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Evaluate 2022 promises against local and global commitments

By Dennis Kabaara | Dec 15th 2021 | 7 min read

A section of the Nairobi Expressway between Nyayo stadium and Belle View along Mombasa road under construction. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

With Kenya’s General Election less than a year away, the season of political promises is in full flow. Coming just before President Uhuru Kenyatta delivered his final Jamhuri Day address, ODM leader Raila Odinga’s launch of his Azimio la Umoja movement is the latest in a queue of candidate promises, which includes billions for hustlers, tax cuts, debt restructuring and full repayment, more money in our pockets, free healthcare, interest-free capital, and long-term loans for newly-weds.

Raila outlined a 10-point agenda around social protection, universal healthcare, employment creation, women’s empowerment, investing in youth, education for all, food security, water for all, enterprise Kenya (one county, one product) and administrative continuity (building on past successes). 

 What many missed is that he also promised, in his address last Friday, a detailed manifesto that would also speak to “other critical concerns like corruption, public debt, industrialisation, digital economy, promotion and protection of business, and, particularly, protection of private property”. 

In content, this is the most comprehensive agenda now available to Kenyans; but it also looks like a laundry list of ideas.

As some have asked, does this social-leaning agenda mark the end of Jubilee’s brick and mortar? More to the point, what do these ideas from all candidates mean for our existing development frameworks?

 As is perfectly within their rights, every political administration enters office pursuing a specific socio-economic agenda.  The National Rainbow Coalition’s (NARC) 2003-2007 Economic Recovery Strategy for Wealth and Employment Creation (ERS) is generally deemed to have been the last great one at outcome and impact level. 

To be sure, it was through the focused implementation of the ERS that Kenya recovered its economy from the secular decline that marked Kanu’s final years in office. The general consensus was that creditable progress was achieved on the economic growth and equity and poverty reduction pillars, but significant challenges remained governance, security and rule of law pillar. As history records, the 2007/2008 post-election violence (PEV) threatened to decimate the ERS gains.

Enter Vision 2030

 As part of the political settlement that led to the post-PEV formation of the Grand Coalition Government, a 22-year national vision, which had been developed before the fateful election, was jointly launched as Vision 2030 in June 2008.

This vision is now 13 years old and will have eight years left by the time Kenya gets new leaders in 2022. It is Kenya’s current development framework; a source of engagement for stakeholders ranging from national government to international development partners. 

 Unfortunately, it is often misinterpreted as an infrastructure-heavy project list rather than a human-centric development platform. It was envisaged as apolitical (beyond elections), super-structural (above sectors and institutions), futuristic (for the long-run) and inclusive (beyond government, to all of society).

 It is worth recalling what Vision 2030 is about. On security “a nation of peace and stability (and) a society free of danger and fear”.  Becoming “a top 10 long-haul tourist destination in the world… offering a high-value, diverse and distinctive visitor experience”, and being “the top BPO off-shoring destination in Africa” are essential goals, underpinned by a public service that is “citizen-focused and results-oriented” located in “a value-driven, ethical, peaceful, united and prosperous nation”, and served by a democratic political system that is “people-centred, results-oriented and accountable”.

 The vision targets “decent and gainful employment for every Kenyan” within “a just, equitable, civically engaged open society without extreme poverty”. 

Livelihoods of women, youth and vulnerable groups shall be improved through “equity in access, control and participation in resource distribution”.

On culture, sports and the arts, the aim is to “celebrate the best in us”. 

Electoral politics will be “genuinely competitive and issue-based”, with governance guided by “adherence to the rule of law for a modern, market-based economy in a human rights-respecting state”.

 ICT will be “leveraged for increased competitiveness” while STI (Science, Technology and Innovation) will “accelerate the transition to an innovation-led and knowledge based economy”. 

“World class infrastructure facilities and services” shall be deployed, and land management will be “globally competitive and sustainable”.  Better planning will “end drought emergencies and food insecurity”.

 Agriculture will be “innovative, commercially-oriented and modern”; manufacturing aims to be “robust, diversified and competitive”, and wholesale and retail trade will become “a formal sector that is efficient, multi-tiered, diversified in product range, and innovative”. 

Under this is “a vibrant and globally competitive financial sector driving high levels of savings to finance the country’s investment and economic growth needs”.

Oil and mining, and the blue economy, shall be “sustainably developed and managed for citizen benefit”.

