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Kenya’s doubts on whether the bell has rung

Kenya’s doubts on whether the bell has rung

Bereket Gebru 12-28-17

There is an internationally recognized rivalry between Ethiopian and Kenyan athletes. The fierce fight between Haile Gebreselassie and Paul Tirgat was a staff of legends, although skewed only one way. Charles Kamathi’s unexpected triumph against Haile is also a notable moment in the athletic rivalry between the two countries.

In recent years, however, Kenyan articles that compare the situation in their country to that of Ethiopia have risen. We find articles entitled: “Ethiopia rising, it is time for Kenya to wake up and compete” as far back as 2014. The article written by Bitange Ndemo (Ph.D.), Senior lecturer at the University of Nairobi and a former permanent secretary in the Ministry of Information and Communication, states that Kenyans are in denial about the growing position of Ethiopia’s economy in the region. It then goes on to provide a glimpse of Kenyan psyche in stating:

We can choose to continue bragging as the largest and diversified economy in eastern Africa or get our house in order and begin to compete with the rest of the world. It is bad enough to be in a leadership position in a region with countries at the tail end of per capita income. We should at the minimum worry that a neighbouring country is growing twice as much as we are growing. At most we should be trying to catch up with our former peers like South Korea and Singapore. Our continued foot-dragging culture will translate into a situation where Kenyans will be trying to cross into Ethiopia in search of jobs.

The denial, however, does not seem to have stopped as numerous articles since then have reflected the same old outlooks the scholar urged his fellow countrymen to shrug off. I remember I came across such an attitude in an article about the failure of the Kenyan security apparatus following the 2015 Al-Shabaab attack on Garissa University College. The article written by Mwaura Samora entitled “Kenya can't, won't be Ethiopia” cited the democratic nature of Kenyan society as one of the causes for terrorist groups to infiltrate the security system. It is sad that a periodic spell of bloodshed camouflaged under Presidential elections is worthy of the reference “democratic”. It then pointed out that the socialist totalitarian state of Ethiopia with the federal and regional (kilil) government controlling “all spheres of life, from media to people's daily lives” is the reason behind Ethiopia’s impeccable record against Al-Shabaab attacks. I went into the issue in an article entitled: “Too bad Kenya can’t be Ethiopia, it badly need to”.

The issue of rivalry these days has predictably shifted to economic performance as Ethiopia recently surpassed Kenya as the biggest economy in the region. A Kenyan article leaves nothing for imagination in adopting the title “Ethiopia may have grown but Kenyans are better off”. The article claims that 7.8 million people are in need of food aid in Ethiopia. It is a fact that millions of Ethiopians are usually in need of food aid. It is also true that the human development indicators are better for Kenyans than Ethiopians. After all, it is only recently that Ethiopia surpassed Kenya as the region’s biggest economy. With a significantly smaller population size, Kenyans obviously have a bigger per capita income.

However, the reigning fastest growing economy in the world, Ethiopia has gained momentum in alleviating most of the chronic problems it has had. The sustained rapid economic growth for the past fifteen years is indicative of the availability of the social, economic and political grounds for broad based development to flourish. The country achieved food self sufficiency at national scale. The unachieved goal of food security at household level still lingers leaving millions of people in need of food aid. There have been considerable improvements in alleviating the problem over the past few years though. The percentage of people in need of food aid has considerably shrunk over the years.

In the past fifteen years, Ethiopia has taken half of its poor people out of poverty. In being one of the countries that met the MDGs, Ethiopia has raised its social and economic development standards. Withstanding the pressure of supporting a population size of hundred million to register a world leading rate of economic growth says all about the state of the Ethiopian economy. One’s effectively incorporated into Ethiopia’s steamy juggernaut, its huge population size is set to become a force to derive the expansion of the economy even further.

Enrollment for primary education is nearly universal with folds of improvements in the level of both secondary and tertiary education. Health facilities have also become accessible to nearly all kebele administrations, the lowest tier of local government. 62 million Ethiopians use the telephone. Access to electricity and clean water has increased by folds even though it still has a lot to go before it becomes enjoyable by all Ethiopians.

To wrap it all up, Ethiopia is steadily changing the fate of its people and the ongoing trend is indicative of a more glamorous future to come. Bypassing Kenya as the region’s biggest economy is just a small highlight in Ethiopia’s long journey to prosperity and development. Especially with the Ethiopian economy growing twice as fast as its Kenyan counterpart, the difference is only destined to get wider and bolder.

Reports this week only embolden this fact. As reported by a Kenyan online media in an article entitled:”Ethiopia widens economic lead,” “Ethiopia continues to widen its lead as the fastest growing economy in East Africa, taking advantage of Kenya’s economic challenges to post record growth.” The news article states:

Latest economic data by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) showed Ethiopia as the region’s largest contributor to growth during the turbulent fourth quarter period of 2017. Ethiopia recorded a massive 7.1 per cent growth in GDP over the last four months of 2017 against Kenya’s 4.6 per cent that was adjusted downwards to reflect challenges arising from a long drought and a general election.

Although Kenyans seem to still be in doubt whether Ethiopia has taken them over, it has been long since the bell announcing the last lap rang. There is some time before Ethiopia outscores Kenya in the social and economic indicators; therefore, it would be better if they wake up soon, realize where Ethiopia is and put in their best strides to catch up.         

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