Monday, December 2, 2013

2nd December 2013 Mwai Kibaki Public Lecture at UON Speech

Kenya @ 50: Of Hindsight, Insight and Foresight

Reflections on the State of the Nation

Fellow Kenyans

Ladies and Gentlemen

The 50th anniversary of any human endeavour is an important juncture. It is a time to solemnly take stock of the road travelled at that particular point in time. And the time to introspect and ponder what hurdles and fortunes may await in both the reasonably foreseeable and the unseen future.

The coming occasion of Kenya’s Golden Jubilee of Independence provides us with an excellent opportunity to review five decades of hard work and lasting achievements. Achievements of triumph and disappointment and of joy and calamity. And it is the time to plan ahead for an even bigger, better Kenya in which the prosperity agenda can be made more inclusive and, hopefully, with minimal calamity.

For people of my generation, reflecting on this landmark occasion will therefore be more in the nature of the state of the nation at the five-decade-old mark. And in order to grasp where we all are, whatever our generational experience, as long as one has attained the age of discretion, we must have an idea of where we have come from, and why, as well as where we are heading.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

My generation has lived the best years of their lives over the past five decades; the future, most certainly now belongs to their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Though oftentimes only grudgingly acknowledged, Kenya shook off the colonial shackles with a clear vision of where she wanted to go.

To begin with, at the turn of Independence, fatigue, anger and hope amidst despair had built up a vast but potent reservoir of grievance and indignity among our people.

Years of unceasing plunder of our national resources, racial discrimination, deprivation and denied opportunities had taken their toll on the Africans. Conscripted labour by foreign farming and business investors had stolen their dignity and hastened the demand for independence and sovereignty.

The 1955 bid to mitigate discrimination and deprivation through token representation of the African in the Legislative Assembly came too little and too late. Longstanding bitterness and anguish dominated the psyche of Kenyans who wanted nothing short of a new order. They demanded political freedom, equality and dignity for all. Aware of the volatile situation, the colonial Government undertook to manage the looming transition in a manner that would take care of damage control but mainly in favour of foreign investors.

Colonial Government-led transition management into an African Government included partial land redistribution in the form of settlement programmes. This included the Africanisation of former European farms but on a very limited scale. With it also came selective recruitment of a small number of Africans to occupy top positions formerly held by Europeans.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

All those efforts were aimed at decelerating nationalism and slowing the pace towards full independence. Essentially, the objective behind these desperate but cosmetic reforms was intended to upstage foreseeable anarchy by African nationalists. Such anarchy, the colonial master knew would be a big threat to European investments especially in agriculture and business.

As a matter of fact, one of the major tools in the hands of the colonial government was foreign aid. The outgoing colonial Government organised international aid in the form of technical assistance, grants and loans in support of the incoming African Government. That kind of support, however, could not support a nascent Government keen on standing on its feet and establishing an identity. What Kenya needed at the time was a soft landing in the form of recurrent and development assistance. Obviously, it was in the interest of the departing administration that a free Kenya gradually settles down without erupting into an orgy of lawlessness and disorder. Only tranquillity would guarantee that British and other foreign investments were cushioned from destruction.

Independence: Challenges and Solutions of the new African Government

Ladies and Gentlemen

Kenya’s relentless quest for Independence culminated in the founding of an African Government under Jomo Kenyatta, the Prime Minister of Independent Kenya and its inaugural President thereafter when Kenya became a republic.

At this point, Kenyatta and other Founding Fathers were keenly aware of the great yearning underlying the restlessness Kenyans suffered. Thus far, they had been with the people at every turn. Yet there was no illusion about the national dream.

Most importantly, both the armed and the political struggle for independence had raised African expectations to a precarious edge. Among the people were personal, group and even regional expectations of what independence would bring along. But this was not the time for blame games.

After the exit of the European dominated Colonial Government, the incoming African leaders and their Government embarked on the business of running the new independent state with proficiency. They were aware that their task had to prop a unitary nation out of the numerous linguitic-cultural or ethnic groups, each struggling for a share of the national cake. That cake was the sum total of resources available to the country in the context of competing demands across sectors.

