Of the year 2015, Kenya and the MDGs: Can we hack this?
Kenya can achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) but sadly not by 2015. I know I sound like a prophet of doom but Kenya as well as most African countries have a long way to go before this achievement is realized. In essence, the target of 100 percent completion in primary school can be achieved with some additional resources targeted to the primary sector. However, a substantial increase of resources is needed at secondary and tertiary level of education to reach other goals set by the Kenyan government. Even if higher investment in all MDG sectors is needed the water sector seems to be requiring a substantial increase compared to what have been invested in the past. In 2012, Kenya is emerging from one of the worst financial crises, facing the harsh consequences of multiple natural disasters such as famine and floods, and grappling with how to secure its borders from the Al-Shabaab menace.
MDGs serve as a foundation for countries to the anchor their development strategies on. However, there appears to be a gap on what was expected to be achieved by 2015 and what has been achieved so far. Subsequently, the masses of Kenyan people remain poor despite the MDGs being integrated into Kenya’s Vision 2030.
My first encounter with the word MDGs was back in 2004 while in High school, for some reason I thought it was a government commission of inquiry or even a report on politics. Flash forward to 2009 in campus and during my Political Science class the lecturer would mention MDGs here and there prompting me to not only know them but also understand what it/they were.
The eight Millennium Development Goals were signed by 189 countries during the United Nations Millennium summit in 2000, 12 years ago. These goals are meant to facilitate developments among developing countries with the assistance and support of the developed nations. These eight goals have specific targets, defined deadline set to improve lives of people in the developing countries where unfortunately, the poorest people live in. The eight Goals are inter-linked. Success or failure on any one Goal will affect efforts to achieve all the others. MDGs provide a framework for the international community to work together towards a common end: of collective human development.
With that brief overview of the MDGs, in this essay I will discuss each of the eight goals, how far Kenya has been able to achieve the goals. I will conclude with the overall obstacles encountered, suggestions of averting similar impediments and the way forward. As I was writing this essay, I recalled the remarks by the Minister of State for Planning, National Development and Vision 2030, Wycliffe Oparanya:
“Post election violence in 2008, successive droughts, global increases in food and energy costs especially after 2010, are likely to set the MGDs off the track”.
Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger.
‘Unless the MDGs are first implemented, then Vision 2030 will be unachievable.’
Jomo Kenyatta envisioned a state where ignorance, disease and poverty would be history. He heralded a path that his successors picked from but the progress has not been smooth. There is a high percentage of Kenyans who live under a dollar a day. The meagre allowance hardly covers daily expenses hence drown in debts and loans. The ongoing inflation is characterized by high costs of products, on the other hand, there are individuals, let me call “elites” whose collective salary is capable of sustaining over a hundred Kenyans under the poverty level for months on end. This sounds like hyperbole but truth is these extremes-poorest and richest- greatly affects Kenya’s achievements of the MDGs.
Vision 2030, a blue print of Kenya’s development, is set on the pillars of the eight Goals. This vision aims at making Kenya a middle income country providing high quality of life for its citizens by the year 2030. It also seeks to make Kenya an industrialized nation through the economic, social and political spheres. Unless MDGs are first implemented, then Vision 2030 will be unachievable. Similarly to a hare challenging the lion to a duel and yet the hyena is on its case. Unless the hare does away with the hyena then the fight with the lion will only be a hazy smoky dream, just that: a dream!
On hunger, the high food prices that we are experiencing give a distressing reminder of the vulnerability of large parts of sub-Saharan Africa to hunger. This puts many Kenyan children susceptible to poor growth, poor development and death as witnessed mid last year in Dadaab. Amusingly, even before these sky rocketing prices, children were either suffering from hunger or under nutrition related complications. The first MDG sets to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger-reflecting that under nutrition is a symptom and a cause of poverty.
Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education.
‘This cushions children from poor socio-economic backgrounds, especially girls from failing to participate in primary education or dropping out of school due to lack of fees and other school levies.’
