What Kenya Can Learn from China
By Victor Onyango Journalist for The Daily Nation, Kenya
Africa is continent gifted with enormous natural resources, unfortunately, many countries remain underdeveloped as countries Kenya not left behind are deeply rooted in poverty despite numerous efforts by those countries to fight poverty.
Poverty in Africa remains the only cause of hunger, disease, aids and squalor which has always been attributed to the European colonialism and scramble for the continent for many years.
With poverty taking the centre stage, African countries have been recipients of foreign assistance from the west since their independence and these donations reached a point where majority of African countries had developed a culture of dependency and fostered paternalism for countries like U.S.
These financial aids in terms of donations and loans from the western were said up to now that they are meant to stimulate local economies and reduce aid dependency (such as sustainable agriculture and youth entrepreneurship) but they have remained to be tools used by the west to control Africa from all dimensions.
Recipients of these foreign assistance from US and other western countries are facing skewed time because their so called ‘demigods’ dictate how they should carry out their elections, constitutionalism as well as trading partners. If you fail to elect a leader who is liked by the west, you are being sanctioned and given travel advisories.
But the reality is that poor people often cannot afford the healthcare they require, nor are they able to educate their children to basic levels of education.
Thus the fact that almost everyone in two Africans are in a state of poverty means that half of the continent has a fundamentally compromised ability to afford healthcare and education, a reality that then makes the prospects of rising out of poverty more difficult. Poor health compromises one’s ability to physical work and exerts a great toll on income growth.
Poor education ensures that millions of Africans are vulnerable, stuck in low paying jobs, often in the informal economy that routinely undercompensate. Poverty itself makes it difficult for Africans to rise out of poverty.
According to Unicef, nearly half of all children in sub-Saharan Africa are living in extreme poverty; children are twice as likely as adults to be living below the poverty line.
And because more children live in poverty, they are much less likely than an adult to cope with extreme poverty because of stunting, infant mortality and compromised early childhood development.
Nevertheless, it is with confidence that Kenya urgently needs to induce some lessons from their number one trading partner China on how to fight poverty and corruption which is eating the economy.
With a population of over 40 million per the 2009 census, 38 percent of Kenyans are living below the poverty line which means that more than 15 million people are living on a dollar per day according to World Bank statistics.
For example, the urban poverty rate have remained statistically unchanged from 2007 to date, and in fact, the absolute number of urban poor increased from 2.3 million to 3.8 million due to high population growth. Increasing living costs, especially because of high housing costs as well as high food prices, paired with scarce job opportunities have reduced the disposable income for urban households.
Kenya is not left out in the urbanization challenge facing most of the African countries like Nigeria and South Africa with Kibera, largest slum in the Southern Sahara being in Nairobi as the government tries to roll out the affording house program through taxing civil servants 15 percent because 61 percent Kenyan urban population are unable to afford affordable housing.
The move however has faced legal battle with court suspending it at a time when World Bank has given the country a loan of $20 million to execute the program because the surging urban population cannot afford housing.
Whereas those living below poverty line (below US $3 per day) in China have access to clean water, good infrastructure, electricity and better healthcare as well as good housing where those in dilapidated status, are being renovated by the government, the reverse is true in Kenya.
But according to China’s government report released during the Two Sessions, 13.86 million people were lifted out of poverty. The outstanding achievement was partly attributed to the accelerating development of infrastructure in poverty-stricken rural areas, where some 208,000 kilometres of roads were constructed and renovated. There was also modernization of the internet networks in China’s rural areas, with 94 percent of poor villages covered including providing housing and renovating houses for the poor.
Kenya can expand its cooperation with Beijing from the current infrastructural which includes Mombasa-Nairobi railway to housing in order bridge the current 2 million housing deficit.
From early 1990s, Chinese people have carried out vigorous campaigns to eliminate corruption and reward those government officials who have used public money efficiently as a means of attracting investors for the economy to grow.
China has continued to enhance the spirit of devolution hence giving local governments greater powers that enable them to make swift and important decisions to attract and stabilize investments.
By 1981, 51 percent of Kenya’s population was living below the poverty line while China’s 80 percent of its population were extremely impoverished but in 2018, China’s poverty rate fell to less than 2 percent while Kenya’s rate has not changed so much.
