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Kenya’s growth trajectory is tied to education, electricity and savings

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Kenya has the potential to double its per capita growth in the next decade and reduce poverty levels by placing a special focus on education, electricity and its fertility rate, according to “The Time Travelling Economist”, a new book that explores the key issues that countries in Africa and South Asia need to address in order to escape poverty.

Unveiled at its pan-Africa launch in Nairobi by award-winning economist and author Charlie Robertson, the book records that the adult literacy rate, average electricity consumption per person and the total fertility rate are major in determining a country’s development.

“For a country to take off, the population must be literate, they must have electricity before they can power industries and have savings to pay for the electricity, the roads, the ports. And the savings is linked to the fertility rate. When you cut the fertility rate, growth takes place fast,” Robertson said.

He continued: “The key point of this book is that the solutions to the challenges in Africa or Asia today can be homegrown. They don’t require a Chinese-led commodity price boom; they don’t need the UK or French parliamentarians to pass anti-corruption legislation. Every county in Africa and Asia could be adopting the ‘beyond aid’ mantra within a generation.”

Recent data from the World Bank shows that current Kenya’s GDP per capita is USD 2,006 as of December 2021, which is about 75-85% lower than that of Mauritius and Seychelles. The two countries have higher literacy levels – up to 98% – compared to Kenya’s 88%.

The author guides that Kenya’s education focus should be on adult literacy, especially in rural Kenya, because “adult literacy levels of below 40% will not help the country to develop fast.”

On electricity, the book reveals that countries with more affordable and reliable electricity have an upper hand in growing faster than those with more expensive electricity.

The book launch was hosted by Tatu City, the 5,000-acre Special Economic Zone on Nairobi’s doorstep. Speaking at the event, Tatu City’s Executive Vice President, Solomon Mahinda, said, “Local and international industrial groups are poised to make Kenya the manufacturing and logistics hub for Africa, but the price of electricity in Kenya, compared to other investment destinations, is too high for the country to be competitive. This increases costs across the board, impacting the cost of living and employment opportunities because there is lower growth. Cost of electricity is a big limiting factor, and we hope it can be a discussion to be heard and solved in the early days of the new administration.”

The book also points out that savings, which are directly tied to the country’s fertility rate, are poised to increase GDP growth, which currently stands at KES 94 billion against a fertility rate of 3.4 births per woman. As Kenya’s fertility rate decreases below three births per woman, savings and GDP growth will increase.