That is what many refer to as the national cake. It comprises the country’s resources that are required for the creation of the wealth of the people and the nation. The leaders of the day knew it. And theirs—with regard to sharing the national cake—was truly a date with destiny.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Right from the outset, the new leadership started by acknowledging the depressed state of the African population at Independence and the need for immediate action to find solutions to the most pressing existential challenges facing the country. First, there was the challenge of the most humiliating, experiential problem of residual racial discrimination.

This was dealt with through the constitution which declared Kenya a non-racial society. What remained was the implementation of pro-equality enforcement through administrative decisions. Fortunately, such decisions were not lacking. The real headache was with the deeply embedded challenges whose solutions were neither obvious nor straightforward. Yet, none of the weighty issues of the day could be tackled through a simple executive order.

To begin with, at the time, the vast majority of Africans were very poor, in fact, many completely dispossessed. For years these people had slaved away for the settler or colonial masters. And for years on end, Africans in Kenya had suffered mass economic and social marginalisation. Marginalisation had rendered millions of Kenyans destitute in their own motherland. Poverty, and hence the threat of hunger, had become a scourge whose elimination was critical.

But this was only one side of a much bigger problem. The more urgent social challenges presented themselves in the form of both ignorance and disease. Only a few Africans had adequate formal education and skills to handle the challenges of a newly independent country.

Equally, diseases ravaged the African community claiming them in their numbers and at very early stages in their lives. This unfortunate turn of events took place because, though fully aware, the colonial administration paid no meaningful attention to the healthcare needs of the African population.

Clearly, the atmosphere was bleak and life was brutish. No forward movement would take place without first addressing these daunting challenges.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This was the context in which the declaration of war against the three social phenomena—poverty, disease and ignorance—was made. The three were, undoubtedly, the most immediate and austere enemies facing Kenya at the turn of Independence.

Evidently, the declaration was not arrived at arbitrarily. Nor was it a mere turn of phrase or a rhetorical flourish. In fact, it was a thoughtful combination of hindsight, insight and foresight. The clarion call urged all to join in building the nation, their nation.

Looking back to that momentous period of our national history, we can only now begin to appreciate the magnitude and the complexity of the trust the people of Kenya invested in their very first own Government.

Independence and Majimbo

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Worth noting is that the departing colonial government transferred to the incoming administration the bare minimum resources it could so as to avoid losing face. Consequently, the first African administration had to reinvent many aspects of the wheel, times without number.

Quite often, the Independence Government had to improvise a great deal too. Foremost in its sights was to reach everyone within its borders. The Founding administration, meanwhile, adapted the best that the British and others had proposed and, as much as possible, discarded much of the worst and the untenable.

While the changing of places was taking place, a lot of simmering political goings-on was afoot back in the day.

To jog your mind a little, Kenya gained independence in a Majimbo system with a national government, and eight strong regional governments (Majimbo). The regions were delineated on the basis of the then existing eight colonial provinces. The National Government was, meanwhile, host to the three branches of Government alongside the National Assembly and Senate as the two chambers of Parliament. Whereas the National Assembly was the main legislative chamber of Parliament, protection of the Majimbo system against arbitrary abolition was the Senate’s primary role.

It is important to recall that Majimbo was an imposition by the colonial government. The system was introduced to enforce mechanisms intended to blackmail the incoming African leadership to accept it as a condition of the ‘granting’ of Independence that would follow.

Rather than waste precious time, the majority of the African leaders reluctantly accepted the Majimbo system on the basis of Kwame Nkrumah’s counsel of “Get ye political freedom first and all else shall be given unto you.”

And sure enough, the question continued to beg after independence. Within a short time, managerial-cum-technical skills of regional governments proved wanting. The inability of regional governments to mobilize enough taxes and other resources to meet their residents’ obligations broke the camel’s back. Members of the public from the various regions soon started demanding the services they could not get from their regional administrations from the National Government.

