Kenya: ‘The first middle income country in Africa by 2030’
Thomas Cromwell

Kenyan Ambassador Peter N.R.O. Ogego speaks with confidence and passion about his country. He describes the era of President Mwai Kibaki, elected during the historic multi-party elections in 2002 in glowing terms.

Since President Kibaki took over leadership, Kenya has made progress in socio-economic development, and last year achieved a GDP growth rate of 5.5 percent, following years of economic decline in the latter part of the Arap Moi era, and slow recovery since. Ambassador Ogego recently sat down with to discuss the economic resurgence of Kenya and his country’s ambitions to become the first middle income African country by 2030.

He also touched on Kenya’s peace-brokering role in the region, the strengthening of the East African Economic Community, Nairobi’s close cooperation with Washington on security and the continued increase in the flow of American tourists to Kenya, despite the obstacle of a State Department travel ban.

Here are the ambassador’s comments.

Reform under this Government
We have made tremendous progress in restoring core institutions and departments of public governance, as well as the rule of law, not as a concept, but as a practice as well. The judicial system which had lost credibility in public eyes, is rejuvenating, and the president is putting a lot of emphasis on the rule of law and that the institutions of justice can act independently, without influence from the executive or politicians. 

Tackling Systemic Corruption
Regarding graft, it’s a question of perception. The last general election was the culmination of the Kenyan people’s effort to fight systemic corruption. We were not dealing with individual corrupt officials: it was the entire barrel that was rotten, not just a few apples. The first priority (and this is where there were differences in perception) was to fix the barrel, rather than dealing with individual rotten apples. The public perception (wish) was to get rid of those rotten apples immediately, and maybe do something with the barrel later.

We thought it made more sense to look at the systemic view and take a systemic approach to [tackling] corruption. Kenyan corruption was not a small thing. It was a deeply embedded practice that involved sophisticated international networks. The international community that had been doing business with us also stands accused for having bribed and manipulated our public officials to get lucrative contracts without going through the proper processes. 

Avoiding a Witch-hunt
The Kenyan resolve is very clear and firm, that there will never be any more room for systemic corruption. So after four years we could positively say that we have restored institutions that deal with corruption and graft in public offices. The public expectations were very high at the time of the elections. They thought everything would be fixed at once. [But] if we didn’t allow the rule of law to take root, we would have allowed a witch-hunt to set in. In a country that had had a lot of high political temperatures and many political actors, we wanted to avoid a witch-hunt and allow the due process of law to take its course.

That is very frustrating for those who came from the center or the left and found themselves in positions of authority in Parliament. [For them] the process has been slower than they thought [it would be]. Those on the right think this is the right thing to do, and probably that we are going too far, that we should forgive and have reconciliation. 

If you leave things to the Kenyan political tapestry, you get all these voices coming out: “jail them”; “arrest them”; “fix them”. [We, the government, say]: “If you have evidence, take it to the court.” Then there are those [on the right] saying: “No, this is a witch-hunt. Put a stop to it. Let’s make a clean start. Let bygones be bygones.” Who is right?

Innovative Programs
The picture has crystallized and become clear as the government has done a lot of things, not just to revamp those institutions of public government but also initiated a lot of very practical reform measures that the public see as quite a divergence from the previous norm and practice of government. For instance, we have the innovative Constituency Development Fund that allocates 2.5 percent of national revenue directly to all the 210 constituencies. This translates into a lot of money, about 100 million Kenyan shillings ($1.421 million) per constituency. It is used to build and repair hospitals, schools, roads and other infrastructure, and for start-up capital for entrepreneurs. This is very much welcomed by the Kenyan population. (Each constituency is represented by a member of parliament, and the money is spent according to the priorities of the constituency, through a government administrative body.)

The Constitutional Reform Process
The defeat, by the opposition, of the draft constitution in a November 2005 referendum was a set-back for the country, and I think Kenyans will live to regret that the national momentum that took so long to harmonize, went to waste. The issues that were voted against were 80 percent acceptable. Only 20 percent were contentious. More effort should have been put into debating the contentious issues. We threw the baby out with the bath water.

The contentious issues had to do with the powers of the president, who is the head of state and head of government. [The draft wanted the president to keep his preeminent role in government, and not transfer his power and prerogatives to a proposed prime minister.] The majority of Kenyans are clear that they want to keep a presidential system, with the prime minister answerable to the president.

The issue is very emotional. When one side tries to jump-start the review process again, the other tends to oppose. I think constitutional changes will be incorporated piecemeal.

The two major constitutional breakthroughs we registered in the past few years were the introduction of multiparty democracy and limiting presidents to two five-year terms. The constitutional reform included women’s rights, human rights, land rights, etc. These were widely supported.

Economic Development
[Seventy percent] of our government’s efforts go to economic development. Over the past four years we have gone through economic recovery. We were in the doldrums, with negative growth, performing very poorly because of draught, lack of investment, etc. We are now beyond economic recovery and on a sustainable path of economic growth. We have made a commitment that the growth should take us by 2030 to be the first middle-income African country.

