Interview : Uhuru Kenyatta

What are the key parts of the Big Four agenda?

UHURU KENYATTA: Once we had time to reflect on our conversations with Kenyans, it became clear that we needed a new strategy to meet the expectations of our citizens. And so the Big Four agenda – our plan to transform our manufacturing, housing, agriculture and health care sectors – was born. We have set a series of goals in each of these four pillars. Universal health coverage, for instance, means that we expect to enrol every family in the country in a medical insurance scheme by the year 2020.

This represents a larger challenge than is widely recognised, especially outside Kenya: we will have to restructure our National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF), improve the quality of our facilities and equipment, assess the recruitment needs of the sector and rework existing programmes. This will be driven by a reconfiguration of the NHIF and reform of the laws governing private insurance companies.

In the construction sector, we have designed a radical new building programme aimed at providing 500,000 new homes. It is the most ambitious building initiative this country has seen in decades. We will work to cut the cost of mortgages and construction, while raising cheaper, more patient capital. Our focus is on attracting investment from both public and private sources, and the injection of patient, low-cost capital into the housing sector. This administration will invest in the institutions, with special attention to training programmes in order to meet the demand of the construction sector.

Under the agriculture category, food security is another pillar of this agenda. Regrettably, Kenya has not always been certain that it could feed its people. This has to end now. In the near term, we are looking to increase production and productivity, as well as cut the cost of food. We will more than double our proportion of agro-processing from 19% in 2018 to 50%. In the manufacturing sector, there will be eight focus areas: agro-processing; fish processing; leather; textiles; apparel; iron and steel; oil, minerals and gas; and construction materials. Through this, we aim to raise the contribution of manufacturing to GDP from 9% to 15% by 2030.

How is the government working to achieve the goals of the Big Four agenda?

KENYATTA: To make these goals a reality, we have designed clear guidelines. The first one is a governance reform. Kenya has not always met the highest governance standards. We have had instances of corruption, as well as instances where business processes and policy have been slow, non-responsive or unhelpful. Through Parliament, we shall enact legislation to strengthen fiscal discipline and accountability at both the national and the county levels. Every shilling of taxpayer money is going to be fully accounted for. It is for others to judge our successes, but I am pleased with the progress we have made on both fronts.

Since 2017, this administration has launched what amounts to a war on corruption: there have been arrests of senior figures, good cases have been built, and we hope that the courts will now oblige with convictions. We have welcomed with gratitude the assistance of various foreign partners, who have contributed to these processes of freezing and repatriating the assets of crime. There is still work to do, but we have made a good start.

While it is true that business processes and procedures in Kenya have not always been easy to navigate, changes have been made, and we are in the process of improving this framework. As an example, Kenya’s ranking in the World Bank’s “Doing Business” report has improved, rising 12 places between the 2017 and 2018 editions. In the 2018 edition Kenya placed 80th in the world and third in Africa, which is good independent evidence of our progress.

In the fifth year into the establishment of the new system of governance – the constitution was ratified in 2010, but its framework was implemented in 2013 – a persistent challenge is ensuring cooperation between leaders across the country. We need to maintain fiscal discipline and to use our funds, our resources and our personnel as prudently as we are able. But that requires consultation, compromise and a keen sense of the larger national interest.

What long-term measures would ensure the integration of the youth population?

KENYATTA: Kenya’s young people have been at the heart of my administration’s policy-making from the beginning. We have run empowerment funds since my first term. Indeed, we campaigned in 2013 on establishing a fund to bring cheap capital into young people’s hands. We believed then, and we still believe now, that if our young people have cash in hand, they will use it productively and create jobs for themselves and others alike.

However, capital alone only goes so far. Through the Kenya Youth Employment and Opportunities Project, we aim to give young people aged 18 to 29 training, experience, internships and, where appropriate, entrepreneurship support services. The first cohort of 2500 are already in training, and we expect to train 70,000 over five years. Another 30,000 youth will get small business-founding or business-supporting grants in the same period.

And, of course, we ought not forget the empowerment funds I mentioned earlier, such as the Uwezo funds, as well as the other affirmative action and youth funds, which have distributed billions of shillings – more than KSh20bn ($196m) at last count – to at least 2m recipients. These, incidentally, will be consolidated into a bank to ease management.

Our strategy is clear: put money in the hands of our young people, train them to be self-reliant and support the businesses they start. As manufacturing is the primary vehicle for the creation of decent jobs, the Big Four agenda’s development of the sector will be tied to the creation of employment for young people. Similarly, we will target the creation of 1000 small and medium-sized enterprises in agro-processing, which will create more jobs.

Meanwhile, in education, we have reformed the system and restored the credibility of our exams. We have made education the great equaliser by removing exam fees, providing digital learning devices, and reviving our technical and vocational training.

How do you assess Kenya’s role in reinforcing peace and security in the region?

KENYATTA: The approach to international issues of this administration was explained in the State of the Nation debate early in 2018. First, Kenya finds itself in a tricky neighbourhood, with Somalia recovering from a long war, while South Sudan has fallen into what is starting to look like one. Those are the primary problems of peace right now.

Second, we understand perfectly clearly that peace and stability in Somalia and South Sudan are in our best interest, just as much as they are in the interest of the Kenyan community in those countries. It follows that we ought to do what we can to bring peace to these parts of the region. Given our commitment in Somalia and the lengths to which we have gone to keep the South Sudan peace process alive, I think it is fair to say that Kenya has borne its share of the burden of peacemaking.

Our brothers and sisters in the EAC are our closest allies, and our fates are joined at the hip; we share troubles and triumphs. We will work together to deliver peace and prosperity to the citizens of Eastern Africa, and the leaders of the region will bring a renewed energy and optimism to our union, fighting to realise the full potential of our people.