One day, an MP from Kenya visited his South Korean counterpart. They attended the same college. He saw a modest house with a few servants and cars. He asked his Korean friend where he got his wealth. “You see that road over there?” pointing to a state-of-the-art road, “10 per cent.”
The Korean politician visited his Kenyan friend. He saw huge mansions with many rooms and servants, many high-end cars and hundreds of acres of land. Bewildered, he asked his Kenyan friend where he accumulated so much wealth. “You see that road over there?” pointing to a long, dusty and dilapidated road, “100 per cent.”
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Why is Kenya economically lagging behind countries like South Korea, Malaysia, and Singapore?
In the 10 to 15 years after independence, Kenya’s economy was not very far behind from that of the three countries. In fact, Kenya’s GDP was ahead of that of Singapore in 1965. However, Singapore under PM Lee Kuan Yew was making strategic development in its economy. Yet, the Kenyan situation remained the same and got worse thereafter.
Bad political and economic choices made Kenya lag behind these countries. Let’s go back to the fictional analogy above. When the Korean politician says 10 per cent, he embezzled ten per cent of the money. He used the other 90% to construct the road. The Kenyan politician embezzled all the money (hence the ‘100%’). He left none to upgrade the long and dilapidated road.
From the 1960s to the ‘90s, South Korea and Singapore had benevolent leadership. Their leaders focused on serving their people and improving public welfare. They did not tolerate corruption and reformed institutions of leadership for efficient service delivery. They enacted progressive political and economic decisions that minimized wastage but maximizing output.
Kenya revolved around bad political leadership under the old Kenyatta and Moi regimes. They looted and grabbed public resources for themselves and their cronies. Vices that took centre stage included land grabbing and the Goldenberg Scandal.
Others were massive poaching and destruction of wildlife and the environment through deforestation. These corrupt politicians made Kenya a ‘trickle-down’ economy. The rich got richer and the poor became poorer. The poor suffered under the burden of heavy taxation.
Kenyans suffered government-sanctioned poverty, marginalization, unemployment, and brutality. Their well-being deteriorated. Even today, Kenya still suffers from the historical injustices inflicted by the flawed political leadership.
In comparison, South Korea, Malaysia, and Singapore have grown tremendously. They will become part of the first world countries in the near future. Kenya just recently became a middle-income country. Even then, nearly half of the population still lives in poverty.
The previous regimes weakened institutions of governance and made them useless. They tolerated the corruption because it weakened and took hostage the judiciary and parliament. The executive manipulated them easily.
This trend continues today. Kenya ranks among the most corrupt countries globally. Cartels hijacked the government and exploit citizens with impunity. They benefit from government protection since independence
This never happened in Singapore. Lee Kuan Yew had a zero-tolerance policy on corruption. He raised the salaries for the senior level government officials in the 1980s. His hope was that this would deter them from corrupt activities. He strengthened the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) of Singapore to act on corruption.
CPIB has the authority to investigate, detain, and go through financial records of suspected corrupt officials, their agents, and their families. Many of these cases led to prosecution. He also protected the institution from interference by making it only answerable to him, the Prime Minister. Singapore currently ranks among the top ten countries worldwide in the global corruption index by Transparency International.
In comparison, the Kenya government continues to weaken key institutions of integrity. The most affected is the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission. As PLO Lumumba says, the mortality rate of anti-corruption crusaders (in Kenya) is very high. When you point corruption in government, they hound you out of office.
The political leadership in Kenya remains the biggest impediment to develop Kenya to a giant political and economic status like the selected Asian countries.