Rating Kenya’s Presidents

Jomo Kenyatta’s regime was corrupt, illiberal and competent. Moi’s was corrupt, illiberal and mediocre. Kibaki’s was corrupt, liberal and competent. So, Moi scores zero out of three. Jomo scores one out of three. Kibaki scores two out of three. Now it adds up!

Jubilee’s [Uhuru Kenyatta] stock has fallen not just because it is seen as corrupt, but because it comes across as also illiberal and incompetent. Like Moi’s regime, it scores zero out of three.

….. Which is more harmful to society, mediocrity or corruption? Mediocrity is by definition below average. It stands to reason that all other things equal, mediocrity is more costly than corruption.

It goes without saying that a corrupt mediocracy is even more deleterious. When mediocre rulers are also corrupt even their corruption is mediocre. Because they are unable to generate sufficient returns, they eat into the capital. That’s what the decay of our infrastructure during Moi was — they ate the capital.

What’s more, what mediocre corrupt leaders steal they squander. Mobutu’s billions have never been traced.

That is the ever-insightful Kenyan economist David Ndii writing in the Daily Nation.

And of course Kibaki was the best president Kenya ever had. He went to Mang’u High School (along with many other key people in his government).

But on a more serious note, can Kenyatta’s administration be redeemed?

I think so. Part of the problem has been the total breakdown of constructive communication between the moderate elements in Kenyan society and State House. The ensuing siege mentality at State House has left the president open for capture by the thuggish elements that are rapidly criminalizing the Kenyan state. But progressive Kenyans need not concede the presidency to these corrupt, incompetent and illiberal characters. There is still room for constructive engagement.

Unlike Moi President Kenyatta appears to have an instinct to delegate (some say he is clueless at Government). The challenge is how to make sure he delegates to the right people.

The World Bank Group Africa Fellowship Program

The Bank has an exciting fellowship for PhD students from the Continent.

[youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=enZmGIMgOno#t=172]

According to the Bank’s website:

Fellows will spend a minimum of six months at the World Bank in Washington, D.C. getting hands-on experience in development work. This includes knowledge generation and dissemination, design of global and country policies and the building of institutions to achieve inclusive growth in developing countries. While benefitting from research and innovation in multiple sectors, Fellows will also work on economic policy, technical assistance, and lending for eliminating poverty and increasing shared prosperity. Special attention will be given to work with Fragile and Conflict-Affected States.

More on this here.

On the quality of higher education (and human capital development) in Africa

This post first appeared on the African Development Bank’s Integrating Africa Blog where I am a regular contributor. 

UPDATE: I got an email from readers working with the Regional Initiative in Science and Education (RISE), exactly the kind of collaboration that I am saying is much needed in Africa. Check them out here.

According to The Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2012-2013, the highest ranked university in Africa, the University of Cape Town, is 113th in the world. The ranking system employs 13 performance indicators that take into account universities’ core functions, including “research, knowledge transfer and international outlook.” Among the leading 400 world academic institutions, there are only four from Africa, all in South Africa. As a region, Africa only has 35 scientists and engineers per million inhabitants, compared with 168 in Brazil, 2,457 in Europe and 4,103 in the United States. The region is clearly behind as far as knowledge production and dissemination is concerned, producing only 1.1 percent of the world’s scientific knowledge, despite comprising more than 13 percent of the global population.

At barely over 8 percent, Africa’s gross enrollment in tertiary institutions of learning is the lowest of any region in the world (UNESCO, 2011). The average enrollment rate for developing countries is 23 percent, and that for advanced countries is 74 percent. Africa’s poor showing in the higher education sweepstakes is both a cause and effect of the region’s poor economic environment. The massive cuts in higher education funding in the wake of the structural adjustment programs of the 1980s and 1990s, even as enrollment more than tripled between 1991 and 2005, have had an adverse impact on quality. And in turn, the lack of high quality tertiary level education has starved the region of high skills needed for efficient allocation of factors of production thereby stunting improvement in productivity, high value addition and research and development. Africa devotes less than 1 percent of its GDP to research and development.

Data from 33 countries for which it is available show that tertiary education financing in the region has declined from a high of US $6,800 per student per year in 1980 to just about $981 in 2005. Over the same period the World Bank decreased its education lending from 17 percent in 1985-89 to just 7.5 percent currently (this is despite the fact that the World Bank nearly doubled its education lending between 2008 and 2009). The decline in public funding in the face of increasing demand for higher education has led to the proliferation of private universities of dubious standards and a bias towards perceived “soft” fields. In 2004 a meager 28 percent of students were enrolled in perceived “hard” disciplines in the sciences and engineering.

