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The man leading the chase for Kenya’s elusive dream

By Dominic Omondi | Dec 6th 2020 | 6 min read
By Dominic Omondi | December 6th 2020

It might take you long to find your way to the offices of Kenya Vision 2030 Delivery Secretariat on the second floor of Kusco Centre in Upper Hill, Nairobi.

It will take you even longer to locate the secretariat in the directory of State corporations.

Yet the nondescript semi-autonomous agency is the one that spearheads the implementation of Kenya’s ambition to become a newly industrialising middle-income country by 2030.

The new occupant of its corner office is Kenneth Mwige, the secretariat’s director-general.

So far, Vision 2030 has seemed mostly like just a dream. While the country’s standard of living has improved considerably owing to innovations such as mobile money and electricity connectivity, the growth has barely come close to the double-digit growth that would transform Kenya into an industrial tiger.

Kenya achieved middle-income status in 2015 after it rebased its gross domestic product (GDP) to include new sectors such as real estate and ICT.

But compared to other lower-middle income countries such as India, Bangladesh and Algeria, it has been like a pretender to the throne.

Besides consistent double-digit growth, Vision 2030 was also anchored on stability in prices and low-interest rates.

Enhanced security and an efficient public sector are the other enablers of this dream. 

Roads, airports, seaports, railways would be built across the country to open up regions such as northern Kenya that for long had remained closed.

Politically, there would be a more issue-based, people-centred, result-oriented and accountable democratic system. 

Yet many of the goals are yet to be delivered. And as 2030 beckons, it does not look like much will be achieved.

The ordinary citizen does not seem to understand the vision, and does not care either.

They should care, Mr Mwige reckons.

The 47-year-old jurist says Kenyans are unconsciously living the Vision 2030 dream 12 years after its unveiling in 2008.

He took over in July from Ada Mwangola, the director of the social and political pillar who had been serving in an acting capacity after the exit of Julius Muia, now the National Treasury Principal Secretary.

I put it to him that Wanjiku does not care about such an abstract thing as Vision 2030. If anything, the vision has become a butt of jokes on the street, often used to mock people with pipe dreams.

He bursts into laughter and quips: “Wanasema hio utaiona Viusasa?”, another new figure of speech for an unattainable goal.

On this day, he is wearing a milk-white shirt, a red tie, dark grey pair of trousers and a pair of black Oxford shoes.

Visions, by definition, are unattainable, Mwige says of the public perception on the economic blueprint.

“But, to borrow a cliche, you set (your sights) high so that when you jump, you miss it but exceed the lower bar,” he says.

The blueprint is split into three pillars – political, economic and social. 

Although the dream has clear timelines such as achieving double-digit GDP growth, Mwige insists it is not a destination but a process.

“Vision 2030 is not a destination. It is not a place you will reach and then the conductor says: ‘Sasa tumefika… shukeni tumefika Vision 2030’ (we have arrived, alight at Vision 2030).”

Spreadsheets, graphs and charts – pedantic tools favoured by scholars – will not help to sell this dream to Wanjiku. That is why Mwige is abandoning them for real stories of real people.

The Lamu Port, South Sudan, Ethiopia Transport (Lapsset) Corridor is largely the cornerstone of Vision 2030.

Lapsset seeks to open up a huge chunk of the hitherto idle northern region through massive investments in infrastructural development, including the construction of sea ports, railways, airports and roads.

Today, miles of roads cut through the expanse of what for long was sun-baked barren land whose inhabitants believed they did not have any stake in the country.

The scorched land now boasts of an airstrip. Mwige says Sora Bati, his high school friend, must be proud wherever he is. Bati, who schooled with Mwige in the late 80s, was from North Horr in Marsabit County.

“North Horr to us was a name on the map,” remembers Mwige of his time at Alliance High School.

After schools reopened, Bati would always show up more than two weeks later.

When his classmates asked him why, he told them that when schools closed and other students were home by evening, he would still be trying to find his way home.

Often, it would take him days or weeks to find his family, who were pastoralists. After staying with them for a week or two, it would be time for the long journey back to school.

But three years ago, all this came to an end for the region’s residents after the completion of the Isiolo-Moyale Road.

“That guy today, if he leaves Nairobi at seven in the morning, he will be in Marsabit by 4pm,” says Mwige.

“So for people from that part of the country... in fact, they don’t care about Vision 2030. That is it.”

The mission to open up northern Kenya, he says, continues in earnest. This will not only benefit the region’s residents, but other Kenyans too.

The government is currently tarmacking the Kapenguria-Kainuk-Lodwar Road that connects different parts of the country from Matayos in Western Kenya to North Horr.

“That opens northwestern Kenya. All those problems of rustling between the Pokot, Turkana and Samburu are neutralised by the new road,” says Mwige.

Poor roads

Three years ago, driving from Trans Nzoia to Turkana felt like moving from one extreme climatic end to the other. The tall green canopy of trees gave way to stunted thorny shrubs. The road got rugged, forcing vehicles to slow to snail speed thereby giving room for highway bandits to pounce.

Other roads in northern Kenya that are being constructed are the Isiolo-Wajir-Mandera and Lamu-Garsen-Isiolo highways.

It is not just road connectivity that has benefited Kenyans. Mobile phone connectivity as well as mobile money transfer services have also fundamentally transformed lives in the region.

Mwige says mobile money transfer service such as M-Pesa is another Vision 2030 dream that Kenyans are living without realising it.

“Those of us who have employed people back home now comfortably pay them through M-Pesa,” he says.

“You don’t have to do a letter or clog the roads on weekends to make payments.”

Loves challenges

Mwige describes himself as a reformist who loves challenges. He has the benefit of having served in both private and public sectors.

His career spans banking, technology and shipping, confronting different challenges, though Vision 2030 trumps them all, he says.

But with the right communication, he reckons the challenge can be surmounted.

The director-general insists it is important to relate government policies to your circumstances as an individual.

“I can tell you about any of these statistics,” says Mwige, pointing at the papers on his desk. “But what do they mean to you?”

He gives an example of one of the data sets on bed occupancy in the hotel industry.

“Economists will take the difference between the number of beds today and those in 2012, divide by the original and then multiply by 100 to get an 85 per cent increase in bed occupancy. What does that mean?”

“What probably they should say is that we have 20,000 more hotel beds.”

All these hotel beds, Mwige explains, have been serviced by a cleaner, a watchman, receptionist, accountant, marketing professional and others. This translates into jobs.

But Vision 2030 is the country’s long-term development plan, much like the Sessional Paper No.10 of 1965, which basically sought to ‘Africanise’ the factors of production after the country gained independence.

“There have been erroneous media reports of how President Uhuru Kenyatta has abandoned Vision 2030 for Big Four agenda,” Mwige says.

“What people don’t realise is that the Big Four Agenda is meant to help attain Vision 2030.”

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