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Archive for August, 2012

Kenya’s vulnerabilities

31 Aug

Of late we mostly hear good news about the Kenyan economy. With the macroeconomic performance of the economy having improved significantly in the last year, it is not difficult to figure out why the country has become a place for opportunity not only for major investors but also for the ordinary person whose goal, when leaving the country for the Diaspora was just to merely support their families by sending money to pay bills and cover daily expenses.  It has become an opportunity for the working class community in the Diaspora to invest in property and small businesses, some of which have grown significantly riding on the wave of this fast expanding economy.

If we are to be objective however, there are challenges. Challenges that should not be ignored lest this promising outlook be just but a dream we never see coming to fruition.

First, Kenya will need to reduce its high reliance on agricultural outputs to limit its vulnerability to climate hazards by diversifying the economy. Second, Kenya may be vulnerable to another political shock as it faces 2012 elections.

I think it helps to be aware of any potential pitfalls in any economy, not simply because we have emotional ties to the country and it is home to so many, but  also because when we send money to Kenya on a regularly for whatever reason, we are making an investment which needs to be guarded, protected and nourished.  So this is not a bash at the economy, just constructive criticism for a country we all love so dearly.

 
 

Shaping the motherland’s destiny

29 Aug

Questions abound as to whether or not Kenyans in the Diaspora are contributing to the country’s economic, social and political development.

According to a World Bank study done in 2010, remittances sent to Kenya reached a total   of $1.9 billion. This is equivalent to 20 per cent of Kenya’s annual budget, making it a big contributor to development.

Among African countries, Kenya has the third highest level of remittances after Nigeria and Sudan.

At independence, there were only a few hundred Kenyans living abroad, mainly as students. However, the number has grown tremendously over the decades to more than 2.5 million.

They live mainly in North America, Europe, Asia, southern Africa and the neighbouring EAC states.

The largest Kenyan community abroad is found in the USA and Canada, occupying almost every profession and jobs as engineers, businesspeople, professors, doctors, nurses, technicians, factory workers, baby-sitters, and watchmen.

It is estimated that about one million Kenyans live in North America alone.

Kenyan students and professionals have also increasingly sought greener pastures in Australia due to its liberalised immigration policy, and diminishing opportunities at home.

About 50 per cent of those emigrants possess at least undergraduate degrees, making their career placement promising. The earnings of Kenyans abroad go chiefly to supporting family members to meet their basic needs.

On a different level, Kenyans abroad have been readily involved in the socio-political and economic discourse at home.

For instance, during the 2007 general elections, Kenyans raised funds and sent money to Kenya to support presidential and parliamentary candidates they presumed were predisposed to creating an enabling political culture that would guarantee good governance and economic advancement.

With the development in information and communication technology, some Kenyans have followed keenly what is going on at home, and contributed substantively to discourse via blogs and in newspapers.

The Diaspora also successfully fought for dual-citizenship to be included in the new Constitution.

The point I am really trying to make in a roundabout way is that Kenya’s community abroad is an important constituency which cannot, and should not, be ignored by anyone.

 
 

One step ahead

23 Aug

As the Kenyan economy becomes more urbanised, the booming economy’s appetite for energy grows. One of the main issues facing the country at the moment is erratic, unreliable power supply and costs.

One does tend to wonder- bearing this in mind, if renewable energy is a viable option for Kenya; shouldn’t the government be working on ensuring that everyone has access to a reliable inexpensive source of power? According to research, a transition process toward renewable energy sources is essential so as to mitigate the negative effects of climate change and reduce the cost of power.

It has become imperative that the economy plans for a more sustainable power supply. With this sentiment at heart; a 310 megawatt (MW) Kenyan wind power project has received approval to earn carbon emissions credits under the United Nations’ Clean Development Mechanism.  The power station project, which is set to begin in December, will be the fourth project in Kenya to get approval under the CDM.

Not that we need to hear this again, but renewable energy does actually save current energy consumption; something the manufacturing sector will appreciate as energy requirements have been increasing by 10% every year.

As the country takes a step ahead of most African courtiers, it looks set to cement its position as a regional economic powerhouse; Kenya has been racing against time to seek out new sources of energy to power its growing economic might in the region. Renewable energy is quickly proving to be one of the better options due to its lower costs and the availability of the natural resources needed for renewable power.