That, together with the reservations expressed previously by the national leadership towards Majimbo led to the abolition of the system in 1966. It was replaced with the now defunct Local Government system. The abolition of Majimbo was followed by the abolition of the Senate whose members were integrated into the National Assembly.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

That was a major milestone in Kenya’s political experience. The exit of the Majimbo system saw the establishment of a centralized unitary system. This structure lasted a whole 46 years and was replaced by the devolved system of government enacted in 2013 under Kenya’s Constitution promulgated in 2010. The fate of the new system is still evolving.

The struggle against Majimbo was pursued against the need for national unity at a time when the world was divided along intense very ideological lines. The war by the Somali-backed secessionist movement was viewed as another source of discord aimed at undermining the survival and unity of the new state.

Right from mid-1964, the question was, how much political diversity could Kenya, poor as it was, afford in the face of external threats and cutthroat international ideological rivalry? Curiously, the same scenario is being replayed all over again right now in Kenya.

After KADU merged with KANU on the eve of Kenya’s republican status in November 1964, all indications were that the majority of Kenyans preferred a political system based on national unity and led by a united political front. It also emerged that Kenyans opted for political debates conducted under one political platform and unitary system of government as compared to a Majimbo system.

Thus in spite of being what Jomo Kenyatta referred to as a land of contrasts, Kenya is uniquely also a land of consensus. It is the place where avowed bitter-most political rivals find ways of accommodating each other and working together for the benefit of moving the nation forward. Oftentimes, this quest for a political middle ground is driven by the love of the country though one cannot completely rule out other factors including the pursuit of selfish interests based on political realism and the possibility of postponing the battle to another day.

Nothing illustrates this reality better than the circumstances that led to the merger of KANU and KADU in the 1960s, the spirit that gave birth to the inter-parties forum of the early 1990s, the short-lived political marriage of KANU and NDP in the late 1990s and early 2000s. But perhaps the most instructive example of this phenomenon is the 2008 formation of the Coalition Government formed at the brink of an artificial apocalypse.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In retrospect, the one party state stifled the space for organised political opposition. This came to pass even as Kenyans desired an environment that would be tolerant of criticism from individual leaders with differing views as well as citizens. And even in the new political reality, Kenyans aspired to free expression. It also meant that political competition would take place among individual candidates nominated by the only political party - KANU.

This is the spirit that saw the country through its development at the nascent stage of Independence until 1966 when Kenya People’s Union (KPU) was formed only to be banned three years later. The situation remained the same until 1982 when Kenya officially became a one party de jure state.

In terms of state organization, there was an outstanding difference between the period spanning 1966 to 1982 and the one that followed 10 years after till 1991. It was the fact that the leadership feared that organized political opinion that went contrary to the ideology of the government of the day posed a threat to the interests of the state.

The hard-boiled reaction by the establishment against what was viewed as dissidence led to the clamour for multi-partyism. That was attained in 1991 after the recommendations of the Saitoti Review Committee. And that is how several other political parties joined KANU in the search for a share of political power. It also opened up opportunities to give the country's leadership a new vision. Besides, the expanded political space gave the country hope for a new constitution. That long awaited dream bore fruit once the promulgation of the new Constitution took place in 2010.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The pressure of independence left the new Government with no option but to embark on a deliberate Africanisation programme. This was the best bet as the Government sought to enhance its political legitimacy in the face of incessant nationalism, the divisive Majimbo and the demand for action on pressing problems of the day.

To start with, it was clear right from the beginning that despite the availability of former British officers, teachers and medical staff serving under the independent Government, the legitimacy of the new state hang on the speed with which foreign officers were replaced by Africans. This was the first and most important test of the existence of an African Government. This demand forced the Government to embark on ambitious programmes targeting the training of African administrators at the Kenya Institute of Administration (KIA). Elsewhere, the Government undertook to train doctors and other medical personnel as well as teachers at various other institutions within the country and abroad.

