WRONG PRIORITIES

Covid-19 and BBI: Kenya’s unpalatable Siamese twins of 2020

With the government’s pre-occupation with BBI, it has also lost focus on the Big Four agenda.

In Summary

• BBI has turned out to be a self-inflicted distraction eating away at our national resources at a time when they are needed to successfully fight coronavirus

•  It has also turned out to be the divisive factor, pulling us apart at a time when we need unity of purpose to fight our common enemy, the pandemic.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga at the new Kisii State Lodge after they received the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) report on October 21, 2020.
President Uhuru Kenyatta and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga at the new Kisii State Lodge after they received the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) report on October 21, 2020.
Image: PSCU

Covid-19 pandemic and the Building Bridges Initiative have been Kenya’s most regrettable events of 2020, both conspiring to visit devastation and doom upon our lives and livelihoods.

Whereas Covid-19 was largely unavoidable,  BBI has turned out to be a self-inflicted distraction eating away at our national resources at a time when they are needed to successfully fight coronavirus and its debilitating effects on Kenyans. BBI has also turned out to be the divisive factor, pulling us apart at a time when we need unity of purpose to fight our common enemy, the pandemic.

On a gap analysis, these two phenomena have contrived to make 2020 a lost year for Kenyans.

ECONOMY HIT

In 2019, Kenya’s economic growth averaged 5.4 per cent, positioning Kenya as one of the fastest growing economies in sub-Saharan Africa. Then Covid-19 happened. As with the global economy, the virus containment measures, the fear factor and depressed demand and supply of goods and services impacted Kenya on multiple economic fronts with devastating effects. Among the worst-hit sectors in Kenya are those that provide livelihoods for upto 85 per cent of the population. These are the informal sector, tourism, agriculture, floriculture, retail, transport, manufacturing and trade.

The tourism industry has been hard-hit. Tourism earnings in 2018 yielded approximately Sh157 billion, employing 1.1 million Kenyans directly and indirectly. The sector is projected to experience significant job and revenue losses due to 72 per cent reduction in visitor arrivals from 1.72 million to 470,971 compared to 2019.

The boda boda sector has witnessed job losses that would potentially impact millions of Kenyans. This is a sector estimated to comprise close to 500,000 motor bikes transporting an estimated 14.4 million people every day with earnings averaging about Sh400 million in a day — easily Sh146 billion annually.

This is not to mention farmers, fisherman, construction workers, water vendors and many others whose livelihoods will be affected by the pandemic.

Worse still, the suspension of learning in Kenya’s approximately 50,000 learning institutions with a student enrolment level of about 18.5 million and 350,000 teachers and lecturers will have long-lasting impact on society. The education sector also supports millions of businesses that provide supplies to about 18.5 million students, who now risk losing their livelihoods, over and above the obvious disruption to learning in our institutions.

The ugliest and most visible face of the pandemic is the daily loss of lives. Kenya has so far recorded more than 95,000 cases, resulting in over 1,600 deaths in just nine months.

The situation could be even direr with suggestions that realistically, up to 2.6 million Kenyans could have been infected and at least 6,000 deaths countrywide, according to Kemri.

But the tragedy is that despite the fact that every sector and stratum of our society is hurting, a section of the political class appears to stubbornly and intransigently believe that BBI is the panacea to all our problems.

They have made BBI and a referendum before 2022 their national obsession, relegating the fight against Covid-19 to the periphery.

BBI appears to have become Kenya's development blueprint ‘tupende tusipende’.This devil-may-care attitude is insensitive to the plight of striking doctors or frontline healthcare workers where an estimated 30 doctors have been killed by the virus in Kenya since March,with 10 deaths reported in November alone.

As if to emphasise the priority given to BBI, while ignoring the plight of the health workers and the corona-impoverished Kenyans, Treasury released Sh93 Million for BBI signature verification and is to release a further Sh14 billion to conduct the BBI referendum by mid-2021. Such funds, if well applied, are capable of reversing the effects of the corona virus.

The Sh14.2 billion budgeted for the referendum can potentially buy 47.4 million doses of the Covid-19 Gavi Alliance Vaccine at a cost of $3 per dose, sufficient to vaccinate the entire Kenyan population.

The amount can employ about 8,000 doctors and pay their salaries at an average rate of Sh150,000 per month for one year. The budget can purchase upto three million PPE for health workers or finance SME loans at the rate of Sh.200,000 per business for up to 71,200 businesses. But no, BBI is imperative!

BIG FOUR: THE FORGOTTEN AGENDA

With the government’s pre-occupation with BBI, it has also lost focus on the Big Four agenda. So far, only about one per cent of the agenda items have been met. The housing pillar, for example, planned construction of at least 500,000 units by 2022. By early 2020, the government had only just received the first batch of 228 complete units out of the 1,370 under construction at the Park Road Project in Nairobi.

On food security pillar the government sought to deliver 100 per cent food security and nutrition by increasing large-scale production of staple foods by putting 700,000 new acres of maize, potatoes, and rice under cultivation by 2022. But recent official estimates show that over 10 million Kenyans are still food insecure with majority of them living on food relief. Households are incurring huge food bills due to costly food prices. The spectacular failure of the Galana-Kulalu project is symptomatic of the floundering food security pillar.

On universal healthcare the government set out to increase coverage from the current 36p per cent to 100 per cent by 2022. To-date, the government has only rolled out the coverage in four out of 47 counties.

On manufacturing, the plan was to enhance the local industry to offer employment to Kenyans and reduce the trade deficit. A key objective was to raise manufacturing sector contribution to GDP from 8.5 per cent to 15 per cent by 2022.

However, the manufacturing sector’s contribution to GDP has experienced a steady decline from 11 per cent in 2018 to eight per cent in 2019 and 7.7 per cent in 2020. It also aspired to create one million new jobs by 2022.

However, the sector currently has only 307,592 workers in formal employment accounting for 11 per cent of the total formal employment. One can, therefore, objectively discern that the Big Four agenda that could have generated three million new Jobs for ordinary Kenyans by 2022 has largely been discarded in favour of a BBI, which targets the creation of three jobs — Prime Minister and two Deputy Prime Ministers- for three privileged people.

WRONG PRIORITIES

Based on the foregoing and from a now objectively verifiable position, the obsession with BBI and the ravages of Covid-19 have been the greatest pains Kenyans have had to endure in 2020. The government has its priorities wrong and must develop a perfect citizen-fit by aligning its programmes and interventions to the needs and aspirations of the common citizen as opposed to the egocentric interests of the political class.

As we get to 2021, we should prioritise reconstruction of the economy and securing the lives and livelihoods of Kenyans. With schools set to re-open, the focus should be on expanding the infrastructure and facilities in schools to accommodate social–distancing protocols, provision of masks, hand-washing facilities, sanitiser and employment of more teachers to cope with increased classrooms.

The deficit of ICU beds, ventilators, PPE and other facilities in our hospitals is yet another priority. This must be augmented with a safe and conducive working environment for doctors and other frontline health workers to effectively combat the corona virus. Another thematic area should be massive investment in ICT infrastructure to re-engineer our business processes across all sectors.

The BBI funding should be re-directed to economic reconstruction and cushioning citizens from the effects of the virus. Covid-19 and BBI put together are the Siamese twins that have presented Kenyans with the most unpalatable economic menu since independence.

Eliud Owalo is a management consultant specialising in strategy’ formulation, implementation and control