 
 

Kenya-chinese trade

21 Aug

The relationship between China and Kenya has deepened in the recent years as the mutual social, economic and political trust has increasingly enhanced.

Chinas presence has been specifically felt in the terms of investment made by the Chinese into this vibrant African economy. As china increases its footprint in the African country it has signed 10 bilateral agreements with Kenya.

Due to the many projects china has invested in, Kenya has become the largest beneficiary of Chinese aid and concessional loans.

Kenyan-Chinese trade stood at around $1.3 billion in 2009 with Kenyan exports to China almost negligible.

With few natural resources to attract China’s voracious energy industry, Kenya is nevertheless considered an important access market and a regional cornerstone. The east African country has acquired new strategic significance for China through its proximity to the future state of Southern Sudan.

 
 

Africa’s future; megacities

16 Aug

African cities are growing at an accelerating pace. This obviously puts a certain amount of pressure on the city’s infrastructure and resources. Most African cities are already currently facing water, energy and sanitation challenges which are being exacerbated as increasingly people move to cities in search of a better life.

New, “enabling” infrastructure is needed; infrastructure that will accommodate the massive growth rates and future opportunity. These cities will become incubators of innovation, attracting more foreign and domestic investment, thus resource efficiency is paramount and could become a competitiveness factor.

There is a huge incentive for renewable energy and “smart water” powered by technology.  This will help do away with the current problems caused by congestion in Africa

As these mega cities take shape, it is important to start planning the growing urban communities, not by coming up with mega-solutions but rather by customised solutions which are fresh and tailored to the specific rising needs and challenges of these cities.

 
 

Was leaving the best option?

13 Aug

Questions abound as to whether or not Kenyans in the Diaspora are contributing to the country’s economic, social and political development.

According to a World Bank study done in 2010, remittances sent to Kenya reached a total   of $1.9 billion. This is equivalent to 20 per cent of Kenya’s annual budget, making it a big contributor to development.

Among African countries, Kenya has the third highest level of remittances after Nigeria and Sudan.

At independence, there were only a few hundred Kenyans living abroad, mainly as students. However, the number has grown tremendously over the decades to more than 2.5 million.

They live mainly in North America, Europe, Asia, southern Africa and the neighbouring EAC states.

The largest Kenyan community abroad is found in the USA and Canada, occupying almost every profession and jobs as engineers, businesspeople, professors, doctors, nurses, technicians, factory workers, baby-sitters, and watchmen.

It is estimated that about one million Kenyans live in North America alone.

Kenyan students and professionals have also increasingly sought greener pastures in Australia due to its liberalised immigration policy, and diminishing opportunities at home.

About 50 per cent of those emigrants possess at least undergraduate degrees, making their career placement promising. The earnings of Kenyans abroad go chiefly to supporting family members to meet their basic needs.

On a different level, Kenyans abroad have been readily involved in the socio-political and economic discourse at home.

For instance, during the 2007 general elections, Kenyans raised funds and sent money to Kenya to support presidential and parliamentary candidates they presumed were predisposed to creating an enabling political culture that would guarantee good governance and economic advancement.

With the development in information and communication technology, some Kenyans have followed keenly what is going on at home, and contributed substantively to discourse via blogs and in newspapers.

The Diaspora also successfully fought for dual-citizenship to be included in the new Constitution.

The point I am really trying to make in a roundabout way is that Kenya’s community abroad is an important constituency which cannot, and should not, be ignored by anyone.

 
 

Shift in Remittance uses

10 Aug

A couple of weeks back I looked at the Kenyan stock exchange and how investing in it could have positive impacts on the economy in general.

According to a recent report by Safari Africa, Kenyans living abroad have recently shifted the use of cash sent home as remittances from the traditional consumption to heavily investing in NSE, Government security bounds and the real estate sector.
The opening up of investment opportunities to citizens by the Government plus the rapid growth and the revolution brought about by mobile money transfer is probably one the reasons for the increase in remittance inflow and more investments established in the country.

As a result, remittances have booked a second place among other main sources of foreign exchange in East Africa’s biggest economy, alongside tea, horticulture and tourism therefore playing a key role in our economy.

