally be the case.

It’s still that time of the year. Last week was reflective. So this week needs to be prospective, or predictive. In 1982 — 40 years ago — a futurist known as John Naisbitt outlined 10 mega-trends for the coming years of the time, from an American lens.

He envisaged a movement away from an industrial to an information society, driven by a shift from manufacturing intensive to a high-tech labour force in a world of global economic interdependence away from economic isolation.

Naisbitt predicted a self-help grassroots culture away from institutional help — what we call “serikali saidia”. He thought participatory democracy — voting on issues — would replace representative democracy — voting in people and informal socio-economic networks would supplant hierarchical institutional structures.

He foresaw a world more decentralised and long-term than its existing opposite of the time.

But here were his more interesting comments. In defining a megatrend as a major restructuring of society he premised his work on a couple of things. First, to quote, “trends are bottom-up; fads are top-down”. Second, that America is (was) a bottom-up society and, to quote, “almost nothing starts in New York or Washington DC”. The record suggests he was amazingly accurate in most of his predictions.

Trend forecasting is pretty much par for the course nowadays. Here’s what the techies are predicting for 2022.

A social media universe that better respects data privacy and integrity in an emergent 3D metaverse of physical and virtual reality where cryptocurrency and non-fungible tokens are the new money, autonomic, not autonomous, intelligence and quantum computing are the new systems, 6G and Wifi-6 are where it’s going, and “hybrid” is both where and how you work.

Please try explaining this to your local fisticuff-loving MP for whom the plastic water bottle is a means of debate.

I will not even attempt to megatrend Kenya in 2022.

Between President Uhuru Kenyatta’s New Year doctrine — the Uhuru Doctrine, which sounds like the title of a Robert Ludlum novel — of leadership over politics, justice before law and boldness over populism, Opposition Leader Raila Odinga’s five Azimio principles (utu – personhood, undugu – brotherhood, umoja – unity, usawa – equality and uzalishaji – wealth creation and Deputy President William Ruto’s “Chama ni UDA, form ni hustler, mpango ni ‘bottom-up’, ‘kazi ni kazi’ rallying call, this will definitely be a high-drama year of cacophonous politics.

I have a feeling, however, that it won’t be as bad an economic year as might normally be the case.

One suspects that Kenyans are fed up with this Covid “dudu”, and that’s when our famed resilience kicks in. As the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank both predict in their most recent December 2021 publications, we will somehow find a way to get services back on track.

And this is almost two-thirds of the economy today. The converse truth to this is that our survivalist focus on the economy might offer a pallid voter turnout at the August election, which, given our penchant for electoral violence, might actually be a good thing.

The dark cloud hanging over this unusual picture is the state of our fiscus. As the IMF’s recent Article IV consultation on Kenya (basically, our health check) tells us, the tax take as a proportion of the economy has been trending downwards over the past decade; particularly on the income tax side.

It’s the informal economy, stupid! On the flip side, it is not beyond anyone’s wit to suspect that spending might get a little haywire in this election year.

Yes, domestic debt and our banks; looking at you right now! That’s before we get to external debt service, weak exports and the vulnerability of our external shilling.

So let’s instead do some dreaming on the policy front. I was recently in a political discussion in which the general view was that we have our “hustler” narrative upside down. The different thought was young people like my kids need decent formal jobs, and older ones like me — having done the decent — now need “gigs”.

The second dream would look at why the presidency is still so damned important when we have devolution. These might be appetisers for the economic remodelling we badly need.

At which point we may turn to think about four trends (yes!) quietly pervading our economy which I endlessly preach. First, digitisation (of data or content), digitalisation (of processes or workflow) and the digital economy (of transformation). Second, the green, circular, doughnut or bio-economy.

As the Economist in its trend forecasting states three of the big issues for 2022 are China, Covid and climate change. We’re locally stuck with the first two for now. We can act on the third for the long-term.

Third, social enterprise — given our powerful social capital and the fourth sector economy — think Twiga Foods, not KFC. Fourth, the 24-7-365 economy of platforms and ecosystems — think Safaricom and M-Pesa).

Let’s sum this up. Super-impose those four trends, not fads, on our traditional economic sectors, industries and clusters. Reverse the inequality thinking around generations and geography.

To further challenge conventional wisdom, think of election years as a dead spot in which creativity and innovation have free reign. Meanwhile; our big 2022 question — a search for thought leaders of fathom, not fist.