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Follow the leaping leprechauns: What Kenya can learn from Ireland

Based on statistics that are a few years old, here’s something you probably didn’t know: Ireland is the richest country in the European Union after Luxembourg. Yes the country that forever has been best know for civil wars, tragic poets, drinking and leprechauns (and Colin Farell – wait did we cover that under drinking? Hehe) today has a per capita GDP higher than that of Germany, France and Britain. How Ireland went from the sick man of Europe to the rich man in less than a generation is an amazing story. Ireland’s turnaround actually begun in the late 1960s, when the government eliminated the fees for secondary education, enabling a lot more working-class kids to get a high school or technical diploma. As a result, in the years after Ireland joined the European Community in 1973, it was able to draw on a much more educated workforce than it had had in the previous generation. By the mid 1980s though, Ireland had reaped the initial benefits of EC membership – subsidies to build better infrastructure and a bigger market to sell its products into. But it did not have enough competitive products to sell, because of the legacy of years of protectionism and fiscal mismanagement. The country was going broke, and most college grads were emigrating.

Deputy Prime Minister Mary Harney explains: “We went on a borrowing, spending and taxing spree that nearly drove us under. It was because we nearly went under that we got the courage to change.” And change Ireland did. In a quite unusual development, the government, the main trade unions, farmers and industrialists came together and agreed on a program of fiscal austerity, slashing corporate taxes to 12.5 percent (far below the rest of Europe), moderating wages and prices, and aggressively courting foreign investments. In 1996, Ireland made public college education basically free, creating an even more educated workforce. The results have been striking. Today nine of the world’s top ten pharmaceutical companies have operations in Ireland, as do sixteen of the top twenty medical device companies and seven of the top ten software firms.

“We set up in Ireland in 1990,” says Michael Dell, founder of Dell Computers. “What attracted us? A well educated work force – and good universities close by. Also Ireland has an industrial and tax policy which is consistently very supportive of business, independent of which political party is in power…. Ireland also has very good transport and logistics. Finally, they are competitive, want to succeed, hungry and know how to win…The talent in Ireland has proven to be a wonderful resource for us. Fun fact: We are Ireland’s largest exporter.”

Intel opened its first chip factory in Ireland in 1993. James Jarrett, an Intel vice president, said Intel was attracted by Ireland’s large pool of educated young men and women, low corporate taxes, and other incentives that saved Intel roughly $ 1 billion over ten years. Harry Kraemer Jr.,the former CEO of Baxter International, a medical equipment maker that has made several investments in Ireland, explained that “the energy level, the work ethic, the tax optimization, and the flexibility of the labour supply” all made Ireland infinitely more attractive to invest in than France or Germany, where it is enormously costly to fire even one worker. The Irish, he added, had the self confidence that if they kept their labor laws flexible, some jobs would go, but new jobs would keep coming- and that is exactly what happened. In 1990, Ireland’s total workforce was 1.1 million. By the end of 2005 it was roughly 2 million, with no real unemployment.

Ireland started a campaign to double the number of Ph.D.’s it graduates in science and engineering by 2010, and it has set up various funds to get global companies, and brainy people of all kinds to come to Ireland to do research. Ireland is now actively recruiting Chinese scientists in particular. “It is good for our own quality students to be mixing with quality students from abroad,” said Mary Hanafin, Ireland’s Minister of Education. “Industry will go where the major research goes.” Ireland set up a science foundation to give grants to any researcher from anywhere in the world who had an idea that he or she would pursue in Ireland and that might one day produce a company or a product. Between 2001 and 2005, Science Foundation Ireland established more than 160 new research groups, 34 of them led by leading scientists who have come to Ireland from laboratories abroad.

John Chambers, the CEO of Cisco Systems which is constantly being wooed to invest in one country or another, said it best: “The jobs are going to go where the best-educated workforce is with the most competitive infrastructure and environment for creativity and supportive government. It is inevitable. And by definition those people will have the best standard of living.”

Hmmm. I hope you are listening.


In Defense of Success: Don’t Punish Safaricom

Kenya: You Need Wholesale Reform



Kenya: You need wholesale reform

Whether we like it or not, the world is currently going through a lightning fast phase of change, globalization and interconnection. The acclaimed business author Thomas Friedman calls this the flattening of the world. Young students in India are doing call center tasks for American companies. Industrious Chinese graduates in Beijing are collaborating on research work with Microsoft. Russian engineers in Russia are helping design new planes for Western aeroplane companies.

