Wednesday, 20 March 2013

International Day of Happinness-The Kenyan Chapter

Kikuyu women tilling land. Photo
Today, the 20th of March, is the international day of happiness. On this day, member states of the United Nations, international organizations and the civil society are expected to observe the day in an appropriate manner. This involves education and public awareness activities that recognizes the following: that the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal, that happiness and well being are universal goals and this should be recognised in public policy objectives, finally, that there is a need for a more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach to economic growth that promotes sustainable development, poverty eradication, happiness and the well-being of all peoples. It is on this last issue, I believe, that the Kenyan economy has made the pursuit of happiness a futile venture.

Inclusivity, that means ensuring that the aspirations of the wide range of a people are captured in the development of public policy. There has been tremendous effort to ensure inclusivity in public policy. In spite of this, the ministry of state for development of Northern Kenya and other arid lands has not had very good results since its inception. Nonetheless, perhaps the policy shift in investment away from traditionally rich agricultural areas to arid and semi-arid areas will give the ministry some much needed impetus. Inclusive economic growth seeks to create opportunities for the poor and vulnerable populace. Instead of such opportunities, the Kenyan economy has created the super middle class-individuals who earn six figure salaries, flaunt the latest gadgets and take the meaning of extravagance to a whole new level. 

Equity demands that all citizens be provided with basic and equal minimum services or to increase funds and commitment for redistribution. Judging Kenya by recent outcries of “Pwani si Kenya”, one can easily conclude “it is not yet Uhuru”.

Lastly, a balanced approach seeks to minimize the country’s national debt while growing the economy. As of last year, the Government debt as a percent of GDP was at 47.2 %. Balancing of different regions in a country is among the major tenets of a balanced approach to economic growth. Kenya’s investment strategy has more often focused on urban areas.  Perhaps, this is why Lipton’s discourse on why the poor remain poor still rings true today. Poverty reduction is best achieved by investment in rural development.

Despite these shortcomings, I remain optimistic. We are yet to see the full impact of rural electrification. We have commissions in place that will ensure deficits in budgets are minimized. We have ongoing reforms in key institutions that would boost investor confidence in the country.  Lastly we have the counties. If we get it right on devolution, then the pursuit of happiness will no doubt be an achievable feat.

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