Free primary education (FPE) was introduced by H.E. President Mwai Kibaki when he came into power in 2002. It has seen the enrolment rate increase as the years go by from 93% in 2002 to 107.7% in 2007. The aim of FPE programme is to provide more school opportunities, especially for the poor communities this is because; payment of school fees tends to prevent a large proportion of children from attending school. Fees and levies for tuition in primary education under FPE were abolished. The government and development partners meet the cost of basic teaching and learning materials and wages for critical non-teaching staff and co-curricular activities.
However, free primary education has considerable problems. It has exacerbated the problem of teaching and learning facilities as classrooms are congested. The existing facilities make a mockery of the free education programme. Teachers complain of increased pupil teacher ratios. Many primary schools are understaffed. This does not augur well for the quality of education being delivered. Plus the current cost of FPE is way beyond the normal education budget allocation.
Despite the shortcomings, in 2007, Mwai Kibaki, declared that his government would also offer free secondary education come 2008. By doing so, Kenya was moved away from the elementary level provided for by the MDGs to an even more comprehensive and technical level- Free Secondary Education. This was received with skeptic thoughts being dismissed as a campaign strategy to woo votes. However, four years later a large number of students being churned out from the primary school is getting admitted into the high school level.
Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women
‘There is a difference between having a right to property and being able to exercise that right effectively.’
There have been notable changes in institutional arrangements which have been strengthened in the gender sector to promote women’s participation in development through the Ministry of Gender and Children Affairs. In a bid to safeguard women’s rights and uphold gender equality, Kenya has ensured that there is an almost equal representation as well as opportunities for both sexes in all sectors. Almost because the constitution provides that no gender should hold more than two thirds in number of positions/ allocation in a particular department. Kenyan women have faced social, political and cultural obstacles to enjoying their rights. There are cultural norms and practices that show a bias against women owning land or property. In order to achieve gender equality it is essential to revise and reinforce legal systems to protect women’s rights, adopt and implement rights based education and increase budget allocations on gender affairs.
Goal 4: Reduce child mortality.
‘The World Health Organization says that poverty-related malnutrition is the key factor in over half of all childhood deaths.’
Child mortality refers to the death of infants and children under the age of five. It is caused mainly by poor nutrition, diseases, polluted and contaminated drinking water. Children especially in the pastoralist communities and arid areas suffer from low birth weight due to their mothers’ poor nutrition, and lack access to adequate nutrition themselves.
I will tackle the issue on under/malnutrition in relation to child mortality. Without proper nutrition, children suffer more severe childhood illnesses, stunted growth, developmental delays even death. Malnutrition is preventable through low-cost interventions early in life. Child malnutrition worsens during droughts, economic crises, conflict, displacement and HIV.
The nutrition of the Kenyan children and particularly of those orphaned and infected with the HIV virus desperately needs improving. Failure to do so violates their human rights and in turn undermines development today and in the next generation. In 2009, there were approximately 2.4 million Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) living in Kenya and approximately 600,000 of those in extremely poor households. The number of OVC is on the rise because of HIV/AIDS.
The government has tried by improving the facilities in public health centers and also the accessibility to drugs. The coverage of immunization has also increased to over 80%. About 70% of children under the age of five years are receiving bed nets to protect them against mosquitoes that spread malaria.
Goal 5: Improve maternal health.
‘Improving the availability of trained midwives and emergency obstetric care is not enough to reduce maternal mortality if mothers cannot afford the services.’
Maternal health refers to the health of women during pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum period. While motherhood is often a positive and fulfilling experience, for too many women it is associated with suffering, ill-health and even death. The major direct causes of maternal morbidity and mortality include hemorrhage, infection, high blood pressure, unsafe abortion, and obstructed labour.
Current estimates of maternal mortality ratios in Kenya are as high as 560 deaths per 100,000 live births. This is worsened by the pervasive poverty and lack of quality health services in slum areas. With a functioning health care system, most maternal deaths are avoidable if complications are identified early. Like many other health indicators, the burden of maternal mortality is heaviest among the poor.
