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End Times in Malindi: The Shakahola Forest Tragedy

5 min read.

The Shakahola Forest tragedy was decades in the making and won’t lend itself to easy policy prescriptions.



End Times in Malindi: The Shakahola Forest Tragedy

As the body count of victims from the Shakahola Forest mass graves has ticked up, the Kenyan public has reacted with a mix of revulsion and horror. President William Ruto’s description of Pastor Paul Mackenzie, head of the Good News International Church, as “a terrible criminal” and someone who “did not belong to any religion” captures something of the incredulity that many Kenyans and observers of the church scene in the country feel, particularly following reports that many of the victims most probably starved themselves to death, while others, including children, may have been “strangled, beaten, or suffocated to death”.

While many are puzzled as to why Pastor Mackenzie’s parishioners would agree to starve themselves to death in order to “meet Jesus in heaven,” others are at a loss as to the depth of the hold that a barely educated 50-year-old pastor exercises on the minds of his followers.

As Kenyans search for answers to these questions, it is important not to lose sight of the fact that, beyond Pastor Mackenzie and the specific relationship between him and his congregants, these dilemmas point to broader issues around civic distrust, deepening social precarity, and state-society disarticulation that transcend Kenya as a country. At the same time, far from the irreligious monster that an understandably frustrated President Ruto takes him to be, as a sociological type, Pastor Mackenzie is as a matter of fact a familiar and ubiquitous presence across the African Pentecostal landscape, the beneficiary and driver of profound alterations in the social structure of many African countries. In the epicentres of the Pentecostal resurgence in Africa (Nigeria, Zambia, Ghana, Zimbabwe, and Kenya) “Men of God” like Pastor Nthenge cast a growing shadow over politics, the economy, education, and increasingly, popular culture, raising fundamental questions about the location of authority as the state continues its acknowledged retreat from people’s lives.

Pastor Mackenzie is as a matter of fact a familiar and ubiquitous presence across the African Pentecostal landscape.

If that is the case, the real question is not about Pastor Mackenzie in specific relation to his enchanted parishioners, though that itself is illuminating, but about the outsize influence of his tribe of Pentecostal pastors in the lives of their congregations and the larger public across various African countries. As “existential micromanagers”, pastors increasingly “play god” in a variety of life situations, from congregants’ choice of spouses and sexual partners to seemingly mundane decisions about what to eat, what to wear, and, in a few eyebrow-raising cases involving female church members, when to undress.

In order to answer the question of pastoral influence successfully, the antecedent question of why religion, particularly Charismatic Christianity, has come to occupy such a prominent role in people’s lives must be discharged. As the extensive literature on the subject has copiously documented, popular desperation for meaning and anchor in the aftermath of the economic crisis of the 1980s precipitated a spiritual turn that simultaneously transformed the social landscape in favour of religious authorities and changed the terms of social engagement in favour of sundry spiritual agents and intermediaries. Put differently, recourse to the authority of the spiritual increased in direct proportion to the decline of the state.

Pentecostalism was particularly primed to take advantage of this emergent formation. Armed with a coherent theory that grounds both private crisis and public underdevelopment in an intangible realm of spirits, it found easy appeal among sections of the underclass who had become frustrated at the protracted failure and hit-and-miss explanations of secular institutions. This is not to say that Pentecostalism is an exclusively underclass phenomenon, though poverty is an undoubted lubricant. Among the educated classes pegged back by the sudden freeze in social mobility, Pentecostalism’s theology of prosperity resonated. Across the class spectrum, its contagious sensuality and theological deregulation furnished opportunities for self-making not otherwise available in the mainline churches.

Pastoring is the centrepiece of this new-fangled space for self-curation and the expected upward mobility. In a majority of cases, and unlike what obtains in the mainline churches, “calling” is the only “certification” needed to become a Pentecostal pastor. For instance, we are not surprised to learn that Mackenzie, after years of a dogged quest for stability, including a stint as a street hawker and taxi driver respectively, eventually found his “calling” as a pastor, following the same path as many young African men caught between peer pestering to “catch up” and “fit in”, and communal pressures to “become someone”. In this regard, the correlation between the crisis of masculinity in Africa and the popularity of pastoring becomes difficult to ignore.

For many young men, the attraction of pastoring is almost irresistible. In a status-conscious African society, it is the quickest route to social eminence and prestige without the rigours and uncertainties of professional certification. At the same time, such is the high regard in which pastors are held that, oftentimes, being a pastor is as good as living in a state of (ecclesiastical) exception.