For instance, China is still a developing country and has about 16 million poor people, according to government statistics. But the government is relentless in lifting its people out of poverty. In 2015, it launched a poverty reduction campaign and set a five-year target of becoming a free poverty nation by 2020.
Across the country, the government has stepped up several initiatives, including development of local industries and financial support for impoverished counties.
Statistics from China’s Poverty Alleviation and Development office showed that over 80 million people were lifted out of poverty in the past six years, slashing the poor population from 98.99 million at the end of 2012 to 16.6 million at the end of 2018.
At the opening of “Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Poverty Reduction” held in Xi’an, last month, Hu Heping, CPC Secretary, Shaanxi Provincial Committee revolved out the province poverty reduction initiatives, which, he said had made outstanding progress.
In Xi’an, the city authorities launched what it called “Poverty Reduction Supermarkets” in January 2018 to address the sales challenge of agricultural produce in poverty-stricken areas.
The aim was to collect agricultural products from rural farmers in hard-to-reach villages through door-to-door purchase, build “green channel” to address challenges and leverage on sales big data to undertake “sales-based production”. The programme has effectively boosted the morale of poor villages and households to develop agricultural industry.
As of April 2019, the supermarkets offered more than 200 single items in 13 categories with its supply system covering 10 cities with subordinate districts, more than 30 cooperatives and over 900 supply households in the province, Shaanxi poverty reduction report said.
Such initiatives are some of the moves Kenya’s government can learn in order to fight poverty like the case where people in poverty in China are being compensated for education and diseases such as cancer too.
Kenya is a leading tea production country in Africa but the proceeds of tea is not being witnessed in the well-being of those growing tea or working in tea plantations.
But in Ninggiang County tea farm in Shaanxi which around 600 families depend on, they earn 7560 RMB a month because of cooperatives strengthened by the government as more job opportunities are created contrary to what happen in counties like Kericho, Nandi, Kisii, Kiambu and Murang’a where tea farming is taking place in Kenya.
This means that what Kenya can learn from China is the anti-corruption policies, amend the constitution to have more resources taken to counties as a way of having powers to make decisions of fighting poverty. At the same time, empower farmers through cooperatives in a way to elevate their lives.
Currently, its 2018 Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth of US $ 13.4 trillion places it the second economic giant in the world after United State with $ 20.5 trillion.
With the guidance of President Xi Jinping, China has come up with comprehensive poverty eradication mechanism as it eyes to become a poverty-free nation by 2020.
Love for the country to prosper, quality policies and opening up, decentralization, anti-corruption and urbanization remains to be important tools in China’s roadmap for achieving its development goals and fighting poverty.
Yes some people might say that we cannot compare the strength of China’s economy to that of Kenya but government should use what is there to make some progress to fight poverty rather than leaving it in the hands of greedy government officials and politicians.
Kenya needs to remain firm and steady to whip out corruption and even cooperate with China as a member country of Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in good governance as well as fight against corruption as suggested by President Xi during the second BRI forum in April that BRI countries need to come together to fight corruption.
However, Kenya needs to emulate its number trading partner to adopt some hard ways of transparency in that before budget is read, every Ministry holds a press conference to explain to the nation how it used its previous budget and with that, we might seal some loopholes in the fight against corruption just the way ministries in China do it every March. This gives the public golden opportunities to scrutinize how their money is used to curb more dam scandals from happening in future.
As an active member of BRI, Kenya needs to cooperate more with China and benchmark on the aspects of combating poverty as well as get more insights on how to handle housing deficit. It can even borrow from such programs because its economy is supported by agricultural sector.
Early this year, hundreds of people from counties like Turkana, Baringo, Isiolo, Garissa, Wajir, Kilifi, Baringo, Marsabit, Tana River and Samburu died from starvation complications as drought took its toll. This is something which Kenyan government should handle through cooperating and benchmarking with Chinese provinces such as Shaanxi, Hainan among others to learn plus work jointly to fight poverty.
In conclusion, with the country’s natural resources like the discovered oil in Turkana, agricultural products and tourism strength, the government can tap all these with the aim of eradicating poverty notwithstanding confronting corruption and advocating for transparency in all government sectors.