Tim Ensor, a Health Economist, noted that providing adequate access to maternal health care is a test of the entire health system. In addition, lowering prices for essential health commodities such as effective anti-malarial drugs needs to be accompanied by community strategies to improve the knowledge of those purchasing the drugs.
Despite the increase in number of midwives, maternal mortality remains high in Kenya. In addition, there is a strong relationship between wealth and use and access of health care services. Amongst the poorest household, home births are common or services are sought from the ill equipped health centers. Village midwives rely on private income thus may be unwilling to deliver women who cannot pay. This further subjects the expectant woman into a myriad of avoidable consequences such as loss of the baby or even her life.
Safe motherhood although attainable, is a challenge for Kenya. Women die from pregnancy-complications because they do not have access to emergency care services obtainable at the health facility level due to lack of supplies in facilities or the providers lack the necessary skills. Therefore there ought to be intervention to reduce maternal deaths or the likelihood that a complication will result in death.
I think Kenya should try contracting out public services, such as health care, as a way of supplementing and complementing Governments own delivery of services. This will be thriving particularly in hard to reach populations thus served effectively by private groups. Contracting out allows government to use public resources for services provided by non-government organizations who have the ability to deliver an agreed set of health care services. Advantages? Yes. Several actually, one there will be increased efficiency due to competition of the various contracted entities as well as measurable performances. NGOs are flexible than governments because they respond faster to changing circumstances and have a more decentralized decision making system. In conclusion, contracting out has resulted in better provider performance, lower costs, shorter waiting times and higher patient satisfaction.
While contracting can work it is not a panacea. The contract must be precise and specific with expected results; there should be clear criteria to assess performance, a defined process to monitor progress as well as modification of a contract in response to problems. Lastly, there should be appropriate monitoring and evaluation of the contract.
Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.
‘Every 45 seconds, a child dies of malaria despite malaria being preventable and treatable.’
Currently, millions of Kenya’s do not have access to basic, good quality health services. The Alma Ata Declaration of 1978 defined primary health care as a basic health care which is universally accessible and affordable to all individuals. It was argued as being too idealistic rather than realistic and thus difficult to achieve. Sadly, Kenya unlike other developed countries might have stalled at this point. This is because, in a country where the declaration hoped to control infectious diseases, Kenyan’s succumb to diseases such as cholera, typhoid, malaria and many other preventable diseases. Add HIV/AIDS into the mix and it is a conundrum. 64% of Kenya’s 40 million populations are youths and new HIV infections are amongst the 64%. The prevalence data suggests that the females are most hit with a prevalence of 6.7% compared to 3.5% among males. The estimates further show that prevalence is higher in the urban areas (8.3%) than in the rural areas (4.0%). This is alarming because the youths being the future population/leaders may not be healthy enough to support and be part of Kenya’s development as well as achieving the MDGs and consequently the Vision 2030, provided that the health care system is not given a new lease of life.
The World Health Organization recognized the importance of a functioning health system. Kenya should take the challenge and better its health system at least before 2015 in preparation for 2030. One is most likely to walk into a church by merely walking out of your house, yet you are more likely to die from an illness before you reach the nearest hospital. What am I saying with this? Health centres and equipped hospitals should be accessible and available. The 2002 Commission on Macroeconomics and Health advocated the use of a ‘close-to-client’ system, including outreach services, health centres and local hospitals to be accessible to poor people.
Goal 7: Ensure environmental sustainability.
‘Climate change has been another factor complicating the situation in Kenya and thus stakeholders should come together to understand the reasons behind such changes and what to do.’
Africa’s environment is closely linked with its climate. It is one of the most vulnerable regions to climate change- subject to frequent droughts, floods and famine. The livelihoods of most Africans are largely dependent on utilisation of land-based resources. As a result of this dependency and widespread poverty, the Kenyan communities are vulnerable to the effects and impacts of climate change. In contrast the government has no established social security systems to mitigate citizens against these climate-induced risks. Specific impacts include desertification, sea level rise, reduced freshwater availability, cyclones, coastal erosion, deforestation, loss of forests, woodland degradation, coral bleaching, spread of malaria and other diseases and impacts on food security.