After placing Africans in the Civil Service, education and health sectors, steps were taken to ensure Africanisation of the economy took place. This was particularly critical for it was the most viable long term approach to the creation of the resources required in the fight against poverty, ignorance, disease and hunger.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The first strategy towards the Africanisation of the economy focused on agriculture. It aimed at encouraging the African peasantry to engage more in crop production for domestic and export markets. In particular, Africans were encouraged to produce cash crops such as coffee, tea, pyrethrum, cotton and sugarcane. Most of these crops mainly targeted export markets, the grand aim being to earn foreign exchange. The revenue earned would enable the country to import capital and other goods it needed to improve the welfare of Kenyans.

To achieve desirable results in this area, there was need to redistribute more and more European land to Africans as a way of enabling them to take part in commercial agriculture which was previously an exclusive preserve of European settler farmers throughout the colonial era.

For Kenyans, the acquisition of former European farms and participation in cash crop farming was the most significant evidence that Kenya had indeed gained Independence. Involvement in other commercial agricultural undertakings was the icing on their cake.

It is important to note that save for the settlement schemes targeting mainly those regarded as landless, Africanisation was essentially based on, willing buyer willing seller. Mzee Jomo Kenyatta had already sounded a warning that there were no free things.

Finding markets for the goods and services produced by the locals meant there would be income to the population and therefore order and decorum in the country. On the contrary, lack of income generation activities would engender anarchy besides threatening the rule of law in the new state.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Not all went as planned or desired. There was no easy break for poor people. In fact, it is those with money or access to credit who got the better part of the bargain in the immediate post-independence era. Access to resources became the root of inequality with regard to gaining the ownership of land and businesses, or so it seemed.

Meanwhile, most individuals, companies, cooperatives or other groups that bought land subdivided it and distributed it to their children or shareholders. As a result, the hitherto large settler farms became small holdings occupied by numerous peasant farmers. That is how a significant portion of large farms in Rift Valley, Central and other parts of the country formerly owned by settlers became settlement for the peasantry.

Obviously, an expanded peasantry drove the largest part of rural Kenya into a more permanent peasant economy. This state of affairs gave rise to the need to transform Kenya’s rural economy through what came to be known as rural development programmes. This move, among other things, was intended to forestall rural-urban migration.

All in all, land distribution to Africans was a means of shifting both economic and political power from Europeans to Africans.

The second strategy of the new leadership focused on the transfer of business and trading sectors to Africans. This effort was directed at European and Asian businesses and trading activities. A large part of these had been transferred to Africans by 1978.

The third Africanisation strategy focused on industrial and financial activities without which African participation in the economy would have been only half done. Yet this was the most difficult part of the exercise primarily because it required a lot of capital, specialised managerial skills and excellent marketing capabilities. Unfortunately, only a handful of Africans had sufficient capacity or insights in these fields. On the overall, the overarching spirit that saw the birth of KCB, NBK, ICDC, IDB, KIE and DBK in the financial sector was a result of the quest to transfer industrial and financial empowerment to the African people. In agriculture, ADC Farms, AFC and an array of crop development and research institutes were formed to fulfil the same purpose.

Weighed down by such enormous human capital deficit, it took a little longer before Kenyans could venture into the more specialised sectors of our economy.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Over and above all other efforts, Harambee was encouraged as a way of motivating the populace to pull together and own development together. In fact, Harambee became the peoples' wilful expression to meet their own immediate needs by joining hands rather than staring at each other and yelping for help. In those heady days, Kenyans, in a most impressive gesture, took their destiny—literally—in the hands. By doing so, they unanimously met the efforts of the Government midway.

In spite of such a well thought-out plan and roadmap to a dignified Kenya, Africanisation, noble as it was, had many detractors, some of them regrettably African. Those who could not stand it were the kind of people who had swallowed the ideology of racial superiority line, hook and sinker to the point of self-loathing. Theirs was an alarming inferiority complex, intrusively dangerous to the prospects of a new African state.

Meanwhile, a paradox of significant proportions confronted our people.