Just a quick look at what the figures are currently looking like: Data from the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) indicates that diaspora remittances hit about 50 billion shillings ($596 million) in the first six months of 2012 up from 34.14 billion shillings ($406. million) sent in a similar period in 2011 .This marks a 47 percent rise in the first six months of 2012.

This all thanks to governments’ aggressive campaign to encourage the Diaspora community to give back to the society by investing in government securities among other things

The campaign is also in a bid to tap remittance inflows in to the country into the formal economy where it’s easier to quantify and utilize for the nation’s good.

I think with such an  increase in remittances to the country, it is important for government to provide recipients with many options to put their money to change the idea that the money is only for consumption. It looks like there has been a gradual shift behind the reasoning behind sending money to Kenya. Initially the idea was just for survival and  day to to day sustenance of families back home in Kenya.  However now the the focus should start shifting to investment into the country’s economy and Infrastructure.

The only way remittances will truly make a difference in the long-term fortunes of Kenya is if these funds are directly channeled by their recipients towards investment or some form of income-generation.

 
 

Maintaining ties- Dual citizenship

07 Aug

My last post gave a somewhat different perspective on the issue brain drain and how it actually has positive effects on the country of origin by providing a first world perspective to local medical issues. This benefit is only realised if the immigrants to other countries maintain close ties with their country of origin. They basically need to have a reason to keep in touch with their country of origin.

One of the sure ways to ensure that a relationship with their source country is maintained is allowing immigrants to other countries to have dual citizenship. This will give an immigrant options; whether they want to go back home after retirement or after seeing their children through college-they are allowed the opportunity to plan ahead for a future in their country of origin.

When an immigrant to the first world decides to  naturalize and reside in one country, they may not want  to loose all connection to Kenya and their families here. With dual citizenship ,they can retain their rights in both countries to vote, own property, government health care and even access to retirement programmes when they want to come and settle back home, among other benefits.
In this case, they are offered an incentive to reconnect with their roots.

 
 

“Virtual” return of the Kenyan doctor

03 Aug

The flight of skilled labour from Kenya has, as we have discovered been a very complex issue. The emigration of skilled labour from the country has had varied impact on the economy; some positive and some negative.

In the spirit of trying to remain positive about our country I thought it necessary to explore some of the positive impacts the Diaspora could have on our economy.

Return of the doctor to Kenya

The obvious positive impact of the Diaspora is the money that is sent to Kenya on a regular basis to support family and friends who are struggling to keep their heads above water in the unpredictable journey that the country has taken over the last decade.

The growth of telecommunication technology has revolutionised the way in which medicine is practised. Bearing this in mind, we should make the most of some of the products of the information age, one of which is telemedicine.

Telemedicine represents a way in which emigrant doctors could contribute to Kenya’s health delivery. It provides an avenue for consultations between Doctors in Kenya and specialists in the Diaspora. Although there are various obstacles to this (technology-wise); what with connectivity problems and poorly developed infrastructure in the country, it is highly likely that the advantage of real-time communication during critical procedures will be lost.

So instead of hoping for the return of every doctor that we exported to the Diaspora, we should maybe create avenues for the information and experience they have acquired-which is what we really need, to benefit the country. Telemedicine creates an interesting option in this regard.

It is the information age after all; why not make the most of it?

 
 

Options

01 Aug

Whenever you send money to Kenya, you are most probably looking for convenience, speed and ease of service; reliability and probably more importantly, options. You want to evaluate each of the many options you have before you make any decisions. In this regard, new media technology has brought with it a wide array of constantly evolving options which you need to be aware of.

Whereas many years ago, banks were the only reliable method to carry out international money transfers, now there are many other cheaper and faster options available such as online providers, MTOs, prepaid cards and even by SMS. Over the next couple of days we will explore the different  money transfer providers, different options to transfer money and how they work

Money Transfer Operators (MTOs)

MTOs are companies that only offer money transfer services, usually through agents, and only send money between countries. They do not generally require you to open an account and are usually easy to find in high streets, where they can be located in various locations from post offices to hairdressers. You will need to fill in forms and provide identification to send your money. Some also offer online money transfer services and are also developing mobile phone transfers.

We will look at some of the other options available to remit money over the next couple of days.