The flattening forces are empowering more and more individuals today to reach farther, faster deeper and cheaper than ever before, and that is equalizing power- and equalizing opportunity, by giving so many people the tools and ability to connect, compete, and collaborate. Where is Kenya in all of this? A country’s decision to develop in today’s age of globalization should really be a decision to focus on getting four basic things right:

  1. The right infrastructure
  2. The right educational system
  3. The right governance
  4. The right environment

The right infrastructure is what will be used to connect your people with the so called ‘flat-world’ platform. This is cheap and far reaching broadband internet, cheap mobile phones and communication costs, to modern airports, sea ports, roads and railway systems.

The right educational system is what will enable more of your people to innovate, collaborate and compete on this flat world platform. Great importance should be attached to mathematics and science as these form the foundation for much needed scientific advancement. Great importance should also be attached to literature, music, theatre, sport, and history, as these are essential for creativity, innovation and collaboration.

The right governance has to do with several important issues, some of which are the rule of law, fiscal policy, policies on business and investment, as well as the quality of your bureaucracy. This is needed to manage the flow between your people and the new world in the most productive and stimulating way possible. Take note, with all the discussion about the economics of globalization, people lose sight of the fact that globalization is also a competition between one country’s public sector and another’s. You need a quality bureaucracy to channel, govern, and enhance the creative energies of your country so that your people, as individuals, can not only imagine new products and services but also bring them to life and take them to the market place.

The right environment is the fourth one. You can get along fine for a number of years while ruining your environment and generally not giving a damn, but at the end of the day, countries that preserve their green spaces are the ones that are much more likely to preserve and attract the knowledge workers – who are mobile, have choices and can make the decisive difference in turning a developing economy into a developing one.

Your people and your government need to take note of this and act swiftly, for the new world waits for no one.

~Philip Walubengo (Adapted from Thoma Friedman)


Follow the Leaping Leprechaun: What Kenya can Learn from Ireland

In Defense of Success: Don’t Punish Safaricom

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Creating a City

Nairobi has reached, or seems to have reached its limits. Horrific traffic jams, congested streets, stellar rents in the Central Business District, the inability of the city council to fully cope, so on so forth. As the French say, great ills demand great remedies. My suggestions are these:

Firstly, any educated mind can see the need for decentralization of the government. Having the headquarters of every branch of government situated in Nairobi is unwise and unnecessary. At one point a while back, even the board of Mumias Sugar Company had wanted to have its headquarters in Nairobi! One of the main reasons for Nairobi’s congestion is a phenomenon known as Rural-Urban migration. I have had people ask, irritated, why don’t all these people just stay at home and till their shambas? Surely life in the countryside is better than life in the slums? The question is: why do all these people move to Nairobi? The answer is, in search of jobs, in search of money. Meaning the areas where they come from, their districts and provinces, have limited or no jobs and business opportunities. In a sense, they are correct.

This is what happens: the whole government is in Nairobi. Government currently is the largest employer, employing people from very high levels (Ministers, M.P.s, Parastatal Chiefs, Permanent Secretaries) to the lowest levels (Cleaners, messengers). That’s a vast number of jobs, thinking of all the government ministries as well as agencies such as the Kenya Revenue Authority. A large part of the private sector comes to Nairobi to do business with the government, to supply goods and services. These private sector companies also employ people, therefore, more jobs to be found in Nairobi. Then there are the supermarkets, markets, malls, banks, restaurants, nightclubs, gyms etc. that come to sell their services and goods to this enormous sea of workers and entrepreneurs. Altogether this is a tremendous concentration of jobs. On the downside, this results in slums, traffic jams, crime, congestion, inadequate infrastructure (bearing in mind Nairobi is still operating on the same plan made for the city by our colonial masters, almost half a century ago.)

The government should decentralize, and have several of its branches in different provinces. On the other hand, the government should move out of Nairobi. I’m sure a different suitable venue can be located, expansion and planning done in advance. This will take a whirlwind of development to a different region, and Nairobi could fully transform into a business and financial hub. Also, it would bring down the rent prices in Nairobi, both for office and residential space. It would also make houses in the city cheaper, seeing as now experts agree that they are ridiculously priced. The benefits to this move are almost countless.

Also, upon such a move, the buildings from Moi Avenue, or Tom Mboya Street downwards, should be demolished. They will be replaced by better streets, recreational parks as well as bigger and better buildings. All these though, will require very strong leadership, a will of steel, intelligence and vision. We have none of these in our leaders right now, so we need a change.
We must put thought into the way we live. Great cities and great standards of living are not arrived at by mistake, they are created by design.


Divvy up that Land

Our country has vast swathes of land that are owned by someone, but are not used. At times, even where that land is used, it’s the ownership that is the problem. Of course, the question that comes up is: is it really fair for one family, in a nation of millions, to own land the size of a small province, while millions are landless? Lawyers would ask: As per the rules of equity and natural justice, is it right? And if it’s not fair, whose responsibility is it to fix things?