As pastoring has become socially irresistible, so has the pastorate become a prime target for elite political co-optation. In many African countries, Kenya included, the pastor-politician alliance has become a key component of elite dealmaking. Unsurprisingly, the ongoing battle for political supremacy between President Ruto and opposition leader Raila Odinga has devolved into a battle among Kenya’s clerical elite. In Kenya as elsewhere, the pastor-politician alliance is a model of mutual gratification. While the politician seeks a path to the pastor’s vast following and connections within civil society, the pastor desires the perks and preferments available only through political access. In a continent-wide arms race for political capital and social prestige, the pastor and the politician are joined at the hip.

Following the Shakahola discovery, the Kenyan government has promised to crack down on “fringe religious outfits” in the country. President Ruto has vowed to “get to the root cause and to the bottom of the activities of . . . people who want to use religion to advance weird, unacceptable ideology”. Many church leaders apparently agree with the government. For example, the Coast Christian Clergy, comprising clerics under the auspices of the Evangelical Alliance of Kenya (EAK), thinks it should be mandatory for preachers and churches to “identify with” umbrella bodies with “guides or codes of conduct”. Other religious leaders have urged the government to drop the hammer on “fake pastors” who “use religion as a cover to carry out their illegal activities that harm society”.

In a continent-wide arms race for political capital and social prestige, the pastor and the politician are joined at the hip.

While the outrage is understandable, this may be easier said than done. While “regulation” or “monitoring” is a good idea in the abstract, the devil is, as always, in the detail. For one thing, it is not entirely clear what exactly is to be regulated and how such can be implemented without infringing upon the individual’s rights to freedom of worship, a right guaranteed by the Kenyan constitution. Furthermore, as our analysis in the foregoing has shown, the state itself is hardly an impartial arbiter in these matters. True, the Kenyan political elite may not have any direct links with the Good News International Church. However, and crucially, it is deeply imbricated with the Pentecostal pastorate and the Kenyan Christian elite. Kenya’s first family is a Pentecostal family; both Ruto and his wife, Rachel, are born-again Christians. In September last year, after Ruto’s victory at the polls was upheld by the Kenyan Supreme Court, the new president invited about 40 evangelical pastors led by popular televangelist Mark Kariuki to “purify” the presidential residence in Nairobi “until all the evil forces are driven out”.

Finally, and as experience from other societies has shown, it is not always easy to claw back from the state powers handed over to it in an emergency. If the state is allowed to “regulate” what churches can and cannot do, what about the rest of civil society?

Reina Patel contributed to the research for this article.

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Ebenezer Obadare is Douglas Dillon Senior Fellow for Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), Washington, D.C., USA. Damaris Parsitau is Country Director at the British Institute in East Africa, Kenya.


The Mwea Irrigation Ecosystem as a Small-Scale Agriculture Model

In this the second of a series on smallholder agriculture titled the Challenge of Feeding Ourselves, Christine Gatwiri looks at the Mwea irrigation ecosystem as a model for adoption by small-scale farmers.



The Mwea Irrigation Ecosystem as a Small-Scale Agriculture Model

One of the ideas I have looked at as a possible solution to the challenges of small-holder agriculture is cooperatives, where farmers can pool together capital and share resources such as irrigation infrastructure, markets, knowledge, etc. And we have seen this work—dairy cooperatives are one of the more successful small-scale agribusiness set-ups in East Africa—for obvious reasons. If we extend the cooperatives idea further, and we are met with dedicated farming zones.

I define a dedicated farming zone as just that—an area dedicated to agriculture. The land holding can vary from small to large scale, owned either privately or communally. It is not subject to subdivision for settlements as it is purposely set aside as agricultural land. The dedicated farming zone may have built-in irrigation systems, machinery for hire, established labour sources and marketing routes. One of the best examples I have seen is the Mwea rice irrigation ecosystem.

The Mwea rice irrigation ecosystem

I will not go into the history or the current set-up of the irrigation scheme here. Moreover, in this article, I deliberately use the word “ecosystem”—and not “irrigation scheme” as it is typically known—to broaden the lens of the discussion from the historic irrigation scheme to the direct and indirect consequences on the rest of the Mwea region. Also, I have cherry-picked the best of the principles that make the Mwea irrigation ecosystem work. However, like any system, it has its challenges and problems, which I do not cover here.

Land consolidation, tenure and ownership

The genius of the irrigation ecosystem is how the agricultural land is separated from residential land. You live wherever you want, but the farming land is for farming only, protecting it from unnecessary subdivision for sale or inheritance.

The farmland itself has inherent agricultural value. For the most part, it makes economic sense to cultivate it instead of setting up real estate as is typical in other regions of the country. It also helps that much of the farmland has a high water table that is suitable for establishing rice fields—constructing or living on this land would be impractical.

As a potential farmer, you can choose to lease. And if you are a land owner, you can rent out part or all of the land. Land becomes a valuable resource for crop production with a fixed value such that whatever you put into it in terms of investment, the returns at the end of the year are fairly predictable.