We are improving our economy by using disciplined fiscal and monetary policies, budget management, improved revenue collection, and reduced domestic and international borrowings. We have been able to finance our national budget. We have put a lot of effort into boosting our agricultural sector, to help farmers increase production and competitiveness. We offer credit facilities and good prices, to support products like maize and milk. We are revamping our dairy cooperatives. We are now net importers of milk and meat, but we are turning this around.

In the last few years the drought forced herders, such as the Masai, to lose their cattle. We have revamped the Kenyan Meat Commission so that the pastoralist community and others involved in the livestock business can have an outlet. We export a lot of meat to Egypt and the Middle East. We sell hides as leather to Canada and the United States. President Kibaki is an economist and reformist and encourages the private sector to drive economic growth.

Some foreign companies took advantage of the corruption. Cleaning up the system and being transparent and reducing the bureaucracy of doing business, we are attracting new companies as investors. Including in tourism: the [US hotel company] Fairmont is investing $35 million in hotel and resort properties.

The East Africa Community
Over and above what we are doing in the country we are looking at the wider East African Community as an economic unit. We are organizing a one-day conference during the World Bank/IMF spring meetings in Washington this year to encourage investment in the five countries of the region, which together have over 100 million people. These countries (Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya) are already doing business with one another, and there is free movement of persons in the region.

There is a Customs union among the five countries, and we have an East African passport (for businesspeople to be able to move among the countries without a visa). Even tourists no longer need visas for individual countries once they enter the EAC area.

Kenya-US Relations
Most Americans ignore the travel advisory and come to Kenya. The tourism figures are rising every year, and we expect them to continue to go up.  We are consistently working with the US Department of State to review the Travel Advisory. More importantly, we cooperate very closely with the US on matters of security, not only within our borders but for the region.

I was told it was the obligation of the US government to warn its citizens. I can tell you that we are working very hard on it, and everybody hopes that soon the advisory will be lifted.

Kenya as Peacemaker
We have led in the region by bringing warring parties together. We brokered the southern Sudanese peace process. We are hopeful that when [the Sudanese] finally do the referendum [on whether to split into two countries] they will honor the agreement. We are currently engaged with the TFG [Transitional Federal Government] in Somalia and the moderates among the ICU [Islamic Courts Union] and other communities in Somalia to have them reach a national consensus and build a nation.

Also we plan to sign a framework of cooperation with the TFG, to see what levels of cooperation we can start to support the TFG. The TFG is a ‘Nairobi baby’, so we feel attached to it! With Ethiopia, Kenya the USA and Europe all supporting the TFG, the situation is looking more encouraging.

Kenya on a New Development Path
Kenya is a country on an economic growth path towards a middle class state in Africa. Any distraction from this course will be a disservice to us. Our relations with the US, which are at an excellent point, will be a strength in our efforts to build our country. So we call on entrepreneurs to invest in our country. Kenya is a peaceful place. With our expanded (East African) market it is an attractive place to invest.

President Kibaki has introduced free education. His legacy will be the non-interference by a president in the day-to-day life of normal Kenyans. (African leaders have been quite present in people’s lives.) But he is very clear on his economic reforms. He will be remembered for not being petty or meddling.

Biography of Peter Nicholas Rateng Oginga Ogego

Ambassador Peter N.R.O. Ogego arrived in Washington D.C to take up his post as Kenya’s Ambassador to the United States of America, Mexico and Colombia on August 13, 2006. He takes on his appointment after an outstanding performance in Canada for two and a half years.

The Ambassador received a rare CANADA DIPLOMATIC CORPS MEDAL AWARD for his distinguished and exceptional contribution to Canada-Kenya relations since his arrival in 2004.

Before his assignment as High Commissioner to Canada, he served in reputable positions within the Government and Private Sector institutions such as, Office of the President, and Consultancies for International Development Partners.  Most notably, Ambassador Ogego is a well known personality amongst the top Kenyan political elite across the board, having been a key strategist during the KANU/NDP merger, and is also recognized for having compiled the NARC Manifesto. 

The Ambassador has previously been deeply involved in the national Awareness campaign against HIV and AIDS. He has worked closely with international organizations such as; the World Bank STD/HIV project, Action Aid, DFID and UNICEF Kenya, as well as indigenous and other charitable foundations that focus on community sensitization of the pandemic. His passion for childcare, especially orphans and volunteerism is exemplified through his patronage and directorship of some organizations that promote and offer compassion, care and support to the under privileged in society.

Ambassador Ogego holds a First Class Honors Degree in Political Science and International Law from Makerere University in Uganda, and a Masters Degree in Public Organization and Management from the same University.  He is also a scholar in Development Law, Human Rights and Social Justice, with a Graduate Certificate from the Institute of Social Studies (I.S.S.) at The Hague in the Netherlands.  He is widely read, travelled and experienced in Consultancy and International Conferencing.

The Ambassador arrived with his family, his wife Rose and their three children.