A member of one of Kenya’s new county assemblies sets up an office in an open-air market outside of Nairobi. (Photo: VOA News)
One way to improve democratic governance is to devolve more responsibilities to local and regional governments — but only if those governments have the capacity take on such responsibilities and a willingness to listen to input from their constituents. This is the challenge Kenya faces as it implements the devolution outlined in its new constitution.
On April 9th, Chief Executive Officer of CIPE partner in Kenya Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) Kwame Owino gave a presentation at the National Endowment for Democracy on the status of the country’s constitutional reforms. Owino explained the contentious transition that has been occurring in Kenya since the March 2013 elections, which transferred some key powers from the central government to 47 newly-created counties.
Owino cited many roadblocks in the way of quick, successful decentralization, including power struggles between newly-established governors and county senators, a highly centralized government bureaucracy reluctant in some cases to relinquish power after an institutional life of 50 years, and an economy weakened by poor policies and widespread corruption.
To address the uncertainty regarding the strength of the devolution movement, Owino stated that accountability was the answer, arguing that Kenyan civil society organizations had a place as “protectors of devolution,” and that they must put pressure on the government to stay the course of decentralization. For devolution to succeed, the constitution needs to be followed exactly, and not be avoided or ignored as it is in many instances to maintain some of the employment and power institutionalized in the old bureaucracy.
Gregg Talley is the CEO and President of Talley Management Group. He is serving as a mentor to Small and Medium Entrepreneurial Resource Centre in Kenya through CIPE’s Knowhow Mentorship program.
I have the good fortune of traveling to Kenya annually to see friends and family. But now, thanks to CIPE, I have another great reason to visit. I met with the CEO and founder of my KnowHow Mentorship mentee association, the Small and Medium Entrepreneurial Resource Centre (SMERC), June Gathoni, in Nairobi on my trip this March.
We all know the value of face to face meetings and this proved itself again to be true for us. While we had many productive calls and have been able to deliver on the value of the mentorship, the ability to sit together and discuss our lives, challenges and plans for the future proved invaluable to us both. We now have a personal connection that will remain well beyond the life of this mentorship program.
Like any small to midsize program, June has A LOT going on and has to balance management of the day to day with the bigger picture role she has for the future growth and sustainability of the organization. Luckily, SMERC is completely aligned with the KENYA 2030 Plan envisioned by the national government.
Even better, SMERC has “sandals on the ground” in the counties where much of the devolution of government programing and spending is being focused. We have been working on how June and SMERC can raise their visibility within academia, the corporate sector, and government in Kenya.
By David Owiro. This post originally appeared on IEA Kenya’s blog.
If you have ever taken a walk around the major towns in Kenya you will come across warning notices and signboards announcing to the world that “this plot/land is not for sale” or that “this property is not for sale.” Also, if you are a keen reader of the daily newspapers you will come across, in the back pages, notices announcing “caveat emptor or buyer beware” on some parcels of land. These are often put up by individuals seeking to enforce their property rights by deterring members of the public who are likely to be defrauded by unscrupulous groups or individuals.
And now, the National Land Commission, which is the body mandated by the constitution of Kenya to hold public land in trust, has also began placing adverts warning members of the public against buying land without carrying out background searches or relying on certificates of titles.
The reason all this is happening is that people have taken advantage of the previously weak property rights regime that allowed for exploitation and manipulation of official land and property records in order to defraud unsuspecting members of the public.
New “malls” in downtown Nairobi offer opportunities for small business. But are their property rights being respected?
By David Owiro
Over the past few years, residents of Nairobi’s central business district (CDB) have noticed an interesting phenomenon. The previously large commercial premises on the main streets and avenues have been subdivided, converting them to mall-type premises that allow for subletting to many micro, small, and medium businesses. This phenomenon is, however, not unique to the CBD. This model, I’m made to understand, was borrowed from India, where mostly fabric traders sell their wares under one roof. The concept has spread to Eastleigh estate in Nairobi and can also be observed in some of the major towns in Kenya.
The Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) carried out a qualitative survey of small businesses who operate in such mall-type commercial premises in Nairobi’s CBD to determine the impact of the property rights regime on their businesses, and the findings point to a deeper policy problem. In spite of the recent property rights reforms brought about by the new constitution, the study found poor enforcement of property rights, agency coordination problems, and low awareness levels among small businesses, leading to exploitation, abuse of tenant rights, and a hostile business environment.
“When we entered the room where the President received us, he put the briefcase by the wall and left it there. After the meeting we collected the briefcase from where we had left it. On the departing journey I looked in the briefcase and saw that the money had been replaced with fresh corn.”
Nasir Ibraham Ali, the chief executive officer of World Duty Free, told the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) how, in 1989, a representative of former Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi explained to him that protocol in Kenya required that he make a “personal donation” to the president in order to establish duty free shops at the Nairobi and Mombasa airports. Ali understood “that this was payment for doing business with the Government of Kenya.” The price of this contract: $2 million.
Three years later, after spending $27 million to construct and equip his shops, Ali found himself in the middle of the infamous Goldenberg scandal. President Moi’s emissaries fabricated documents purporting to export gold and diamonds to World Duty Free. Moi’s emissaries then illicitly funneled the money they received in export compensation to Moi’s re-election campaign. The price of this fraud: estimated at a minimum of $438 million.
After World Duty Free claimed it was unwittingly part of the fraud, the government took over the shares and assets of the company to stop Ali from cooperating with the prosecution. When he responded by making statements to the press, he was arrested and then deported to the United Arab Emirates. Ali never recovered his assets, and Kenya never held any officials accountable in connection with the Goldenberg scandal.
Although these events occurred more than two decades ago, Kenya continues to fare poorly on Transparency International’s Corruption Index: 139 out of 176. It ranks in the 19th percentile for control of corruption, despite initiatives such as the restoration of the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC). However, some new initiatives are seeking to reinvigorate the fight against corruption. The private sector, led by the Kenya Private Sector Alliance and the Kenya Association of Manufacturers, established the UN Global Compact Network in 2005, which now has 83 companies that voluntarily adhere to the principles, including a commitment not to engage in corruption.
Malach Onditi started Elemach Scales, a small business that manufactures weighing scales, in Nairobi, Kenya twelve years ago with a startup capital of $120 and one employee. Today the company has an annual turnover of $52,000 dollars, has twelve employees, and sells the scales not only in Kenya but also in Uganda and Tanzania. To exist this long in an environment where over 90 percent of business start-ups do not survive to the third year has not been an easy undertaking. Elemach Scales has experienced several challenges along this journey including inaccessibility of affordable credit, barriers to regional trade and access to markets, and harassment by county government officials in regards to licensing and workspace
Elemach Scales typifies a majority of small businesses in Kenya — a sector which currently provides 78 percent of the country’s total employment, more than 90 percent of new jobs, and 18 percent of GDP. CIPE has worked with its partners over the last five years in efforts to build awareness for micro and small enterprise policy reform, facilitating extensive stakeholder input and building capacity for its advocacy which culminated in the signing into law of the MSE Act in December 2012.
Govinda explains the merits of a high-end cookstove to a potential customer. (Photo: Think Africa Press.)
The adjective “unskilled,” like many words favored by economists, can be highly misleading. Trying to survive on the streets in a Kenyan slum, for example, takes a lot of skills — just not ones that are easy for the market to value and reward.
Take Alex Govinda, for example: as a homeless youth in Kwangware, on the outskirts of Nairobi, he had to hustle every day just make enough money to eat, collecting and selling scraps — and sometimes stealing shoes or mobile phones, too. Now he is an expert salesperson, using his skills to hawk high-quality goods to his neighbors and earning a decent living in the process, thanks to a unique arrangement set up by an American NGO called LivelyHoods.
Govinda’s situation — and the solution LivelyHoods came up with to solve it — are a perfect illustration of the institutional forces holding millions of poor people around the world back to from reaching their true potential.