By Donald B Kipkorir
On Thursday, November 28, President Uhuru Kenyatta launched the new standard gauge railway Mombasa-Malaba-Kampala-Kigali line with branches to Kisumu and Juba. This principal line is about 2,935Km and costing about US$1.35 billion.
It is now a cliché that true development cannot come without infrastructural development in roads, railways and power. And that is why I am saying, let us borrow from Thailand, after all, imitation is the best form of flattery. Kenya and Thailand are nearly equal in land size. Fifty years ago, our economies were at par and based on primitive agriculture. Fifty years later, Kenya is still having the same economy. But Thailand moved on.
We need to soul-search ourselves and ask where the rains began beating us. Or rather ask ourselves what Thailand did right that we did wrong. Our economy is now measly US$40 billion, whilst Thai’s is US$370 billion.
How could we have been on same starting blocks and left behind, nearly ten times away? And Thais don’t take steroids. Thailand is resource-poor like Kenya, but they adopted periodic attainable short-term economic development goals. Thailand moved gradually from being dependent on raw agricultural produce to an export-driven industry and now to sophisticated capital and knowledge-based economy. Thai economy is highly developed and supported by advanced infrastructure and financial sector and highly literate population. This September, Thailand launched new infrastructure projects valued at over US$74 billion, beyond our dream. Our Vision 2030 is our Northern Star, but we must cover the short distances. Till the cows come back home, my position is that our 11,000 km which the British bequeathed us will not take us anywhere. Unless we increase our tarmac road network to over 100,000 km, 2030 will find us right where we are. The new railway line we have launched will cover the same distance within Kenya that the British built in 1901. It has to be expanded to new areas.
Thailand has leveraged on its tropical climate to attract over 20 million tourists per year. We hardly break the one million mark. Thailand offers its tropical climate, beaches, excellent food, massage parlours and polite culture to attract them. We have similar climate, pristine beaches and good people. In addition, we have wild animals in abundance. For massage, we can send students in their thousands to Thailand and Singapore to learn to be masseurs. On food, we can only be a culinary destination if our chefs become more creative. We make US$1 billion from less than a million mostly budget tourists. Imagine how much we can make from 5 million well-heeled tourists coming to enjoy our weather, animals, beaches, githeri, mursik and omena, and then relax to soothing massage.
Majority of Kenyans live in villages in forever shrinking farms. The Constitution allows land management. A stop should be put on further sub-division of agricultural land. With time, land consolidation must be made compulsory and people forced to live in communal towns.
Land must be left free for mechanised farming. Thai’s agriculture has always been growing faster than its population and it now feeds the world with its rice. Poor Kenya, we import maize from miserable Malawi. How? Why? Three things will turn around Kenya; hundred-fold infrastructural development in roads, railway, airports and power, mechanised farming, and re-jigged tourism. Other sectors like banking and insurance will automatically follow suit. When we succeed this way, then like Thailand, we will be able to afford sustained political but non-violent chaos, for politics and the economy will part ways.
Thailand is served by over 180,000 Km of tarmac road with 450 Km of superhighways. The country is divided into 77 provinces. It has a bicameral Parliament with the Senate having 150 MPs and the House of Representatives 500 MPs. Yet, we are proud of our 11,000 Km of pot-holed tarmac, and mere 50 Km waterlogged Thika super-highway. We complain of mere 47 counties, 50 Senators and 349 MPs in the National Assembly. If we are looking for oriental friends, let’s embrace the Thais.
The writer is an advocate of the High Court of Kenya