Rice is grown in two seasons (can be more). The first season repays the farmer’s crop production expenses (seedlings, inputs, mechanization). After the first harvest, rice is left to regenerate to yield a second harvest. A common saying in the area is that the second harvest is the farmer’s profits.

This predictability in input and output makes farming attractive as an investment. You know how much to put in and the returns to expect at the end of the year with a certain degree of certainty. Compare this to rain-fed agriculture where low-yielding seeds and unpredictable rains expose the investment to external risks.

A common saying in the area is that the second harvest is the farmer’s profits.

Farmers are not charity workers—they will farm if it makes financial sense for them. With the risks and unpredictability of rain-fed agriculture, it is no wonder farmers are increasingly shying away—the losses accruing every year are too much.

Shared farm machinery

When we talk of mechanization as a challenge for small-scale agriculture, it is from the angle of affordability. But where demand is high, investors may take up the risk of buying the equipment to earn money from hiring it out. This is the case for the Mwea ecosystem, which depends on machinery for land preparation, harvesting and packing the rice straw into bales for hay.

Due to the risks of manual harvesting in rice paddies, it is much more economical to hire harvesters than pay for human labour. This means machines are available to every farmer, keeping costs low. The same goes for packing bales—a machine will pack rice straw for every single farmer in the ecosystem. There is work throughout the year with short down times. Low costs also translate into low production costs overall and assure better profits for the farmer. It is a win-win situation.

Government intervention

Small-scale farmers require a certain level of government support. It can be in the form of provision of credit facilities, improved seeds/seedlings, extension officers, etc. However, it has to be the right amount and mix so that farmers are still able to decide when, where and how to farm.

In the Mwea ecosystem, farmers obtain seedlings from the National Irrigation Board (NIB). A farmer can prepare their own seedlings but this is a time-consuming process; It is more efficient to obtain high-yielding and improved seedlings from the board.

Besides seedlings, NIB also oversees the use and management of water in the irrigation canals (these are separate from the farms that use surface/groundwater due to high water table). Known locally as the water committee, the NIB ensures fairness in the use of irrigation water, maintains the canals and expands or changes their course if need be.

The NIB also plugs in to offer storage for the produce at a fee and a factory to mill the rice. This is an alternative for those that do not wish to use a private store or mill.

The right mix and amount of government intervention are important. In the past, the NIB would get involved in the production capacities of the farmers. Chaos ensued, particularly during the harvest season; the rice the farmers harvested belonged to the NIB and farmers had to wait for it to pay them less the cost of seedlings and inputs. However, the “liberalization” of this ecosystem gave farmers more control over their farm produce and allowed growth of new parties within the ecosystem such as the financier middlemen. I wonder if this same method could help tea and coffee farmers earn more from their produce.

The Financier middleman/broker

In the course of my research I was surprised to learn about the financier middleman/broker within the rice production ecosystem. A figure of both love and hate in Kenya’s agriculture sector, the middleman exploits farmers, yes, but they also address an important gap—market and logistics. The Mwea ecosystem middleman, a role filled mostly by women, goes a step further to provide soft loans to farmers.

The broker buys rice from the farmers, mills it, stores it and sells it to wholesalers and other retailers, and also directly to consumers in smaller quantities. When a farmer wants to cultivate rice but lacks the money, they approach a broker who provides a soft loan. The broker dictates the conditions of the loan including the return period, and fixes the price of the rice they will buy from the farmer after harvest. Your work as a farmer now becomes to grow and harvest enough rice to pay off the loan and still have enough left over for your own needs.

The “liberalization” of this ecosystem gave farmers more control over their farm produce and allowed growth of new parties within the ecosystem such as the financier middlemen.

Some brokers obtain funds from financial institutions. In this way, banks indirectly extend credit to farmers through these traders. And this is very interesting because one of the many challenges of small-scale farming is access to loans. What can you do at the farm if you lack the initial capital? Not much. Farming is an investment venture with capital needs, operation and production expenses and risks. Every venture needs financiers and the Mwea ecosystem has self-corrected to build up its own financiers.

I cannot speak to how well the system works, how conflict is resolved and the instances when defaults happen, but it is an interesting idea for future research.

Social proof for the cultivation of other crops

Rice production is the main activity in the Mwea region. However, farmers have also taken up other crops on privately-owned land parcels and crops such as bananas, sweet potatoes, maize and beans are common.

The farmers have taken the lessons from the rice farming ecosystem and incorporated them into the cultivation of other crops. Canals are dug from the main water channels to bring water into the farms and from here the farmers use hose pipes or dig furrows to bring the water into the individual plots.