A 2008 study of 12 countries showed an increase in public universities from 113 to 188 between 1995 and 2008. Over the same period private universities ballooned from 14 to 107. This rapid increase in the number of universities in the region has not been matched by an increase in the number of trained teaching staff or facilities such as laboratories, libraries, and the like. Indeed, most of the new universities have tended to specialize in vocational subjects that require very little capital and human resource investment. To put it mildly, there is a great mismatch between the region’s development needs and the type of graduates it produces each year.

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An impression of the proposed Konza City in Kenya

The shortage of skills permeates nearly all skill levels, and could get worse as the region’s economy continues to grow over the next two decades. The case of Kenya is illustrative. The country has an ambitious plan to be the information and communication technology (ICT) hub of Eastern Africa (dubbed the “Silicon Savannah”) complete with a proposed $10 billion techno-city (Konza City) situated about 60 kilometres southeast of Nairobi. Already ICT multinationals, including IBM, Microsoft, Google and Intel, have their regional headquarters in Kenya. All this sounds good, except the lack of local skills. IBM’s research lab in Kenya has had to source for top talent among graduates in computer science, electrical engineering, mathematics, and data scientists from American universities. There is still a shortage of required skills among graduates of Kenyan universities. Quality assurance is also lacking, as recent news reports of “theses for hire” have demonstrated.

As the Kenyan case suggests, the lack of sufficient investment in high quality tertiary education has adversely impacted Africa’s ability to realize its economic potential. A 2005 study showed that a one-year increase in the higher education stock of the region could boost growth rate by about 0.63 percentage points. This adds up to an overall increase in income by about 12 percent over five years. For the region to take off economically there is need for greater investment in quality higher education that will train workers for the 21st century economy. But improving the quality of higher education in the region will be a very costly affair. On their own, the region’s countries lack both the resources (on account of their small economies) and demand (on account of their population sizes) to justify the types of investments required. This is where regional cooperation comes in.

Cross-border educational exchanges are not new in Africa, and go back to the pre-independence era. For generations non-Senegalese francophone students have studied in Senegal, seen as a cheap way of getting quality education at par with diplomas from France. Uganda, with East Africa’s top university, Makerere, hosts legions of Kenyan students, eager to avoid congestion and high costs back home. South Africa, with its many quality institutions is also a preferred destination for students from across the continent. These historical cross-border exchanges have led to the formation of regional associations of higher education – the francophone Conseil Africain et Malgache pour l’Enseignement Superieur (CAMES); Inter-University Council of East Africa (IUCEA); Southern African Regional Universities Association (SARUA); and inter-university cooperation under the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU). Continent-wide, the 208-member Association of African Universities (representing 45 countries) is the umbrella organization of the region’s institutions of higher learning.

These associations need to be strengthened and empowered as drivers of regional harmonization of higher education both to facilitate cross-border inter-university mobility of both teachers and students and guarantee quality assurance. As a 2007 World Bank report aptly noted, “regional quality assurance networks are particularly relevant to Africa because of human resource constraints.” On this score the European Higher Education Area provides a possible model. The just over 10 years old Bologna process is working towards ensuring inter-university mobility (in terms of courses, qualifications, and periods of study) as well as a uniform quality assurance standard. In the African context, a continent-wide area of higher education is infeasible because of language and logistical constraints. However, sub-regional areas of higher education, based on the existing associations, provide a possible avenue to invest in a few good institutions of higher learning that can have a demonstrative effect on national institutions as well set high standards of learning. The associations themselves can also serve as certification bodies to ensure a uniform quality assurance standard (see here).

The announcement in late July 2013 of the creation of a new US $154.2 million multinational science, innovation and technology Pan African University (PAU) in the next five years is therefore welcome. (The African Development Bank (AfDB) has pledged a $45 million grant towards the effort.) PAU will be structured around existing institutions of higher learning across Africa’s five sub-regions. Basic sciences, technology and innovation will be based in East Africa; earth and life sciences including health and agriculture in West Africa; governance, humanities and social sciences in Central Africa; water and energy sciences including climate change in North Africa; and space sciences in Southern Africa.

Thus far, discussions over regional integration of systems of higher education have tended to view tertiary institutions as tools for regional economic and political integration – be it in East Africa, Europe or East Asia. However, the creation of stronger regional areas of higher education – especially in a region like Africa – can also be an economically efficient way of facilitating greater investment in higher education to match the demands of a 21st century economy. It is encouraging that current trends signal a move in this direction. University systems in Africa’s sub-regions would be a good place to start.

I conclude with a caution. The rapid increase in the number of public and private universities in Africa over the last two decades has come at the expense of other post-secondary institutions of learning such as polytechnics (this shift has occurred to a lesser extent in francophone Africa than anglophone Africa). In many countries governments have simply converted polytechnics and other constituent colleges into fully-fledged universities. This trend is worrying, especially given the fact that the vast majority of high school leavers on the continent do not make it to university. The low quality of high school education in the region (as demonstrated by the recent mass student failures in Liberia and Tanzania) is yet another reason why these “bridge” tertiary institutions are needed, both to prepare students for university and to impart valuable skills for those that do not eventually make it to university.

