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Kenya economy

Saving is the key to future growth for Kenya

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

How do countries and individuals become rich? Human history provides a clue. One of our most defining moments as a species took place some 10,000 years ago, when a group of humans started to switch from hunting and gathering food to growing it. This allowed them to settle down (in an area called Mesopotamia). If they produced more than they consumed, they could save for the future. With proper storage facilities, they no longer needed to eat and drink everything they had; instead they could put some aside literally for "rainy days", and, even more importantly, invest some of the agricultural output to produce even more.

Now zoom forward several thousand years: saving has become central to individual and collective prosperity. As a rule of thumb those who save more become wealthier because foregoing consumption today allows one to invest in the future (e.g. you can save to buy a bicycle, a car, or a house). Businesses can invest in new equipment and governments in new roads, schools and health facilities. All of these investments are associated with better economic futures.

People and companies tend to save and invest if they can trust the institutions that manage their money and the economy at large. In the past, it was not always safe to keep deposits at banks in many African countries. It is different today. In fact some may feel more secure entrusting their savings to African banks than those in Europe (as depositors in Cyprus’ banks recently realized). But you need more than robust and credible banks for increasing savings and investments. Investors will only enter and stay in large numbers if they can trust that the state won’t change the rules of the game in mid-course.

2030: Global shifts and Kenya's transformation

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

What will the world look like in 2030? Clearly, it will be very different from today and some of these changes can already be anticipated. Most of us can remember the year 1996 which is as far back in the past as 2030 is forward in the future. Today’s emerging trends will shape the world over the next two decades.

Every five years, the US’s National Intelligence Council publishes its analysis of “Global Trends”. This time, the analysis looks forward to 2030 and highlights four “megatrends” all of which will probably feel quite intuitive to people living in Africa.

To succeed, Kenya only needs to look within

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

“So how are you enjoying living in paradise?” Michael Geerts, the former German ambassador to Kenya asked me the other day.   He was posted in Nairobi during the difficult years in the end of the 1990s, and continues to stay in touch with a country he loves dearly. Many colleagues, who once worked in Kenya have bought houses in Nairobi, and plan to retire in the “city under the sun”. But not everybody shares their passion and faith in the country’s future. There are many pessimists who feel that the country is moving in the wrong direction. Kenya, they say, will never rid itself from grand corruption, and crime such as drug trafficking will continue to flourish.
 
Are they seeing the same country? Maybe both perspectives are right, because Kenya is a country of extremes.

Has Africa outgrown Aid?

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

Africa’s emergence is the new consensus. For the second time in a just few months, a major international journal has run a cover illustrating newfound optimism about the continent. After The  Economist’s mea culpa (correcting its previous assessment of a “hopeless continent”), TIME magazine just re-ran an earlier title: “Africa rising”.

This is no fluke: Africa’s economies are growing and the continent is much wealthier today than it ever was – even though, collectively, it remains the poorest on the planet. Many African nations (22 to be precise) have already reached Middle Income Country (so called “MIC”) status and more will do so by 2025. Today, Africa includes a diverse “mix” of countries, ranging from the poorest in the world to the fastest growing; from war-torn countries to vibrant democracies; from oil-rich economies to ICT champions, and the list goes on.

What will 2013 look like for Kenya’s economy?

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

The dawn of a new year is a good time to reflect on the past year and look ahead. As it turns out, 2012 was a pretty average year for Kenya, mainly because the much anticipated national and regional elections, which will determine the course of the nation and its economy for years to come, were postponed to March next year.

Why do I say that 2012 was such a normal economic year for Kenya? Let’s rewind 12 months back. Kenya was facing major macroeconomic challenges: inflation stood at almost 20 per cent, the exchange rate was volatile and public debt increased markedly due to the weakening shilling. Economic pessimists predicted a global economic storm as the challenges in the euro-zone seemed unmanageable.

“Seven” is the world’s defining number: what does it mean for Kenya?

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

As a fan of numerology, let me focus on a special number that captures a global trend: call it the lucky number seven. Since the end of last year, we are seven billion people in the world. We produce a total GDP of US$70 trillion (which means that globally per-capita income is US$10,000 on average) and the average life expectancy worldwide is--you guessed it--70 years.

