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Hits and misses of Uhuru's Big 4 Agenda

Kenya has allocated at least Sh1 trillion to the economic blue print from 2018 to the current financial year ending June 30.

In Summary
  • The regime has performed above average on the Universal Health goal
  • Much work is need to be done in affordable housing, manufacturing and food security
President Uhuru Kenyatta during the official opening of the MAS Intimates Kenya Limited at Athi River EPZ on Wednesday, May 11, 2022.
President Uhuru Kenyatta during the official opening of the MAS Intimates Kenya Limited at Athi River EPZ on Wednesday, May 11, 2022.
Image: PSCU

As the country moves to the tail end of President Uhuru Kenyatta's regime, hits and misses of the policy directives, the Third Medium Term Plan (MTP) is in sharp focus.

This policy was to anchor activities during Uhuru's second term which mostly focused on delivering on the Big Four Agenda promise of affordable housing, universal health, manufacturing and food security.

Kenya has allocated at least Sh1 trillion to Big Four Agenda enablers from 2018 to the current financial year ending June 30.  

While some projects under Uhuru's social-economic blueprint have been a success, others have flopped despite huge investments. 

In this edition, the Star looks at the hits and misses of this plan that was expected to fuel Vision 2030 aimed at transforming Kenya into a middle-income country. 

UNIVERSAL HEALTH 

Under this pillar, the Jubilee government intended to ensure every person in the country is listed in a health insurance scheme. 

When the current regime came to power in 2013, health insurance coverage was at 14 per cent, which rose slightly to 16.5 percent at the beginning of the third MTP. 

According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), the number of people registered under the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) grew by 53.3  per cent to 23.45 million last year from 15.45 million in 2017.

While the growth is quite notable, it falls below the expected goal. The Jubilee government, however, receives above average rating on this, pushing the ball into the next government's court.  

Recent data by the presidency shows the proportion of births reported to have occurred in health facilities increased to 97.7 per cent in 2020,  attributed to the Free Maternity Programme in public health facilities, which is covered by Universal Health Care (UHC).

It pegs much of this success on the 'Linda Mama programme launched in 2016  to offer expectant mothers pre and post-natal care at local health facilities for free.

Before this, the World Health Organisation (WHO) had indicated that 6000 women were dying every year from preventable causes during pregnancy and childbirth.

The programme now averts over 2,000 deaths of women and 30,000 child deaths every year.

Besides, the government has also increased the total number of health workers in the public and private sectors; investing in health infrastructure and developing of a digital health platform to support effective monitoring of the health sector.

Since 2018, Uhuru's government has been allocating at least 40 per cent of the health budget to Universal health. In the year starting July 1, the exchequer has allocated Sh62.3 billion of the health budget to  Universal coverage.

MANUFACTURING

The same can not be said about the manufacturing agenda. Under this pillar, the government was to increase the sector's contribution to the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP of 15 percent by end of this current financial year. 

On the contrary, it has continued to register a decline, hitting 6.7 per cent last year according to the latest Kenya Economic Survey from 8.4 per cent in 2018. 

Under the plan, the government committed to focusing on apparel, leather, agro-processing, oil and gas and mining. Other sub-sectors include fishing, iron and ICT. 

Even so, the sector's contribution to GDP is on the rise, having recovered from the slow growth of 0.4 percent in 2020 due to Covis-19 effects. 

Data by KNBS shows total sales to the Export Processing Zoned (EPZ) increased by 21.5 per cent to Sh98.7 billion in 2021 while the number of persons in formal manufacturing employment increased by 6.7 per cent to 338,000.

The sector also occupies the third-largest share of wage employment by activity at 11.4 per cent, after education at 20.7 per cent and agriculture, forestry and fishing at 12.5 per cent.

While launching the fourth Medium Term Plan in April which is expected to run between 2023 and 2027, Cabinet Secretary National Treasury  Ukur Yatani listed a number of incentives put in place to spur the manufacturing agenda. 