The rush to invest in university education should not distract from the fact that vocational post-secondary institutions, such as polytechnics, are an important component of human capital development, even in advanced countries as is the case in Germany (with its impressive “dual system” of training codified in the Vocational Training Act of 1969). As African economies move from dependence on primary commodities to manufacturing and technology, there will be need for skilled workers at all occupational levels. Doing away with vocational post-secondary institutions will only serve to further inhibit the development of adequate and relevant human capital to match the increased demand for skilled workers.

giving a voice to the voiceless

The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof has a piece on the plight of women in rural Africa. The story is as heartwrenching as it is evocative. Nearly one in ten women die during childbirth in rural Africa. Getting pregnant is almost a death sentence for these women. Poor nutrition, poverty (which forces pregnant women to engage in hard labor that further endanger their lives) and regressive cultural practices – like genital mutilation – make childbearing a most dangerous activity.

A while back I wrote a piece on this same issue with figures from IRIN. I am glad and encouraged that Kristof is shining an infinitely bigger spotlight on this issue. The world needs to know more about the voiceless poor in rural Africa and the rest of the Global South who are condemned to live short and brutish lives dictated by their dire economic situations and formidable structural factors (poor governance, gender bias, dependency etc etc) that forever condemn them to live like it is still 20,000 BC.

As Kristof notes in his piece, it does not take much to make a difference. Four dollars can save a woman’s life. But such measures should be seen as band aid. The real cure for the healthcare mess that persists in rural Africa is education of women (and men). Statistics have proven again and again that educated women have fewer, healthier children. Education also serves to delay the onset of childbearing, therefore avoding the dangers associated with teenage motherhood.

The right to life is the most sacred human right. The poor women of the Global South deserve better than they are getting from both their governments and the international community at large.

more on the kcse: PB-Riruta 1st, Mang’u 4th nationally

Many thanks to the Nation. The newspaper reporters tabulated the mean scores of several schools and came up with a tentative list of the top schools in the country in last years KCSE exams. Top of the (unofficial) list  is Preciosu Blood-Riruta. In second place is Starehe Boys Centre. Alliance Boys is third. Mang’u High School, last year’s best performing school is in fourth place with a mean of 10.2350, a drop from the school’s leading average of 11.2634 (out of 12) last year. The other leading schools according to the Nation’s tally were Kenya High, Moi Girls Eldoret, Bahati Girls, Maseno School, Strathmore and Nairobi School respectively. Among the top ten schools, only one, Strathmore, is a day school. Four of them are girl schools and none is a mixed school.

As pointed out by Prof. Ongeri (edcuation minister), this year’s performance was less than ideal. The pass rate, those with C+ and above (hence technically qualified for university) was 24%. Only 0.27% scored straight As. 34 percent scored Ds and Es.Yes, 34%!!!

The minister for education blamed the poor performance on last year’s post-election violence and the strikes that affected several schools during the mock exams season.

I say this is hiding from the truth. The fact of the matter is education in Kenya continues to be grossly under-funded. I know this for a fact because even in my high school – a well regarded National School – the PTA had to step in through fundraisers to pay for improvements of the facilities and extra motivation allowances for teachers. You can only imagine what other schools without such enterprising PTAs have to contend with.

My question to the minister is: who should we hold accountable when a whole 76% of high school students cannot score C+s in the KCSE ??????

And here is a piece by Philip Ochieng’ on the Kenyan education system….

KCSE results reveal a drop in performance

The (Kenyan) minister of education, Prof. Sam Ongeri, released the 2008 KCSE results today. This year’s results announcement was different in that it did not include the ranking of schools. Only students were ranked, with Mark Maugo and Velma Mukhongo emerging as the top boy and girl respectively. The top girl was fourth overall.The rankings also included lists of best students per subject.

The minister also noted a drop in performance, possibly related to the numerous strikes that rocked several schools mid last year. There were 460 fewer irregularities this year than there were last year.

While I appreciate the minister’s attempts to remove unhealthy competition among high schools, I still think that the ranking gave schools an incentive to make sure that ALL their students succeed. Now that only students are being ranked, we may end up with a case whereby schools only concentrate on their best students who will make it to the top ten lists of subjects nationally and forget about those at the bottom of the class. I think the media should do its job and find out which schools did better, to give parents a sense of where they ought to send their kids and to expose poor performers.

Competition breeds excellence, bwana Minister. And in any case you can’t erase the disparities between the ‘big schools’ as we know them and the smaller ones. The former still remain better funded and attract the best teachers. What the government should have done is not eliminate the rankings, but instead strive at improving all schools in the long run so that they can all compete fairly. Eliminating the ranking will not solve the problem, it is a shameful attempt to hide from the problem of inequality among Kenyan schools.