Water conservation and other good agricultural techniques are applied.  For example, it is common to see bananas grown in Zai pits, beans in heavily mulched furrows and large plantations of maize growing in soils rich in organic matter—all under irrigation. What might have started as an irrigation scheme for rice has also impacted how farmers produce other types of crops.

Beyond the farm ecosystem

Beyond rice, the ecosystem offers other benefits. It provides employment opportunities at every stage of rice farming, use of inputs, processing (milling) and sale and distribution. The factories mill the rice and may be involved in the storage of the farm produce as it awaits sale. Farmers are allocated space for storage which they pay for. The factories also provide employment to dozens of people.

After the rice is harvested the rice straw is packed into bales to be sold as hay for mulching, fodder or animal bedding. The husks from the milling process are used as ingredients in the animal feed manufacturing process. Both provide additional income for the farmer and even more employment opportunities.

The farmers have taken the lessons from the rice farming ecosystem and incorporated them into the cultivation of other crops.

Moreover, new industries have formed around the Mwea ecosystem.  When we talk about industrialization in Africa, do we imagine it from the perspective of creating completely new factories to supply consumer goods or to process agricultural produce? Think about it.

What can we learn from the Mwea irrigation ecosystem?

Based on the factors above, I am of the opinion that this is the way forward for small-scale agriculture in Kenya, if not in Africa. Combining land parcels prevents fragmentation and subdivision so that agricultural land remains so.

Land parcels can be “donated” by individual farmers so that each dedicates a portion of their land (bordering with other farmers) to increase the acreage under production. This land is protected from unproductive fragmentation by its inherent agricultural value. And this is incredibly important as we move into a future of increased urbanization and explosive population growth.

Besides contributing small parcels to make up a large parcel of land, dedicated farming zones can be created in arid and semi-arid areas where the population density is low.

By creating a farming zone, the farmers can pool together their resources to invest in mechanization and irrigation infrastructure such as boreholes, canals, furrows or drips that can easily be shared among farms, along with the costs of setting up.

As a collective, their access to markets and transportation options is also better. And should they wish to own the tail-end of the supply chain by selling to consumers, then there is room for this as well.

Farmers co-learning from each other solves the problems of farmer education and creates the social proof required for replication by other farmers; this is why farm models work.

Farm models demonstrate best practices for cultivating a certain crop or crop mix on a piece of land belonging to a farmer involved in that activity. For example, maize farmers in a given area can donate a parcel of land where the model is set up and all the farmers in the region can learn from it.

As my friend and Twitter user Nicholas Aburi says, it is not useful to lump agricultural inventions and best practices into the annual Agricultural Society of Kenya exhibitions/shows. Create instead farm models within walking distance where farmers can learn from each other.

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Back to the Future: The Return of Recession, Debt and Structural Adjustment

There are strong echoes across Africa of the recession of the late 1970s and early 1980s. The reappearance of recession, debt and structural adjustment to the continent reminds us of the fundamental contradiction of capitalism.



Back to the Future: The Return of Recession, Debt and Structural Adjustment

A world recession induced by pandemic and war, a consequent boom in energy prices and a cost-of- living crisis with rising inflation especially of food prices, is threatening to reverse the progress that many African economies made during the ‘commodity super-cycle’ of the 2000s and the first part of the 2010s. Indeed, there are strong echoes of the recession of the late 1970s and early 1980s, itself induced by a twelvefold increase in the price of oil and in Africa, by famine and war. In both cases, these appearances of crisis disguise the fundamental contradiction of capitalism – the relentless pressure to increase profits facing the limits of realisation as consumption is squeezed and the state is restricted in its powers of intervention, even in limiting the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on its already impoverished population.

While much attention has been focused on the oligarchs of Russia and Ukraine, these plutocrats as they should be called, exist all over the world. Their increasing influence is evident everywhere. They acquire their wealth by hoarding the economic rent they receive from highly valued products and paying as low wages as they can get away with to largely non-unionised labour. They then secure that wealth and economic power from any government intervention by first, capturing political parties, and not only of the right, but also the self-styled left, and then play a crucial role in funding their election campaigns. Then after those parties win elections the government is captured and liberal democracies or countries moving towards such democracy morph into shades of oligarchy or even autocracy, as we observe most obviously in countries such as India, Hungary, Turkey and in Africa, Uganda.

Once again, the chief beneficiary of this war-induced recession is US imperialism and its dominant financial-security complex (if not oligarchy) based on oil, gas and arms. Not only has the US been able to benefit as an oil producer from the increase in the oil price, but also from the increased demand for its liquid petroleum gas (LPG) as Europe reduces its demand for Russian gas following that country’s further invasion of Ukraine. The potential axis of Brussels-Moscow-Beijing, which would have been a serious threat to US global interests has been averted. The US has been able to reassert its hegemony over Europe through its mobilisation of economic and military support for Ukraine and has also underlined its hegemony in the Far East with its clear assertion of its support for Taiwan’s independence, reaffirming its strategy of, and belief in, a unipolar world.

