Kenya’s journey since gaining republic status on December 12, 1964, is often compared with Singapore’s remarkable transformation, a favorite reference point among Kenya’s political leaders who aspire to elevate the nation to first-world status. This comparison is more about potential than the current state or necessary actions.
When Kenya became a republic, Singapore was navigating internal political strife, working towards independence from Malaysia, achieved only on August 9, 1965.
World Bank data from 1963 shows that Singapore’s economy was valued at $917.6 million, marginally lower than Kenya’s $926.6 million. Fast forward sixty years, and Singapore, with a 5.9 million population, boasts a vibrant $466.8 billion economy. In contrast, Kenya, home to 53 million people, has a GDP of $113.4 billion.
Singapore also surpasses Kenya in per capita income, with $82,807.6 compared to Kenya’s $2,099.3. As Kenya celebrates 60 years of independence, questions arise about its comparatively slower progress than the Asian economic powerhouse.
Steve Ogutu, a development communications expert, attributes the disparity to leadership. “At independence, both nations faced similar challenges, but Singapore’s leadership, particularly under Lee Kuan Yew, was pivotal in its ascent,” he notes.
Kenya’s Economic Africanization Post-Independence
Kenya’s economic trajectory can be traced back to the 1965 “Sessional Paper No. 10 on African Socialism and its Application to Planning in Kenya” by Tom Mboya, then Minister for Economic Planning and Development. This foundational document aimed to diversify the agriculture-centric economy and empower locals in an economy dominated by British and Asian settlers.
President Kenyatta, in the paper, emphasized Africanization of the economy and public service. Despite significant growth and diversification since Parliament endorsed the paper, Ogutu believes further changes are necessary.
Ogutu suggests emulating Lee Kuan Yew’s leadership style, especially his zero tolerance for corruption, to spur Kenya’s economic growth.
Kenya as a Regional Economic Powerhouse
Despite the challenges, Kenya has made substantial economic strides since 1963. The country’s economic expansion has been bolstered by sectors like arts and entertainment, manufacturing, IT, agriculture, trade, tourism, finance, transport, and construction.
Notably, the introduction of mobile money by Safaricom in 2007 revolutionized financial access, with 38 million subscriptions reported. Last year, mobile money transfers totaled Ksh 7.9 trillion.
In power generation, Kenya has achieved significant green energy milestones, with more than half of its installed capacity now being green energy. The nation has also invested heavily in infrastructure, with major projects like the Ksh 450 billion Standard Gauge Railway and extensive road development.
Kenya’s progress in developing air and sea ports has boosted connectivity and tourism. Efforts in food production, particularly through irrigation and dam construction, have been noteworthy, though challenges in expanding employment opportunities persist.
Ogutu points to corruption as a major hindrance, advocating for a leadership style that prioritizes public service and good governance, essential for sustainable development.
Vision for the Future
The aspiration to transition from a middle-income to a high-income economy is captured in Kenya’s Vision 2030 blueprint. This plan identifies key sectors for achieving a 10% GDP growth rate by 2030.
To realize this vision and emulate Singapore’s success, Kenya needs a leadership shift focused on public service integrity, says Ogutu. Addressing corruption fearlessly is crucial for establishing a culture of good governance.