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Refocus national energy to spur economic growth

By Isaac Kalua | March 15th 2020

Little clouds of dust filled the air as I ran as fast as I could on the hot Kitui sand. Despite the sand’s extreme heat, I didn’t slow down. A few metres ahead of me was Katune and I had to catch up with her. She was my only bridge to the future and if she slipped away, my future too, would slip away.

Katune was my dear mother’s only cow. A few minutes earlier, she had somehow maneuvered out of the rope around its neck and sped up the dry seasonal river that we had been crossing. I ran along the riverbed with all the strength that my fourteen-year-old legs could muster. I had to re-capture that cow because it would soon be sold at Kabati market to raise money for my school fees.

As Eleanor Roosevelt a former US First Lady powerfully noted, the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. Realising those dreams and securing that future doesn’t come easy. As a fourteen-year-old, the price of securing that future was my parents’ only cow. As a country, we need to be clear about the price of securing our future. But first of all, we need to remind ourselves our collective dream as a Nation.

According to Vision 2030, which underpins our country’s development goals, our dream is to become a globally competitive and prosperous Kenya. This can mean following in the prosperous footsteps of the four Asian tigers: Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan. Hong Kong’s GDP per capita is 46,193 USD while Kenya’s is 1,507 USD. Singapore’s is 57,714.30 USD, nearly fifty times that of Kenya. Taiwan’s is 24,827.898 USD, less than half Singapore’s but more than twenty times Kenya’s. South Korea’s is 29,742.84 USD, which puts it at more than twenty-five times that of Kenya.

One of the keys to the Asian Tiger’s economic prosperity is rapid industrialisation and consequent exports. To realise our dream of global competitiveness and prosperity, these three words ‘Made in Kenya’ need to guide all county level and national level government ministries. We already have one of the highest literacy rates in Africa. We should deploy these educated Kenyans to make ‘made in Kenya’ a constant reality.

Global competitiveness

Last year, 30,000 graduates joined the job market. They joined 1.3 million Kenyans with a university degree. Even the millions without a degree have tertiary education. According to the 2019 Kenya Population and Housing Census report, 11.6 million completed their studies. We need to unleash these millions of educated Kenyans into job creation, not just job hunting. Even social scientists whose field of study may appear more attuned to employment than job creation can actually create jobs. They can breathe life and social innovation to the non-profit sector.

We need to conduct a comprehensive national audit of the educational skills available to translate Kenya’s dream into a reality. At the moment, there are hundreds of thousands of highly educated Kenyans whose skills are wasting away. They include electrical engineers, civil engineers, lawyers, architects, social scientists, environmental scientists, computer scientists, agronomists, journalists, performing artists and many more. At a national level, rapid industrialisation will create multiple jobs for them. At local levels, they need to be supported in establishment of cottage industries and social interventions that will also create jobs.

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Knowledge is power. During the early sixties, approximately 3,000 mostly white farmers with specialised farming knowledge were feeding Kenya’s population of eight million people through their farms. In the same vein, Kenya’s dream of global competitiveness and prosperity can receive a new lease of life through the 1.3 million Kenyans with university degrees and the millions more with tertiary level education.

Their specialised knowledge which must be updated to changing technologies should not be taken for granted. Like small tributaries powering into larger rivers that eventually flow into the ocean, the millions of knowledge streams across our nation should be channeled into the ocean of global competitiveness and prosperity.

More than 30 years ago, Katune, the bridge to my future momentarily slipped out of my grasp. In the same way, there are bridges to Kenya’s future that have slipped out of our grasp. Integrity, national cohesion, unrelenting focus, social innovation and work ethic are some of these bridges. We need to refocus our national energy on recapturing these bridges because they will deliver us to the green future we dream of if we think and act green.

- The writer is founder and chairperson, Green Africa Foundation. www.isaackalua.co.ke

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