2023: This is the language that will build a new Kenya

2023 will not just test our economy or politics, but society’s patience. [iStockphoto]

It is often said that the past is a reasonable predictor of the future.  This is as frightening as a thought as it is as realistic as an assertion.  Doesn’t today reflect yesterday, and tomorrow today? Consider this our baseline thought as we wave goodbye to 2022 and welcome 2023 into our lives.

Let’s go further.  We say that the future balances hope and expectation. Yet hope is not a strategy, and reasonable expectation builds from yesterday’s context and today’s baseline.  But isn’t the future, to use one quote, “not something we enter, but something we create?”  Because, if we don’t, “the future has a way of arriving unannounced”? Or has the future already happened?  Isn’t the future “not something to predict, but something to build”?  Consider Kenya 3.0 in this context.

For Planet Kenya, 2022 was an interesting year.  On the political front, we lived through a super-competitive election at all levels.  Then we witnessed a peaceful transition of power as we ushered in our 5th President, Dr William Ruto. 

New Year’s Day is only his 110th in office, but with 2027 already on the radar, we will hear about institutional reform from one side of the political divide, and constitutional reform from the other.  For both, the real reform is to “nicely” set up the 2027 poll.

The state of the economy was at the core of the 2022 election.  After a couple of really tough Covid-19 years, we then found ourselves in the economic middle of the Russia-Ukraine battlefront in a global year of high inflation, interest rate hikes and a strengthening US dollar.  But we had created our future. The keywords were investment, debt, IMF, shilling and cost of living.

Economic revolution

President Ruto’s administration begins Day 110 having given us many nice words, plus some fertiliser and the first part of the Hustler Fund. The fiscus is now fully aligned with IMF demands, with supplementary and future budget estimates having been presented to them by Treasury before they have been debated by Parliament. It is contractionary policy (structural adjustment) time - tight fiscus and tight money.  The Plan – a compendium of expansionary policy ideas - is still just the words in the manifesto, not an economic strategy that is publicly available.

None of this is new.  And if the past predicts the future based on this picture of today, then, pessimistically, has the economic revolution beginning in 2023 already been postponed?  The truth is that 2023 will not just test our economy or politics, but society’s patience.  It is said that poverty is the mother of revolution and crime. We know the first son; we are yet to meet the second.

Yet, the future that begins in 2023 must be about optimism. That’s what Kenya 3.0 should be all about. It needs an acceptance that history has moved on from pre-independent, colonial Kenya 1.0 and post-independent, first liberation but single-party Kenya 1.1.  It also needs a sense of visioning beyond the second liberation, multi-party Kenya 2.0 that only temporarily disordered the elite bargain that Kenya 1.1 represented while offering fleeting and episodic economic progress. 

This is the ultimate ask of Kenya by Kenyans, and the true ask by Kenyans of its leaders.

Since it’s the turn of the year, and we’re only just emerging from a brief period of rest and recreation, let’s do something different today.  Rather than offer the usual prescriptive “what we must do in 2023” we will try an unusual angle titled “words/phrases to excite our hopes in 2023.” 

Big basics

Some of these words or phrases/buzz phrases will be familiar to readers in one form or another, but others are completely original imaginations and word combinations.  All words, phrases and errors therein are solely this writer’s responsibility.  We have 11 phrases; one for each month (December is a holiday) grouped into four “bigs” - basics, transitions, leapfrogs and outcomes.

A final caveat before we begin.  This is neither an attempt to rejig any party’s manifesto or a different way to phrase past efforts such as the Building Bridges Initiative.  It is a collective of semi-serious phrases assembled to encourage us to think differently in our journey to Kenya 3.0.

The Big Basics are the starting points for framing Kenya 3.0 in 2023.  The first is Intergenerational Insight which calls on all of us to rethink Kenya and its politics, economics and society from an inter-generational perspective.  The 2010 Constitution already offers us space for this by defining children (age 0 to 18), youth (age 19 to 35) and older members of society (age 60 and above), indirectly, therefore, defining the “privileged” middle-aged (age 36 to 59). 

The point of the insight is to rethink everything from an inter-generational perspective, from education and health needs to actual plans and budgets. This is the one inequality space to which we pay less attention than we should (the other inequalities being gender, geography and social exclusion)

The second is Pro-Poor Perspicacity (another phrase for insight).  Many are already frightened by the term “bottom-up”; seeing it as a peasant revolution against elites, dynasties, czars and kingpins.  A shrewd pro-poor lens sees that this is not a zero-sum game, but an effort to more deliberately direct attention to the bottom of the pyramid without necessarily collapsing its top and middle.

Big transitions

Futurists will tell you that, outside discussions on the future of democracy, there are at least four interrelated transitions currently happening across the world, and global events and conferences in the past two years have offered important space in which nations, countries, peoples and communities debate what these transitions mean for them.

The Food Transition takes the discussion away from food security and safety at one level, or food sovereignty (self-sufficiency) at the other to a new one on the actual future of food.  Equally, the Health Transition reflects an emerging mega-trend on the post-Covid-19 future of health in a universal healthcare context.

The Green Transition is a familiar space that speaks to mostly mitigative, but also adaptive and resilient, responses to climate change, global warming and other environmental sustainability at large. Equally familiar to readers is the Digital Transition that is constantly raising the bar from initial digitisation (like records) to digitalisation (of processes) to the digital transformation (of societal life).  Any 2023 discourse that misses these transitions misses the point.

Big leapfrogs

While the first two areas are fairly general and universally applicable, there is a part of Kenya Kwanza’s official agenda that could lend itself, with greater imagination, to three big leapfrogs. Human Talentisation (I said the words are mine) advances the traditional human resource lens, to the more contemporary view of human capital, and ultimately the whole point of the human as a talent. This is more than a CBC discussion and it is above knowledge and skills, to human capabilities. Supporting this is Inclusive Financialisation (as opposed to Financial Inclusion).  The simple way to look at this is to properly establish the Hustler Fund not as a forum to financially include Kenyans (we have enough of these) but as a platform to inclusively financialise Kenyans.  There is a world of difference between one as a safety net, and the other as an economic ladder.

Since the words are flowing, the final leapfrog is Connective Tradability.  This combines two notions. The first is socio-economic connectivity (by physical or virtual means).  The second is socio-economic tradability (simply, engaging in trade, commerce or industry).  The history is we have spent more time thinking about connectivity without thinking about what we are connecting (five freedoms of movement - goods, services, labour, capital, knowledge).

Big Leapfrogs are where Kenya 3.0 thinks big and goes bigger.  That’s your 2023 debating point.

Big outcomes

This is the end game.  The old language used to speak to the notion of “good jobs”.  Two things happen in the modern world.  First, there are lots of “bad jobs” (by wage and labour standards).  Second, livelihoods are the new jobs (everything from the ICT gig economy to mama mboga).  But here’s the bigger societal point that’s emerging - these are means, not ends.  So the phrase we use here is Dignified Livability.  In other words, dignity in life (on a daily basis), provided you are alive (to throw in social-economic rights as well as the safety, security and justice element).

We have eleven phrases so far. All are directed towards the positive that Kenya 3.0 might represent, and our own perspectives for 2023. But there is a final one, to reflect the pessimistic view we started with. Call it Arrested Development. That’s the flip side of 2023. No explanation needed.

As we medicate ourselves with the latest dose of the Washington Consensus, might this be the rallying moment for our very own Kenyan Consensus for 2023? I am just asking, semi-seriously!

Have a happy, prosperous and rewarding 2023!