If Kenya is to sustain its environment, there is need for individual and collective effort. The late Nobel Laureate Wangari Mathaai was a warrior for the environment even in her death. Government should have a plan for realistic climate conservation strategies and ultimate mitigation of the climate degradation factors.
Goal 8: Develop a global partnership for development.
“If we form strong global partnerships, if we support what works, if we back people of vision and action-we can meet the MDGs”
This goal recognizes that eradicating poverty worldwide can be achieved only through a global partnership for development. This global deal makes clear that it is the primary responsibility of poor countries to ensure greater accountability to citizens and efficient use of resources. For poor countries to achieve the first seven goals, it is absolutely critical that wealthier countries deliver on their end of the bargain–more and more effective aid, more sustainable debt relief and fairer trade rules–well in advance of 2015.
What is curtailing Kenya’s efforts in achieving the MDGs?
Clearly, Kenya is trying to achieve the MDGs before they ‘expire’. However, there are factors that slow down her efforts. They include corruption, poor coordination of planning and implementation of the strategies, lack of commitment by top management and staff compounded by inadequate resources both in terms of financial and human capacity. Other factors include Political interference and instability as evidenced in the post election violence of 2007/08 contributed to stalling and stagnation of the progress of MDGs attainment and lack of resources both in terms of financial and human capacity as well as lack of monitoring and evaluating culture. Inadequate infrastructure in the newly created districts is another major hindrance. Drought, a climate problem, is also making it hard for Kenya to achieve any of the 8 goals. This is because with every drought or calamity, Kenya is pushed to the start button with the hope to salvage what was earlier gained. Marcus Prior, spokesman for the United Nations World Food Programme’s in Kenya, says:
“What we are seeing in Northern Kenya, and in other parts of the Horn of Africa, is that drought years are coming more and more frequently, often successively, making life increasingly difficult in a region where there is little development.”
How do we overcome the Challenges then?
When I saw this part of the essay question I asked myself: How can I, Eunice Kilonzo, in my capacity as a young Kenyan student be part of the solution? What can I do? It begins with me, the change I want to see in the world and until I have, I cannot point accusatory fingers to the government. As a youth I have taken the responsibility of one, being on the forefront in being part of organizations and alliances aimed at alleviating hunger amongst my fellow citizens through food donations and long term food security projects. I also sensitize people on their rights, on child and maternal mortality, diseases as well as education through my writings, speeches and discussions. I hope to be involved with more youths who do the same not only in Kenya but globally to be able to learn and forge a way towards 2015 and beyond. I also think on a higher level than myself, Kenya need to have credible macroeconomic policies and effective social safety nets to protect and cushion vulnerable populations. I concur with Steven Radelet, in his book: How 17 Countries Are Leading the Way demonstrates that experiences of sub-Saharan African countries have been diverse and that many countries in the region have experienced steady economic growth, improved governance, and decreased poverty since the mid-1990s. He credits this to more democratic and accountable governments, more sensible economic policies, the end of the debt crisis and major changes in relationships with the international community, new technologies that are creating new opportunities for business and political accountability, and finally a new generation of policymakers, activists, and business leaders.
As I stated in the beginning, Kenya will achieve the MDGs but not necessarily by 2015. For instance, since 2000, many gains have been made: the number of people living in extreme poverty in the developing world such as Kenya has shrunk from half of the population to a quarter; Enrolment in primary education has increased to 107% and the deaths of children under five is declining. The most important question to bear in mind is this: how have people’s real lives been affected by our efforts to achieve the Goals?
We are three-quarter of the way to achieving the Millennium Development Goals - in terms of time, not by way of meeting the target. As noted, women’s empowerment and gender equality are drivers for reducing poverty, building food security, reducing maternal mortality, safeguarding the environment, and enhancing the effectiveness of aid. In conclusion, I think we should also think of the options after 2015, that is, after the current deadline for the fulfilment of the MDGs. What is your take?