Let’s extend the seven thread: if the world economy grew at seven percent per year, it would double within a decade (because ten years of seven percent growth don’t amount to 70, but 99 percent, due to the compounding effect). Now with population growth at one percent (thankfully not seven), average per capita incomes would increase from US$10,000 to about 18,000. That is quite a jump, and a level of prosperity that few of our parents and grand-parents would never have imagined.

Sadly though, averages will continue to mask wide disparities, both between countries and within societies.

Can Kenya replicate Indonesia’s turnaround?

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

JakartaRecently, a friend from Indonesia visited me in Nairobi. He is one of the world’s leading experts on social development and a long-term Jakarta resident. One of his observations stuck in my mind: “Kenya is just like Indonesia ten years ago”, he said. 

Comparing Kenya with Indonesia is counterintuitive—except perhaps when it comes to traffic jams—because of the many differences between the two countries. Indonesia is the world largest island state with more than 17.000 islands and a demographic heavyweight with 240 million people (six times more than Kenya). It is also 85 percent Muslim, while Kenya is about 85 percent Christian. Indonesia has massive natural resources – coal and gas (and some oil) – that it exports to other Asian countries, especially China, while Kenya’s economy is fuelled by a strong service sector.

There are many more reasons to challenge a comparison between these two countries but when one digs below the surface, there are also some similarities. Economically my friend was spot on: in GDP per capita terms, Kenya is roughly at the level of Indonesia a decade ago (about US$800 per capita). Today Indonesia is far ahead, but I don’t see any reason why Kenya couldn’t follow suit. Indeed, Indonesia is a good benchmark case for Kenya because it was never a “star reformer”, but instead a consistently strong performer.

Five reasons why Kenya and Africa should take off

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

A week hardly goes-by without one or more international investors announcingmajor investment interests in Nairobi, or other African capital cities.

Nokia, Nestle, and IBM are some of the companies which intend to position themselves more strongly in (East) Africa. True, their investments may still be low by international standards, but they are increasingly becoming noticeable. 

On a macroeconomic level, the new Africa momentum has also been evident. Africa has weathered both the global financial crisis, and the turbulence in the Euro zone. According to World Bank’s latest economic outlook, Sub-Saharan Africa is projected to grow above 5 percent in 2012 and 2013. This would be higher than the average of developing countries (excluding China), and substantially, above growth in high-income countries. This means that at some point in this decade, Africa could grow above the levels of Asia.  A few years ago, it would not have been possible for economic observers to consider such a scenario.  Once Africa becomes the fastest growing continent in the world; this will also be the true turning point for Africa’s global perception.

How to kick-start Kenya’s second growth engine

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

Last year, Kenya’s economy was behaving like a plane flying through a storm on one engine. After a lot of turbulence, especially when the shilling reached a record low against the dollar, the Central Bank intervened forcefully, and brought the plane back to stability.

But Kenya’s exchange rate woes are just the tip of the iceberg (see figure). Kenya’s big challenge is to reduce the gap between the import bill and exports revenues, what economists call the “current account deficit” (which remains large, even when services—such as tourism—are included). Last year, the deficit reached more than ten percent of GDP, approximately Ksh 400 billion (US$ 4.5 billion). This is larger than Greece’s.

The East African ride to Middle Income

Wolfgang Fengler's picture

You have embarked on a long train ride in Africa. The train is in bad shape, the ride is bumpy and breakdowns frequent. You wonder when you will arrive at destination or if you ever will. But after a tortuous first half of the trip, the train is starting to gain speed. There are still a number of unnecessary stops but the destination is now in sight and passengers are becoming upbeat. Just as the train is about to enter the station you are overtaken by three trains, which had been accelerating even faster.

This train could be Kenya in East Africa’s race to Middle Income. The country remains the richest in East Africa and with almost US$800 income per capita is the closest to meeting the international Middle Income threshold of US$1000.  But its EAC partners Rwanda, Uganda and Tanzania are catching up fast.

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