For the countries of Africa, the last decade has seen a large increase in sovereign debt in the wake of the extremely low interest rates that followed the financial crisis of the late 2000s. The encouragement of African economies’ entry into global capital markets mainly through issuing Eurobonds, was regarded as something to be celebrated as part of the ‘Africa Rising’ narrative. Not that capital markets treated African economies in the same way as those of the Global North. Instead, they placed a premium on interest rates reflecting what they saw as the greater risk in lending to African countries. Borrowing on global capital markets when interest rates were low seemed a good way to finance development or even restructure existing debt. However, the downturn in the world economy both before and especially during the Covid-19 pandemic together with the effects of the Russia-Ukraine war has now placed some 22 countries in the position of actual or potential ‘debt distress’ and needing, or likely to need, IMF and World Bank support. Such initiatives as the G20’s Debt Service Suspension and the Common Framework for Debt Treatment have relieved very little of the pressure on the debtor countries.

African countries’ debt now averages over 60% of GDP and in the case of Mozambique 100%, ratios not high in comparison with some countries of the Global North but servicing this debt diverts resources away from investment in productive activity as increasingly borrowing is directed to repayment of previous bond issues. In the case of Mozambique, Zambia and Ghana, ‘debt distress’ has led to default on some of their debts and attempts to restructure them including negotiating deals where effectively a large part of the debt is written off as the lenders take the proverbial ‘haircuts’. In Ghana, these problems of integration into global financial markets have led to bank failures putting even more pressure on weak financial systems. Ethiopia’s war with Tigray has had devastating effects on its economy and increased its level of debt distress resulting in a rescheduling of its debt to China (a third of its total external debt) and so reducing the risk of default. In North Africa, Egypt and Tunisia have been racking up huge external debts and have now agreed new credit arrangements with the IMF.

China has become a major lender to Africa, mainly for infrastructural investments and now holds 12% of Africa’s debt, and for several countries in Africa is its biggest creditor. Debate around the motivations for Chinese lending abound, with some observers seeing China luring key African states in debt-traps while others see China being drawn into a trap of its own as the risk of default heightens. Perhaps because of this risk, the last two years has seen China sharply scaling down its lending to Africa. Unlike its willingness to reschedule Ethiopia’s debt, and that of some other African countries, China is now delaying a rescheduling of Zambian debt arguing that the multilateral organisations such as the World Bank and IMF should also take haircuts as well. This is of no help to Zambia which needs support from all its creditors. The IMF’s agreement to grant an Extended Credit Facility of $1.3 billion in August 2022 is contingent on Zambia effecting its ‘home grown’ adjustment strategy which involves restructuring and rescheduling China’s external debt as well as the other usual ‘adjustments’ in the IMF’s playbook, to which we return later.

How far repayment of current external debt by African economies is feasible will depend on its foreign exchange earnings. These are still for much of Africa, some 60 years after the end of colonial rule, highly dependent on the export of primary products. The latest data tells us that these products, predominantly fuels and minerals, comprise 77% of Africa’s export income. Some countries are more dependent on primary product exports than others and in some cases their export income is dominated by just one product, as in the case of copper in Zambia which produces 70% of its export income, Botswana, heavily dependent on its exports of diamonds and Angola and Nigeria, almost completely dependent on oil. Recent discoveries of new sources of gold, oil and gas has led to export concentration in an increasing number of countries.

Such dependence and concentration leaves countries vulnerable to swings in commodity prices which can affect both the capacity to import and the management of windfall gains in export income. However, research carried out to examine the effects of commodity prices on economic growth in African economies has suggested that there is no clear positive relationship which may have to do with the volatility in commodity spot prices not being reflected as sharply in actual export earnings. Commodity prices are normally set by long-term trading contracts incorporating expectations about the future, so the prices at which commodities are actually traded do not fluctuate as wildly as spot prices such that the effect on economic growth will be more muted. Where a country exports more than one commodity, all prices may not always move in the same direction.

Diversifying out of dependence on primary commodity exports was always a policy objective of post-colonial governments in Africa and elsewhere. While there has been considerable growth in industrial and service activity, primary commodity production has also grown as global corporates with active support from African governments have sought to diversify their sources of high-value commodities. The ’commodity super-cycle’ of the 2000s petered out in the course of the 2010s and especially during the pandemic-induced decline in global growth, but now there is talk of a new super-cycle as economies recover and demand especially for precious metals increases. The Ukraine war’s effect on oil prices has strengthened primary commodity prices but this will not offset the large increases in debt interest payments following the tightening of money supply generally in the wake of the rapid rise in inflation resulting from the steep increase in energy and cereal prices triggered by the Russia-Ukraine war.

