In the recent past, certain developments have taken place in Kenya and indeed in the African continent that have confirmed the possibility of entering middle class status not only for Kenya, but also for other nations in the continent.
Specifically in Kenya, the middle class is expanding. There are new discoveries of natural resources, major investments have been carried out in infrastructure, a youthful and forward looking generation of leaders has emerged both in the public and private sectors, the capital markets are performing well and major sectors of the economy are growing.
We can make the assertion that Kenya is on the right path with greater confidence. The economy has demonstrated resilience; the growth projection of between 4.5pc and 6pc is well within the continents projections. The migration to Nairobi by corporates is increasing and more and bigger private equity holders continue to visit.
But along with this positive outlook, challenges abound which if not well addressed could slow down the growth momentum or erode the gains made so far. Inequality in incomes is threatening to become a major source of public discontent and industrial action. Industrial actions are very disruptive to economic performance and if not checked, they can slow growth altogether.
The number of citizens living below the poverty line is increasing; this is a very worrying trend as they will continue to put a strain on the budget. The high spends on the provision of basic services means a big percentage of the budget is actually not being directed to development. The recently released survey on quality of education is another worrying trend. Poor quality of education will, if not checked, reverse any gains that may be made by the improving performance of the private industry.
More worrying though is the increasing appetite for imported goods. The consumption of imported products continues to put pressure on the country’s foreign exchange. For real development to take place, the country needs to save up enough capital. This cannot happen in a situation of runaway import growth.
Then there is the exploding population. A growing population is advantageous when it is commensurate to the expansion of the economy and job opportunities. In our case, the current growth is adding to the numbers of youthful people who are not productively employed. This poses a big strain on our economy.
There are other social dynamics that are on the increase that also present challenges to the country’s growth momentum, drug problem, HIV/AIDS and other communicable diseases, mushrooming of informal settlements and resource depletion. Policy makers do indeed have tough choices to make, but more importantly the citizens must play their roles in the development of the country.
We no longer can afford to leave the work of making this country better to the government. Granted, the government must take the lead in putting in place mechanisms, whether policy or legal to check the increasing wage bill, unemployment, imports, population explosion and poverty. In addition every single citizen must do their bit at whatever station they are in.
The many negative things that give our country a bad name and serve to deter visitors and investors are committed by citizens. For Kenya to become a better country, we must first become better citizens.
Growth needs balance and it is in finding this balance that the nation must come together and unify towards finding solutions to our development challenges. Individuals must shelf narrow self interest and focus on the greater good.
The quest for higher salaries by our political leaders and workers in the various sectors, justified as it may be, must be checked. We must give the economy space to grow and expand to a comfortable level and in the end; the good salaries will follow.
The debate must shift from dividing the cake to baking a bigger cake.
Kimonye, MBS is the CEO, Brand Kenya Board