Alas! An African country that defies expectations
In the annals of African development tragedies, a singularly isolated thought that any country in the continent would gain and sustain traction in its development trajectory would be both anachronistic and devoid of rational expectations. An informed and popular expectation, at least amongst development experts and lay persons, is that the continent and its inhabitants are beyond help, and like an ocean liner, the task of turning around its collective economies would be herculean and deserving of superhuman intervention. But think again!
A three-week visit to the continent brought this author to a country where the following are true, and pleasantly surprising: there is clean running water both indoors in cities and in remote towns, the roads and streets are clean and constantly being attended to, the educational system from elementary schools to tertiary levels are well-funded and students are offered first-rate education, the electricity supply is constant without interruption twenty-four hours a day (there is no noise pollution from diesel generators), the work-force is populated by highly educated and skilled workers, and female work-force participation rate is the same as that of male workers, the taxi drivers are more likely than not to have a university degree, and if prompted would comfortably explain the difference between floating exchange-rate regime and fixed-rate, but most importantly, the citizens are proud of their country and happy with the way things are. This gem in Africa is Kenya.
Kenya, of course, was not always this way, and did not reach this point in its development path through random beneficial events and happenstance. Before and after it secured its independence from the British in 1963, it had its fair share of struggles, uncertainties of its chosen path to economic self-sufficiency, a steady influx of refugees from Somalia, the inevitable bad crop of corrupt public officials, and insurgencies. But through a shared and undivided vision of who they are, and what they want to achieve as a collectivity, Kenyans have progressively moved their socio-economic status to that of a middle-income country with a rising manufacturing base. With a population of approximately 53 million, and a Gross Domestic Product for 2019 pegged at 99.3 billion dollars, it now has the means to profitably exploit its newly discovered reserve of crude oil.
But all these inevitably beg the question; how did Kenyans manage to achieve an enviable socio-economic state of affairs while its counterparts in the continent continue to suffer from an array of self-inflicted maladies and unremitting comedies of errors that have crippled all efforts at development? The answer, fortunately, has always been known to policy makers in the continent; the rest simply chose to ignore it, or is saddled by ill-informed and corrupt leadership.
Any development economist worthy of the title would be quick to state that the development of any country is path-dependent, guided by the collective will of its citizenry, and the ability of its leadership to put in place a well-defined plan to develop its economy. As is true with individuals so it is with countries; an individual plans to succeed by investing in her human-capital development through education and acquisition of skills. A country is no different. Every developed economy in the world began with good leadership and a plan; development does not occur in a vacuum, and certainly not haphazardly. England, soon after the industrial revolution, used an export-led development strategy and severe import-restriction policy to develop its economy. The US adopted the same approach and implemented an infant-industry protectionist policy that lasted for 99 years. Japan, South Korea, and now China all planned their economic growth with clever combinations of human capital development, export-led and infant industry protectionist policies.
African policy makers need not visit developed economies in Europe, Asia or North America to learn how to develop their respective economies; they should, instead, take a trip to Kenya. It is cheaper.