A return to structural adjustment

The combination of rising indebtedness and a slowdown in global growth, if not another world recession has seen the return of structural adjustment programmes (SAPs). These sets of policies spawned from the 1980s neoliberal revolution succeeded in halting the transformation of African economies from producers and exporters of primary products to industrialized manufacturing economies despite the less than perfect implementation of their industrialisation strategies. Now once again, indebted countries seeking assistance from the  international financial institutions (IFIs) are to be subject to a set of economic policies intended to restore domestic and external balances to some degree of equilibrium (see suggested further reading below for more background to the first phase of SAPs).

Current SAPs, whether ‘homegrown’ or not, involve government budget restraint, increasing efficiency in tax collection, abolishing many price subsidies, improving the management of public enterprises, and facilitating greater private sector investment. The major plank of previous SAPs – devaluation – is no longer a requirement where, as in most cases, foreign exchange markets are liberalized and currency values find their own level dependent on market assessment based on the trade and payments balance and its anticipated movement. However, in the case of Egypt, there is a specific requirement to liberalise the exchange rate. Paradoxically, exchange rates tend to appreciate when an IMF support package is agreed and financial inflows increase, which is the opposite of what is theoretically required to increase exports, but that seems to matter less than the fact that a country’s economic policy is being supervised by the IMF and gives greater confidence to potential foreign investors even if the trade balance goes even more in the red.

The most noticeable difference with the SAPs of the 1980 is the requirement that governments protect the vulnerable. Here is the IMF Mission Chief for Ghana announcing the agreement with the Ghana government for an extended credit facility of $3 billion over three years:

Key reforms aim to ensure the sustainability of public finances while protecting the vulnerable. The fiscal strategy relies on frontloaded measures to increase domestic resource mobilization and streamline expenditure. In addition, the authorities have committed to strengthening social safety nets, including reinforcing the existing targeted cash-transfer program for vulnerable households and improving the coverage and efficiency of social spending. (IMF, 2022)

Help for ‘vulnerable households’ is also a key requirement for the Egyptian loan package. With the benefit of hindsight, the IMF and the World Bank recognise the political difficulties for governments in pursuing an austerity agenda which leaves more and more people living below what passes for the poverty line. The solution to avoiding bread riots and other manifestations of public discontent is to target ‘vulnerable households’ with cash transfers so that they can eat. But it is not to support government investment in economic activities that will generate employment and structurally transform African economies, support which is badly needed to build the economic and social infrastructure that will generate growth in other sectors and the linkages develop.

However, as has been pointed out many times before in ROAPE the activities of the IFIs are not about growth and development, let alone protecting the vulnerable, but about control of global south economies by the global north and the hegemon-in-chief, the US which lest we forget appoints the head of the World Bank, while Europe chooses the head of the IMF.

An alternative strategy and politics

While the IFIs return to making policy in some African countries, there is also pressure on them to finance a green agenda for the Global South in the face of the climate emergency. Where such financial transfers from the IFIs to support green policies or compensate countries for the losses from following these policies take place this will offer the IFIs yet another opportunity to exert their leverage on policymaking in general. Dressed up as getting countries to ‘take ownership’ of policies which have been imposed on them, yet again we will see that African countries, and indeed all countries of the global south, will come under the tighter control of global capitalism.

There have always been alternatives open to African governments. The ‘introverted’ strategy advocated by Samir Amin has been much maligned and misrepresented as autarky but, like Clive Thomas’s strategy of seeking the convergence of domestic resources with domestic needs, offers countries a way out of what appears to be their enduring entrapment in a global financial system that works for the global financial corporates that dominate it. This system ensures uneven development with some countries or regions of countries developing faster than others. But it does offer opportunities for rapid development through a relatively coherent industrial and agricultural policy. The alternatives calling for a domestic oriented industrial strategy argue for taking more distance from this system, but still exporting wherever possible to earn the foreign exchange needed to import capital goods while prioritising domestic production for the needs of the majority. This is surely a better way forward than being trapped into permanent debt and cajoled to ‘own’ policies made in Washington DC.

This article was first published by ROAPE.

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Digitizing Land Records Will Enhance Role of Banks in Transactions

Kenyans were justifiably enthusiastic when the Ministry of Lands began digitizing land records in 2018. But so far only about a third of the records of properties in Nairobi have been digitized. A fully functional ArdhiSasa portal holding all land and property records in the country will enhance the financial services sector’s role in facilitating land and property transactions.



Digitizing Land Records Will Enhance Role of Banks in Transactions

All Kenyans have a right to access information held by the state as provided for in Article 35 of the constitution. Access varies depending on the sensitivity of the information requested, but the state has an obligation to publish certain information about its activities, and all citizens are entitled to request information from public entities.

