What ails shared prosperity in BBI report

An aerial view of the University of Nairobi’s main campus. How will the next generation transit from school to the workplace? [Elvis Ogina, Standard]
The 156 pages Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) full report is out. It’s written in simple English with the hope that most Kenyans will take time to read it.

My hunch tells me few will read it. Reading, searching for new ideas is not our staple food, even among the educated. Noticed how the sermon twa twa trended?

Nobel prizes never trend.

And why is there such muted response to BBI report from global media outlets? The task force did a great job of identifying our national problems but little in analysing their origin. They are not accidental.

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The fact that other similar initiatives like the new constitution or even Uhuru never worked as expected should leave the task force and Kenyans in general concerned.

I am also concerned by our inward-looking both in collecting the views and giving solutions.

Non-Kenyans are too few in the appendix; they could give some objective diagnosis of our problems, unencumbered by our parochialism.

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The solutions are too inward-looking, yet bigger and better solutions could lie beyond our borders.

That apart, I will join the rest of the Kenyans and read less. I will focus on Chapter 7 of the BB report, on shared prosperity. If my readers demand, I will analyse the other chapters.

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On shared prosperity, the task force is right in blaming ourselves. They lament about joblessness among the youth resulting from unmarketable skills to hatred of work.

They are right in citing unfavourable environment where rent-seeking and gatekeeping rule the day.

But we should ask loudly why those charged with promoting entrepreneurship end up frustrating it. How did they get into those positions?

Alluding to lack of vision in hindering entrepreneurship and job creation was surprising. Vision 2030 is not a vision? And why does everyone in Kenya think all our youth want to be entrepreneurs?

Interestingly, those most vocal telling youth to be entrepreneurs may never have been entrepreneurs themselves. Some people are as happy as employees. Industrialisation is seen as the escape route from unemployment. But BBI is mean on how.

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Japan and Korea did it without oil and other minerals. Their greatest resource is the brains. Harnessing the idealism of the youth is the way to go.

But our youth lack right education and attitude to become industrial leaders. How do we complain of youth joblessness when all the universities are contributing to joblessness by offering social sciences?

Two is attitude; technical courses are not cool. That is why drama and music festival winners go to State House, science congress winners go home. The shift from extraction to value creation is great.

But how do we do that? Value creation often starts low with back-breaking work before upgrading to technology. Do the youth want to start at the beginning? Who wants to buy pan-roasted coffee instead of instant one and boast about it? Do you recall our reaction to Nyayo car?

The nexus between an economy and political stability is well articulated. Economic inequality can easily be used to stir political trouble.

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We have seen that in the last polls. The task force appreciated the importance of the private sector in catalysing economic growth, yet that sector by its nature breeds inequality.

Can the State be trusted to reduce inequality objectively?

BBI encourages more savings and labour-intensive industries. But we can only save what we have earned. That is why initially, we must let in outside investors.

China did that and is reaping the benefits. Labour intense industries demand that our youth love blue colour jobs. We must start by changing their attitudes early.

Does the new curriculum each our youngsters the value of labour-intensive industries?  When shall we make our youth believe blue colour jobs aren’t for failures? Luckily, the pay for such jobs is improving and will possibly attract more youth. The use of the spy agency to break cartels in the agricultural sector is farfetched.

Cartels exist because they co-opt the regulators and State agencies. Why not use an economic approach? Build roads to farmlands and farmers will get better prices.

Cartels exist where efficiencies exist. That includes over-regulation. Why do we want to use police everywhere? It’s paradoxical that while we are calling for East African federation, we are devolving to ward level.

Why is African free trade area not mentioned BBI? The key recommendations are worth discussing. Why 50-year plan? Si tumalise 2030 first?

The local investment will work if the whole country and its counties become “Nairobi” where you are valued for your talent, not your ethnicity or race. Noted it’s often easier for foreigners to invest in Kenya than Kenyans themselves?

Counties wants foreign investors, why not from neighbouring counties? Seeing neighbouring countries as our market is good. What will they get in return? How can they be our market yet we complain about their maize and poultry. We could export manufactured goods; we get the basics like food from them. And why are we so narrow? Why can’t China and India be our markets? Where is the market for Japanese or Korean products?

The whole world! Our traditional knowledge and genetics are seen as an asset to be harnessed. But will millennials appreciate that? How many can toss a proverb or a riddle?

 That should include our mother tongues and medical herbs. Hopefully after securing our forests and sacred places. We still see Diaspora as a source of investments.

But most of that money is scattered and rarely pooled. How can it be pooled to have the maximum effect?

Why do we need conferences in counties? Does this expose the presence of academics in the BBI team? Who held a conference to start Kitengela or Ongata  Rongai? Improve the ease of doing business and investors will come. Who invites us to Nairobi? It’s acknowledged that taxation should be simplified.

It put off lots of investors because rent-seekers take advantage of complex tax systems. BBI report adds its voice on the regulation of loan apps.

Why not turn them into virtual banks, bring them into the mainstream to compete with banks and bring down the interest rates?

Why not first appreciate the apps’ innovativeness? BBI’s suggestion is that we focus more on the grassroots.

But how can rural areas grow if the best and the brightest leave to the cities? Devolution did not reverse the drain.

Finally, there is a bold move to address rising debt, putting more money to development and enhancing philanthropy but does not mention oil, globalisation and its opportunities. The word jua kali is missing too.

-The writer is an associate professor at the University of Nairobi

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