Basil Criticos owns such large pieces of land at the coast, some of which were recently invaded by squatters. The Kenyatta family owns similarly enormous tracts of land, and in fact is claimed to be the family that owns the most land in Kenya. Of course, bearing in mind that the head of that family was the first president of Kenya, questions arise as to whether that land was legally acquired, knowing the land grabbing disease that long afflicted our strongmen. I believe something should be done about this; the land can be redistributed as fairly as possible and put to better use.

Mainly, apart from those examples I would like to talk about the land owned by the Delamere family. Yesterday driving to Nakuru, I learnt that from Naivasha almost all the land that you can see, on both sides of the road to the horizon, all the way to Laikipia, is owned by the Delamere family. This is the same land on which Tom Cholmondeley, Delamere’s grandson, has twice shot and killed Kenyans. Delamere was a settler, a colonialist who came in during the partition of Africa when Britain colonized Kenya. It is safe to assume that Delamere never paid for his land (If we can call it his). During that time, conquest and occupation was an accepted mode of land acquisition. Now it is not. The land owned by the Delamere family can and should be redistributed, can and should be put to better use. Not all of it necessarily. There are provisions in the law that allow the government to seize land in the interests of the state. Of course this seizure includes compensation i.e. the Delameres would be paid for the land.

Bottom line is, something should be done, these injustices should be faced head on and dealt with.

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Trevor Kibet

“When Finance minister Amos Kimunya quoted 13 year old Trevor Kibet Langat in his budget speech, everybody took notice. Even MPs who only seconds ago had been struggling to resist sleep woke up to listen…”

~Sunday Nation, June 24, 2007

By now almost every Kenyan has heard about Trevor Kibet “The Boy Economist”. He wrote a letter to the Finance Minister, asking why Kenya can’t be like Singapore or South Africa, asking about our roads, talking about business TV channels, raising issues about our infrastructure, the disuse of our railway network, urging him to upgrade Kisumu airport, allocating more money to the Youth enterprise fund, and touched on sports as well.
I was pleased by his youthful enthusiasm, and he reminded me of a time which I think everyone has passed through. A time when you were filled with hope, ambition and grand dreams. And then, as people like to say, you get to the real world and realise things aren’t easy, and you settle into a boring routine just to survive. It’s a genuine pleasure to see that during these harsh and confusing times, our nation is still able to produce young people who have a desire to improve their country.
I mean listen to what this kid told the minister, and see his wisdom :

“I think it is time for me to take action and it is also time for all Kenyans to take action. I have taken the risk to write to you. I believe the biggest risk is not to take a risk.”

Aaaah. Just for saying that Trevor Kibet deserves a place on this blog. And he went on to say:

“…I will not just simply talk how bad or good the Government is, I will take action and build Kenya even in the smallest way possible.”

Three cheers for Trevor Kibet. He inspired me to remember my dreams and follow them through. He has inspired me to take action and do something for my country. You, what are you doing for your country? What are you doing to build Kenya?

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When there is sickness…

It is possible to beat corruption. It might not be completely eradicated, but it can be greatly reduced. The scariest thing is when corruption becomes so deeply ingrained in our way of life that people do not believe they can do without it.

On the other hand, corruption in some people begins in their youth. Young men and women, doing business for the first time adopting a false air of experience while proclaiming, in defense of corruption: “that is how business is done in this country”. I’ve heard many, young and old alike, saying: “we would like to change things but this is how things are in this country right now, so we must accept it”. No one accepting responsibility to change it. No one accepting the burden of the task. Almost everyone choosing the quick and easy path. Corruption has taken root in our universities, and not among the staff and lecturers as has often been complained about, but among the students, who back in the day would have been relied upon to engage in demonstrations against corruption.

The students who tend to be corrupt are the student leaders, who we rely on to be ‘the leaders of tomorrow’. You might ask, how can students be corrupt? Well, by bribing staff. By sitting on tender committees for campus business premises (e.g. campus tuckshops, bureaus and cafeterias) while having their own interests and conducting charade interviews when they have already handpicked the winners. So on and so forth.

When there is a sickness in a system all effort must be put into cleansing the system of all sickness. Corruption, being a combination of greed, laziness, dishonesty, is among the worst sicknesses of them all.

~Philip Walubengo

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Waiting on the world to change

Waiting on the world to change

We want things to change but we are afraid of change. We aren’t willing to change ourselves.

We desire improvement, not realizing that improvement is change from one state to a better one. Improvement itself is a form of change.

We desire change but we are not willing to risk. Not willing to risk ourselves, our feelings, our emotions, our money or our votes.

Such a way of life is self defeating. We must accept change, as it is the one constant. Change is a sign of life, life being dynamic.

Instead of waiting on the world to change, we must be the change that we want to see in the world.

Instead of waiting on the world to change, we must be willing to participate in the process of change ourselves.