The information held by the state is the basis of all legitimate (and legal) transactions in Kenya as this information is obtained and held in accordance with the laws of the land. The nature of the information that the public requests from government entities also varies. At the individual level, members of the public are more concerned and ordinarily seek information concerning ownership of different types of assets and property. This information is necessary when conducting economic transactions between individuals as well as with institutional and organizational entities.

In addition to the provision relating to accessing information held by the state, Article 6 of the constitution also mandates the government to ensure reasonable access to its services in all parts of the country.

One of the ways in which the Kenyan government has ensured that the information held by the state is available to all citizens, and that services are reasonably accessible as provided for in the constitution, is by digitizing government records and automating government services. In this regard, a notable success of the last ten years is the government’s e-Citizen portal that was launched in 2014 by the ICT Authority of Kenya. On e-Citizen, Kenyans can create an account using their ID card number, and additional personal information is populated on an online form using data from the Integrated Population Registration Service. Upon registration, a user can apply for various government services including applying for a passport from the Immigration Department, applying to enter a civil partnership through the Office of the Attorney General, or to obtain a birth or death certificate through the Civil Registration Department.

Government ministries and agencies have also developed platforms that are linked to e-Citizen, and in December 2022 the government gazetted e-Citizen as the official government digital payments platform. In February 2023, the Kenya Ports Authority announced that it had moved its cargo handling services to the e-Citizen portal. Kenyans can (for now) remain confident in the current administration’s efforts to continue the work of digitizing government records and automating government services that begun under the Jubilee administration.

Digitized Transport Information Management

Another government online platform that has made information and services more accessible to citizens in the last ten years is the National Transport and Safety Authority’s Transport Information Management System (NTSA TIMS).

The NTSA TIMS portal was launched in 2016, and since then motor vehicle transactions have benefitted from the incidental improvement in accessibility of information, and in efficiency. Kenyans pay a small fee to access information on vehicle ownership by conducting a search using a vehicle’s registration number, information that is necessary when buying a car. The system is also linked to e-Citizen, Kenya’s main online portal for government services.

Beyond the efficiency and improved accessibility that are a result of having an online system, a key value that Kenyans draw from the NTSA TIMS portal is that of the reliability of the records. Because of the NTSA TIMS portal, the chances of an individual buying a stolen car have substantially reduced as anyone can verify the ownership of the vehicle at any point. The records on the platform also include the ownership history of each vehicle. If at some point a bank or insurance company or a transport and logistics company was the owner of the vehicle, this information will be available as part of the results of conducting a search. Where the vehicle is owned by more than one person, a user can also see the co-ownership details.

This information introduces an extra layer of transparency that informs the negotiations for purchasing a vehicle, and consequently reduces the chances of a buyer being taken advantage of. Once a buyer sees an insurance company among the previous owners of the vehicle, it may mean that at some point the vehicle was in an accident and was written off, the client reimbursed, and the car restored for resale thereafter (it may also mean that the car was part of the insurance company’s fleet). While this does not mean that the vehicle is not fit for purchase, the buyer may, however, get a fair price that takes into consideration that the vehicle has been involved in an accident before. Additionally, knowledge of the number of past owners helps in making sound judgement about the purchase; a vehicle with less than two previous owners is more attractive than one with five previous owners.

ArdhiSasa Digitizing land and property

Based on the fairly reliable functionality of the NTSA TIMS platform, and the success of e-Citizen, Kenyans were justifiably enthusiastic when the Ministry of Lands began digitizing land records in 2018, and later unveiled the ArdhiSasa platform in April 2021. ArdhiSasa is the equivalent of the NTSA TIMS portal, holding records for property (land), including sectional properties (apartments). The ArdhiSasa online portal allows citizens to access land information held by the government and the processes undertaken by the Lands Ministry. The portal was developed jointly by the Ministry of Lands and the National Land Commission (NLC), and key partners in government. Users of the platform can conduct land searches, apply for replacement of title deeds, transfer property, apply for a subdivision, and apply for a change of user. Users can also apply for approval of development plans, property valuation, and for repeat surveys.

Kenyans were justifiably enthusiastic when the Ministry of Lands began digitizing land records in 2018.

The digitization process commenced with the records in the Nairobi and Central Lands Registries. The Mombasa County Government has also expressed its intentions to digitize land records and records of other properties in the county with the aim of improving efficiency in collecting land rates, and mitigating incidences of land fraud. The county government held talks with the Ministry of Lands in March 2023 to discuss how the two entities can collaborate in the digitization and updating of land titles. While the digitization of land records is a national government function to be undertaken by the Ministry of Lands as the custodian of these records, the deliberate effort by the county government to initiate this process for Mombasa is the kind of political goodwill that this process requires. Moreover, county governments collect land rates from property owners and a digital record of all properties in the county will enhance this function.

