As the Opposition riles with increasing fury at the government, this is not altogether unexpected. After all, since the reintroduction of multiparty politics in Kenya, it has become cannon for minority parties to depict the government as incompetent and clueless. But there are many reasons to be sanguine about the future prospects of Kenya.
Facts from Country Snapshots, an infographic tool of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area Secretariat on investment information, are revelatory. First, Kenya is not only Eastern Africa’s biggest economy, but it is also bigger than the combined economies of Uganda and Tanzania. With a Gross Domestic Product of USD 109.116 billion, Kenya towers over Tanzania’s USD 65.632b billion and Uganda’s USD 30.765.
Second, Kenya’s highly diversified services sector puts it above its peers. The country’s obsessive compulsion with education is finally paying off. High literacy levels have equipped Kenyans to function in such spaces as medicine, insurance, banking, ICT and education.
Take medicine for instance. The regions’ topmost hospitals are in Nairobi. Kenyatta University Teaching and Referral Hospital now offers Cyberknife treatment for cancer. The Cyberknife is the second of its kind in Africa after Egypt. Other hospitals countrywide offer a variety of complex surgeries and treatments found only in the advanced countries of the global North. It is not improbable that Kenya could upstage India as the go-to destination for medical tourism.
Another example is the financial sector. Kenya is slowly becoming the regional banking and insurance hub with many local banks setting up in other countries. Even bigger economies like South Africa are beginning to take notice. South Africa only has five banks whereas Kenya has just under 45. Further, there is financial inclusion for the unbanked in Kenya with innovative digital products like M-Pesa
Third, deliberate policy decisions have given Kenya an advantage over other countries in the region. One of them is the ease with which foreign companies can repatriate their profits. Another is the decision to make English the country’s official language. Ethiopia’s official language is Amharic. Tanzania’s is Kiswahili. Whilst use of these languages has fostered national cohesion, it has proved to be a barrier to international trade. Further, English in Kenya has spawned numerous opportunities in Business Process Outsourcing like call centres.
Yet another is the deliberate investment in infrastructure. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Kenya has the continent’s fourth largest road network. It has a national airline that covers over 43 international destinations. It also has six submarine communication cables linking it with the rest of the world. Together, these make the country the natural headquarters of many international groups including UN agencies.
Kenya must allow itself a little crowing. Maligned for its “man-eat-man” policies, it has shaken off the shackles of socialism and risen to become first among equals in the region. It has put in place policies and structures, including scheduled and regular elections, that serve as a blow valve against popular discontent. These are reasons to be sanguine about Kenya’s future prospects. Revolution is a genie that must be kept bottled. Disgruntled elements calling for such should be ignored.
Mr Khafafa is a public policy analyst