The world was rapidly modernizing and spreading education and technology on the one hand. World media exposed the African to what was happening in other regions of the world, many of them a far cry from Africa’s well-endowed status with regard to natural resources and mineral wealth. It was readily noticeable that regions less than half as endowed as Africa were forging ahead as our part of the world, with all its resources, continued to sit on its laurels.

This is the backdrop against which the Sessional Paper Number 10 of 1965, African Socialism and its Application to Planning in Kenya, was conceived and crafted. This was a systematic and result oriented roadmap to economic growth and development. The Paper, it was hoped, would unlock the country’s capacity to deal with poverty, ignorance and disease, while at the same time enhancing the living conditions of the people.

The ultimate objective was to move Kenyans en mass from poverty into decent living in an environment where glaring inequality would be adequately addressed.

The creation of opportunities for an eagerly waiting population was as critical as it was urgent. The seldom voiced objective behind this pursuit was to move the people to a more dignified ground, where the ravages of colonial misrule would not keep haunting them.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Development had to be lived; it had to be an experiential. Indeed, it had to be an everyday reality if it was to resonate with Kenyans at all. Mere talk about freedom, however poetic and lyrical, was not going to convince Kenyans that they had indeed won their freedom. Walking the talk was, therefore, the foremost concern of the Government very early in the day.

Attempts were made to make basic education universal and free from the very outset. However, the departing powers left behind very little resources to shoulder such a dream. Some modicum of free education came 10 years afterwards, specifically in 1974. When this happened, the interest in education shown by Kenyans was shocking.

With the advent of adult education programmes, lactating mothers and men old enough to be fathers trooped to school en mass to partake of enlightenment. Clearly the magic of education was not lost to Kenyans.

Against many odds, by the time Mzee Kenyatta was exiting the scene the sensibility and contours of Kenya’s nationhood had been sufficiently etched into their minds.

The nation-building surge witnessed in Kenya during the first 15 years of Independence under the founding administration was remarked around both the region and the world. It was a mark not only of acceptable national leadership and management but also of Kenyans’ yearning to improve their standards of living; the yearning to be masters and architects of their own fate.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The descent into a period of backsliding and stagnation that followed this terrific start lasted almost one complete human generation. Well, at times every country experiences down moments characterised by diminished fortunes. And Kenya had its own share of time of wandering in the wild. Those were, effectively, Kenya’s years in the wilderness, the years during which Singapore, Malaysia and South Korea left countries like Kenya far behind and yet, on the starting line, we had begun virtually shoulder-to-shoulder with respect to development and potential.

The reason why Kenyans revisited the enthusiasm of the 1960s and ’70s in 2002 is because they had ready-made references of what worked back in the day.

Yet that does not mean we did not have our fair share of challenges. Still, we had not eradicated ignorance, poverty and disease by a measure that could be called world-class. However, the sheer number of schools, colleges, universities and health institutions built through government and communal efforts was unparalleled. The cooperative movement literally turned the tables on the bad fortunes that Kenyans decried at the dawn of Independence to bring up a generation of able men and women who could educate their children, take care of their basic needs and deposit the surplus money into savings accounts. After 2002, a new generation of Kenyans renewed the cooperative and self-help spirit for a new era.

The determination of Kenyans was, and remains, epic. And that says a lot about the power of a positive national work ethic.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Naturally, the discovery of oil, iron, coal and natural gas in various parts of the country in recent years adds to the ready-made fact and reality of a greater future within accessible horizons.

Going forward, before the faint-hearted look down upon themselves or despise their contribution to the milestones that define Kenya today, it is important to remember that most of the achievements recorded in the last 50 years are a product of the labour, diligence and goodwill of millions of Kenyans.

With Vision 2030 setting a new benchmark for Kenya’s take-off into a modern society, and as the confirmation of the extent of our mineral wealth continuing by the day, I have no doubt that Kenya has a chance to become the top exemplary player in Africa. Our fortunes as a country can only multiply if a lot more thought and focus are spared for industrialisation and technological development.

