Kenyans from the gleaming lake waters of the West to the mighty ocean to the East, from the great grasslands in the South to the sweeping plains in the North, have had three months to ruminate on and digest the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) final write-up. Initial read-throughs weeks ago yielded some shocks, some strong favourable recommendations, and a few head-scratching disagreeable recommendations.
Commentators throughout social media, television, newspapers, and around our own family dining tables all weighed in on the possible implications of the recommendations. In the BBI’s Building Bridges to a United Kenya report, among its 12 chapters, let us delve into ethnic antagonism and competition, inclusivity, and devolution from a purely economic impact perspective.
The astutely written ethnic antagonism and competition chapter comes with profound economic implications if implemented. Traditional culture and religions learning in schools could build greater self-esteem from a proud known past, leading to grander aspirations which could become a critical component in creativity and innovation that we often lack in some of our copycat entrepreneurship culture.
Also, if more ethnic harmony is achieved, then reductions in the “us versus them” would prove momentous to the citizenry’s psychological well-being. Us versus them wreaks havoc in the brain and our ability to tolerate and harmonise with others in our communities. It would increase consumer confidence that would hasten consumer spending, consequently improve our economy through growing Kenya’s gross domestic product.
Further, greater ethnic and religious harmony would reduce national uncertainty. Uncertainty stands as the killer of investment. Investors and employers demand predictability as a way to better understand their future business expenses and revenues. Counties that fail to deliver predictable certainty on a regular basis will lose out in the quality and quantity of future investment. But if a county fails so spectacularly with investor and employer expectations, then it may taint an entire regional block of counties and, under such a scenario, could harm the economic growth of all Kenyans.
The report lamented the lack of ethnic inclusion in government jobs. However, research by Rebecca Simson of the London School of Economics found that government jobs in Kenya have historically been fairly evenly disbursed across ethnic communities with the exception of an over-representation of those in the Kalenjin and Embu communities with 7.2 percent and 6.9 percent respectively of their populations employed in government and an underrepresentation in Mijikenda and Meru communities with 5.2 percent and 5.3 percent. But the Luo, Kamba, Kisii, Kikuyu, and Luhya communities stood roughly at the national average of their populations working in government. The Somali and Turkana communities were dramatically underrepresented, but when considering their targeted populations holding secondary school completion, then they became overly represented.
The report did contain some excellent sentiments on inclusivity and reducing bribes to obtain public service and disciplined service jobs. Though the lack of specificity in its major recommendations often leaves out the “how”. But filling public positions with the most capable in those roles could hold profound benefits for the economy. Permits could be obtained faster. Bureaucracy cut down quicker. Better policies and implementation could ensue. Inasmuch, numerous economic benefits could arise from the right people holding the right jobs.
The devolution chapter held some encouraging recommendations including clear metrics at the county-level that could boost accountability and performance, helping in how businesses interact with county officials. Also, increasing budget resources to counties up to 35 percent of the national budget should localise decision-making, which improves accountability. Local control might make government more responsive to business needs.
However, the report proposes to remove autonomy in hiring through county human resources taken up by the nationalised Public Service Commission and a Health Service Commission. If a manager holds no say over who gets hired and immediate consequences for their performance and behaviour, then quality will further decline. Ironically, over-centralisation is the elephant that devolution attempts to solve in the first place. Greater transparency proves better than more bureaucracy. As more of a clear distinction develops between well run and poorly run counties, then investment, jobs, shifts in labour forces, will follow and local voters will demand better outcomes.
The above three components of the Building Bridges final report will hold largely positive but with some negative impacts on our economy. However, the biggest determinant remains unanswered: the specific how to get the recommendations done.