Top on the list was affordable energy costs after the government reduced power prices across all consumer categories by 15 per cent starting January this year. 

He also hailed the Time of Use Tariff was introduced in 2018, whereby industrial users enjoy a 50 per cent cut on electricity consumed in the off-peak hours between 10 pm and 6 am. 

He added that the last mile connectivity programme has seen the number of people connected to the grid grow to 8.5 million as of last year from 4.9 million in 2016, brewing cottage industries. 

The local manufacturing sector was among the biggest winners in Yatani’s 2022/23 budget, getting a number of exemptions from tax as the country seeks to reap more from the sector.

It received Sh10.1 billion under various implementing ministries to promote local industries.

Out of this, Sh1 billion will go to the Credit Guarantee Scheme to enhance access to affordable credit by Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises in the manufacturing sector.

FOOD SECURITY

More Kenyans are also food insecure today than they were in 2018, with many of the projects that were expected to increase the country’s food production and set it on a path to being food secure failing to take off as was expected.

This, despite the government putting several in place, including supporting large-scale production of staple food and expanding irrigation schemes

Others are access to agricultural inputs and supporting small-holder farmers to sustainably produce and market various commodities. 

''There have been efforts geared at moving away from rain-fed agriculture and in turn boosting food security. The projects are expected to bear fruits in the coming years and boost food security,'' Yatani said.

Even so, the country is lagging behind both the global continental averages. While 83 per cent of Kenya’s land area is arid and semi-arid, two per cent of arable land is under irrigation compared to an average of six per cent in Sub-Saharan Africa and 37 per cent in Asia.

The low usage of irrigation means Kenya’s agriculture is fully rain-dependent and susceptible to drought shocks.

AFFORDABLE HOUSING

In 2017, Uhuru launched the Affordable Housing programme as one of the key pillars of the Big 4 Agenda.

The government had planned to deliver 500,000 by 2022 and with the president’s five-year term almost coming to a close, it is already far out of reach since only about 1,000 units have been delivered through the Pangani and Park Road Ngara projects.

Even before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the government had no sustainable plan on how to fund the initiative despite increasing its budgetary allocation by 75 per cent since 2018.

Even so, there are tens of ongoing projects both by the government and the private sector under this initiative. 

The government has in the past five years been allocating at least Sh20 billion to the pillar and a host of policy directives including a fair tax regime on construction materials. 

It has also teamed up with private-sector lenders to unlock mortgages to ensure access to affordable and decent housing.

In the 2022/23 budget plan read in April, the exchequer allocated Sh4.6 billion of Sh27.2 billion. affordable housing budget to the Kenya Mortgage Refinance Company for enhancement of the company's capital as well as for lending to primary mortgage lenders.

While there is consensus that the government has covered some ground in getting the Big Four Agenda going, there is the view that it has fallen behind on many targets while entirely missing the mark on others.

In its latest review of the economic blueprint, the Parliament’s Budget Office (PBO) noted that there is a need to take a step back and realistically look at what has been done and how to better implement the remaining aspects of the Big Four Agenda.

“Despite some reported achievements under the big four agenda, the overall targets for each of the pillars have largely been missed,'' PBO said. 

This sentiment is echoed by Sam Nyandemo, an economist and lecturer at the University of Nairobi who says the Big Four has registered a mixed bag with the government hitting some of the targets while missing others.

He added that the government has had to contend with major challenges over the four years that saw it divert resources to deal with them. The biggest of these challenges has been Covid-19.

“There have been numerous challenges that compromised the full implementation of Big Four. A lot of resources were diverted to deal with such challenges as the Covid-19 pandemic,'' Nyandemo said.

He also cited locust infestation and drought that clamped down on the food security pillar. 

Ken Gichinga chief economist at Mentoria Economics in a recent media interview noted that while there may have been momentum in the initial years, this has since slowed down.

He singles out UHC as among the areas where there has been a marked improvement but added that a lot remains to be done.