As citizens we owe this country the duty to ensure that the poverty our people suffer amid plenty is effectively dealt with and eventually eradicated. We owe our country the commitment to expunge the inequality that threatens to divide us. These we owe our people even as we seek the best ways of accessing and using our resources for the greater good of all. We must use the recently built and upcoming infrastructure to accelerate mass production of our goods and services to the local and global market. We must encourage our people to make money and use it to expand production and improve the living standards of all.

This is the inclusive prosperity agenda that we must pursue as a nation far into the second half-century of Kenya’s Independence.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As you may recall, by the end of 2002 Kenyans sought a new way of doing things. Hence, there was a radical enhancement of access to education at all levels, beginning with the establishment of Free Primary Education. This was followed by the expansion of Secondary as well as of University education as a basis for mass human capital development, a prerequisite for industrialization.

Serious efforts at constitutional review and ultimately the rewriting of the Constitution were undertaken, including the holding of not one but two national referenda on the issue. All this was done to ensure that at the end of it all, Kenyans get it right.

The much-awaited Law was finally promulgated in August 2010 when Kenya’s new Constitution came to force. Also unprecedented in this era was the extensive expansion of freedom of expression alongside other civil freedoms and rights.

The Government also undertook economic reconstruction to catalyse growth, renewal and regeneration of private investment in all sectors, including revenue and investment. This, as was expected, would lead to higher employment rates, increased demand for goods and services and an economic growth of 7 per cent, the highest since the mid 1970s, more than three decades earlier.

Unprecedented tax collections improved revenues exponentially and reduced dependence on foreign aid.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

On account of clearly pre-determined outcomes, infrastructural development and expansion were undertaken nationwide in electrification and modern road network among others. The aim was to connect regions within the country, provide energy to factories and enable goods to access markets via the railway, seaports, lake ports and airports.

The ICT take-up has been great in Kenya, particularly in mobile telephony and Internet use. The M-Pesa mobile money system was incubated, tested, tried and given flying colours in Kenya, on behalf of the whole world. This facility has lifted millions out of poverty and made tens of thousands of previously unbanked Kenyans bankable.

The laying of fibre-optic cables has, in the meantime, no doubt, taken Kenya to the frontlines of the digital era Knowledge Economy. Kenya became the first African country to install an Open Government Portal, where millions of official documents from all eras of our history are now accessible to citizens and a host of inquirers and researchers within and without our borders.

Moreover, discipline and accountability in public service were emphasized and a system of incentives as well as measurable benchmarks and deliverables introduced.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Going forward, it is appropriate to note that high interest rates remain a disincentive to long-term investments especially in the processing and manufacturing sector. Over-reliance on agriculture still obstructs industrial or industry-based economic takeoff.

One of the best ways forward is, without question or hesitation, the eagerly-awaited completion of the LAPPSET project, Kenya’s biggest infrastructural undertaking ever. The completion of this giant project will increase trade between Kenya and her neighbours and in particular Ethiopia, Sudan and Uganda.

In retrospect, I am glad to note that two aspects of the Presidential politics of the first 38 years of Independence were retired in the previous era. These are superman worship and the culture of personal benevolence and handouts.

So let us celebrate and consolidate our very hard-won freedom, and keep in mind that freedom, as the late John F. Kennedy once observed, symbolizes an end (for instance, of colonial racist misrule) as well as a beginning (for instance, December 12, 1963) and signifies renewal as well as change (for instance, beginning the day after December 12, 2013).

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Progress in the education sector from primary, secondary to university in the last few years has contributed immensely in unlocking the potential of Kenyans right across the country. The gains so far, recorded, however, do not automatically translate into a modern state with decent living standards for all.

So far, the leadership of this country has done what has been within its ability and reach with regard to getting Kenyans to the Promised Land. However, a lot still remains undone.

My hope is that each of us in this country will play their part fully and faithfully especially in the area of creating both jobs and wealth, be it with and from our natural or imported resources.

We must also embrace innovation, especially in industrial technology on a national scale in order to up our ante in our endeavour to transform our country. That way, we are sure to bring about a broad change of fortunes for the good of all.

The future is very promising. And we can do it.

Thank you.

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