Development planning must never be tied to person calling the shots

Morning traffic jam along Thika Superhighway near Muthaiga, Nairobi. September 21, 2022 [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

This past weekend seems to have inadvertently opened a lid on the undercurrents beneath the veneer of worship that has characterised Kenya Kwanza administration’s one year in office. The ghost of ‘shareholding’ seems to run beyond skin deep as some apologetics of the faction spearheading it would want the public to believe.

On his tour of Nyanza over the weekend, President William Ruto allayed fears of skewed development against the region based on their political leanings. While the head of state steered off politics, one can only be naïve to imagine it was all about development and not 2027. For the most part, the developmental history of the country has been joined at the hip with the political figurehead of the day.

Simply put, the presidency coming from a particular region is widely perceived to be the only sure bet to achieve meaningful development for that particular region or community.

Primitive mindsets

The same thinking extends to state appointments. That despite the provisions of Article 10 and Chapter 13 of the Constitution, appointments appear to favour communities that take the presidential crown home. Whether intended or not, this is the gospel that Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua seems to convey to the nation to the chagrin of senior advisors, even within the administration.  

The question that should bother any patriotic citizen is: how did we ever get into this trap and how can we remedy the nation from it for the benefit of future generations?

In theory, it should never matter who is the president or what is the ethnic affiliations of one minister or the other. It is shocking how even the cabinet reshuffle has been analysed in the lens of rewarding ethnic loyalty, even within mainstream media. The ultimate goal of any responsible government must be to assure its citizens of a return on their taxes, regardless of how they vote in an election.

In any case, the only sustainable means to growth and accumulation of wealth for any society is a shared prosperity. As indicated in last week’s article, all extractive political regimes throughout history have had an expiry date. This ethnic chauvinism is not as bad for more balanced societies development-wise. Take, for instance, the USA.

Despite its geographic size and population, there have been few families that have dominated the national politics of the country and folks look fine with it. It is for the same reason why a minority like former President Obama got elected. In other developed economies like the UK, they currently have a Prime Minister of Asian descent and Kenyan roots. In Canada, this past Tuesday, the House of Commons elected Greg Fergus, their first Black Speaker of Parliament. These are clear indicators that when a society prioritises the right economic drivers, negative political and social tensions get diminished significantly.

 It remains a national shame and primitive that the top echelons of power in the land are talking of ‘political shareholding’ as a ticket to access developmental projects and an opportunity to serve one’s country, 60 years into independence.

What’s more, the fact that those in power are busy profiling communities and regions for an election that is four years away instead of focusing on demonstrable performance as a means to re-election says a lot about our broken socio-political fabric.

In all fairness, it seems our poverty as a nation is not limited to empty pockets and stolen taxes but stretches to the realms of leadership and expected morals of a civilised nation. This brings me to the heart of today’s article.

Wisdom of planning

Economic history has it that developmental planning is the chord that binds economics, social, political and ecological considerations together when moving societies forward. A casual check on the economic miracles of the second half of the 20th century, that is, after 1960, shows a universal theme of developmental master plans that guided their growth, regardless of who the political leader was. For most of the Asian tigers, including Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Malaysia and recently China, they run on master plans that span for as long as 100 years.The demonstrable socio-economic dividends for these economies was the logic behind the Vision 2030 economic blueprint. Singapore, a country we all acknowledge was built on our own Sessional Paper No. 10 of 1965 (except for the leadership differences), provided technical support for its development.

The immediate former president, Uhuru Kenyatta and his successor, President Ruto, served as either Deputy Prime Minister and ministers during its development and early years of its implementation. Economic speak, they were both insiders and strategically positioned to understand the rationale behind the vision and its long term benefits to the country and her people. For those of us who have interacted with this plan closely, it is undeniable on the genius behind it. If it was closely followed through, devoid of political expediency and tender-preneurship, am certain today we would be talking about a different Kenya.

 Let us not sugarcoat things here, Vision 2030 died back in 2013 with the exit of the late President Kibaki. In its place, we have seen instruments of political convenience and tender-prenuers in the name of the ‘BIG 4’ and now ‘BIG 5’. While the Department for Planning continues to extract the five-year Medium Term Plans (MTPs), none of them have ever gained traction and been evaluated except the first one of 2008-2013.

Take for example the state of abeyance with which MTP four, 2023-2027 has been held into. One year into the KK administration, the plan does not exist officially. In its place, it is a code-name Bottom-up Economic Transformation Agenda (BETA) that does not exist in any structured form. Lost in the eyes of many, the ‘BIG 4’ was never unpacked beyond the naming of each pillar.

There never was any specific projects or programmes; implementation framework; defined targets or indicators of achievement, and an evaluation plan. Yet, all the trillions of government spending between 2018 -2022 were based on this phony agenda. Notice how this has mutated into BETA under a similar script. Is it just a mere coincidence or could there be a dotted line connecting the two?

From an analytical point of view, BIG 4 and BETA are simply the opposite sides of the same coin under the same chess master. Expect nothing much from it, it would be another wasted five years development speak, of course, unless a fundamental shift in thinking happens from the administration.

John Hackett, in an article posted on the Britanica website on the assessment of development planning in developing countries, argues that development plans attempt to promote economic planning in far many ways. One, by assessing the current state of the economy and providing information about it; two, by increasing the overall rate of investments; three, by carrying out special types of investments designed to break bottlenecks in production in important sectors of the economy; and finally, by trying to improve the coordination between parts of the economy.

The ultimate goal of planning is to promote a balance of environmental, social and economic welfare that meets the needs of the current and future generations.

In economic theory, planning is generally considered as the best strategy of economic development and a short-cut path to economic prosperity. However, this must never be confused with State interventions or mere programming, budgeting or earmarking of funds over a certain period for one purpose or the other. This is what personified then ‘BIG 4’ and now BETA!

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