Previously, the Ministry of Lands has stated that cases of double titling are among the factors that have slowed down the process of digitization. In January 2023, the Lands Ministry reported that the digitization of land records is still on course, and that over a 100,000 properties have been uploaded to the platform—about a third of the 250,000 registered parcels and 70,000 sectional units that account for all land records within Nairobi. Ultimately, the process of scanning manual records to upload them to the digital database while inputting additional information for each entry to populate the database is a human resource-intensive activity. Undertaking this task while trying to verify the accuracy of the records to ensure ministry officers are not uploading falsified records adds another layer of difficulty. Continuous investment in the form of budgetary allocation from the National Treasury remains crucial to populating the ArdhiSasa database with all land and property records across the country. The ministry’s commitment to involving stakeholders (including the Law Society of Kenya, the Institution of Surveyors of Kenya, the Kenya Bankers Association, and others) in the process of improving the platform is also a welcomed show of goodwill.

Kenya has in the past grappled with various challenges that have reduced the public’s trust in how the state manages and administers land and land information, and this national land information management system (ArdhiSasa) couldn’t have been timelier. One of the challenges was that of illegal and irregular allocation of public land that resulted in conversion of lands held by public institutions (including forest lands) to private property to the benefit of a few individuals. The 2004 Report on the Commission of Inquiry into the Illegal and Irregular Allocation of Public Land, commonly referred to as the Ndung’u Land Report, lists “poor and chaotic record keeping system” in the Ministry of Lands registries among the factors that enabled grabbing of public lands by wealthy and politically connected individuals. The report notes that this state of record-keeping at land registries made it hard for Kenyans to trace and keep track of the history of transactions relating to particular titles, and was in some instances the condition that enabled the falsification and withholding of land records so as to conceal illegal allocations of land. The report recommends computerization and digitization of all land records (including facts relating to the history of each parcel of land), and that all land records should be made available for inspection by the public.

Another challenge in land administration and management in the past was land fraud that often took the form of double titling. Land fraud had at some point in our history become so rampant that it warranted the establishment of a Land Fraud Unit under the Investigations Branch of the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI).

The banking sector, property and real estate

In recent years, another outcome of the increasing land fraud cases has been the reluctance of banks to accept title deeds as collateral when clients apply for loans. Lenders end up having to undertake a lot of due diligence, including having bank officers undertake land searches as the institutions fear other professionals in the sector may be compromised. Banks have also complained about Ministry land records not being up to date. The greater inconvenience for the lending institutions, however, comes when borrowers default on loans and banks seek to initiate clauses that allow for repossession of property that was used as collateral only to realize that they cannot recoup their money.

Banks play a vital role in financing the acquisition and development of property and the reliability of property records can either enhance or diminish this role. The banking sector would benefit greatly from a fully functional ArdhiSasa portal that would reduce the human and financial resources spent in conducting due diligence (that is sometimes not sufficient), and ensure transparency in property transactions, similar to the transparency and efficiency Kenyans and financial institutions enjoy from the NTSA TIMS portal.

The banking sector would benefit greatly from a fully functional ArdhiSasa portal that would reduce the human and financial resources spent in conducting due diligence.

Additionally, by improving the efficiency of land and property transactions in Kenya, these assets will become more liquid, and individuals will be more willing to trade with the property they hold. This could unlock more funds from the banking system, funds that will be injected into the economy and contribute to the government’s economic recovery agenda.  As more Kenyans trust the ArdhiSasa system, they will be more willing to buy and sell land and property, thereby driving the growth of our real estate market.

Global financial institutions and development partners (the IMF, the World Bank, the European Union, etc.) will also feel more assured when funding land-intensive development projects if the process of land acquisition is more transparent, and if project implementers can ascertain beyond all doubt the persons and communities that will be affected by the projects and therefore follow due process in compensation. Moreover, collating information on land and property ownership and making it accessible to the public on one platform will be crucial in ensuring that communities procedurally give their free, prior and informed consent before commencement of these projects.

The national government and all county governments also stand to benefit from the digitization of all land and property records in the country through improved revenue collection. A digital record of all properties will significantly improve the efficiency with which land rates are paid to county governments and land rents are paid to the national government. The government’s plan for the next financial year has included proposals in law to step up revenue collection to service the country’s debt, and in this regard it cannot overlook the role of ArdhiSasa.

With the knowledge that a functioning ArdhiSasa system can eliminate cases of land fraud while improving accessibility to land information and efficiency in land transactions, it is important that the Lands Ministry—and the top government leadership—make this the priority for the next five years. Only then can we maximize the potential of our financial services and property sectors, and spur investments on land and property.

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