 The vision promises “globally competitive quality education, training and research for sustainable development”, “equitable, quality and affordable health care of the highest standard”, “water and sanitation availability and access for all in a clean, secure and sustainable environment with adequate and decent housing”.

Further, Kenya shall be “free of HIV infection, stigma and AIDS-related deaths”, while “acting towards a low carbon and climate resilient environment” supported by “an integrated and coordinated disaster risk management system”.

In less than 400 words above, Vision 2030 promises to create a globally competitive and prosperous country with a high quality of life by 2030 through three pillars - economic (moving up the economic value chain), social (investing in people) and political (growing as one nation) - underpinned by socio-economic enablers ranging from economic infrastructure and human capital to science and technology for innovation.  Why would we divert from this big vision with all manner of freshly-minted manifestos?

Whole of society development

With eight years to go, the leadership task is not to pursue a new path, but to strengthen the current one.  The vision is implemented through National Medium-Term Plans (MTPs), with the current “Big Four” one running to 2022.  There has been no review of the vision’s continued relevance, although Annual Progress Reports and MTP Mid-Term Reviews offer shorter-term insights on what reads as slower progress than originally envisaged (Grand Coalition and Jubilee manifestos notwithstanding).

Using the “marking scheme” approach that this column aims to promote, it seems futile and unnecessary to continually re-invent the agenda before every election. There are clear tweaks and adjustments that can be made to improve what the Vision aims to achieve. 

First, it needs to move from a largely county-exclusive national government effort with some development partner involvement to “whole of society” development with multi-stakeholder ownership across national and devolved government, private sector, development partners, non-state actors, the fourth sector (social enterprise) and citizens at large.

Second, focus must be elevated from projects to portfolios.  As the basic development unit; projects are arguably far too many to effectively oversee at Vision 2030 level.  Programmes help to link multiple projects (and operations) within sectors, geographies or institutions. 

Portfolios take this a step further, by better integrating programmes and projects across and between sectors.  Simply, it is far easier to focus Vision 2030 coordination and oversight on 6-10 mega-portfolios than tens of programs or hundreds of projects.

What would a “whole of society” multi-stakeholder approach look like? Think about proactive inter-governmental and private-public sector dialogue and strengthened development partnerships.  Consider public-private partnerships and multi-donor trust funding to support the vision’s technical and financing frameworks, or the creation of innovative new stakeholder spaces for MSME and fourth sector incubators. 

At a portfolio level, move towards sub-visions (spatial, county, urban, thematic, cross-cutting), while building a sustainable long-term development planning model for Kenya. Introduce futures and innovation thinking into the visioning, beginning with four exciting and contemporary perspectives that are likely to be popular with young people. Digitisation, Digitalisation and the Digital Economy.

Sustainable development

The Green, Circular, Doughnut and/or Bio-Economy. Social Enterprise and the Fourth Sector Economy that builds on Kenya’s impressive social capital.  The 24-7-365 Economy of Platforms and Ecosystems.

Two final points to add. First, the need to Build Back Better (BBB) from a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic experience that has decimated the troika of lives (health), livelihoods (economy) and living (society) across the globe.

It also presents an opportunity to rebuild not back to the normal, familiar past, but to a better, different future. 

This context offers space for a refocused Vision 2030 centred on BBB principles; and the chance to go back to basics in pursuing the “next normal” years to 2030 and beyond.

Second, Kenya Vision 2030, as it is officially titled, coincides with the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Vision 2030 Agenda. 

Lest we forget these SDGs; we begin with Goal 1 (ending poverty) as related to 2 (ending hunger), 3 (healthy lives and well-being), 4 (inclusive and quality education and lifelong learning), 5 (gender equality and empowerment of women and girls), 6 (water and sanitation), 7 (energy) and 8 (growth, employment and decent work).

Add Goal 9 (infrastructure, industrialisation and innovation), 10 (reducing inequality), 11 (cities and human settlements), 12 (sustainable resource consumption and production), 13 (combating climate change). 

Conclude with Goals 14 and 15 on sustainable “blue” and ‘green” resources, 16 (justice, peace and inclusivity) and 17 (global partnerships for sustainable development).

Is this not what we must evaluate candidates against? A package that strengthens and updates Vision 2030 as our home-grown development platform while aligning with global pandemic circumstances and SDG targets?

Ponder this as you evaluate the array of election promises between now and next August.

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