Are we unlucky to be born here in Kenya?
People who, not long ago, would joke ‘navumilia kuwa Mkenya (it’s tough being Kenyan)’ and agree with those who see Kenya as a failed state sprang to their country’s defence. Flush with the modest successes of the Kibaki era — Mpesa, mobile penetration, Thika Superhighway, a trillion-shilling budget and so on — they asked: surely there must be a problem with the way the world sees us?
Kenya and its capital Nairobi have over the years made headlines for all sorts of reasons. When it comes to the release of various global perception surveys, the citizenry often grins in embarrassment as the country is perennially ranked lowly on virtually every sampled front. In recent days though, Kenyans have been eager to debate back-to-back global reports depicted the country in bad light.
Second worst country
At the end of 2012, the esteemed Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) ranked Kenya as the second worst country under the sun for a child to be born in 2013. In the survey, titled Where To Be Born, Kenya was ranked 79th, with only Nigeria faring worse. Ironically, the country was seen as worse than even Syria, which has for the past two years been engulfed in an uprising that has to date claimed over 60,000 casualties. Countries such as Somalia, Chad, Niger, Gambia and South Sudan were not part of the survey.
Earlier in July last year, EIU ranked Nairobi, East Africa’s undisputed economic hub, as the ninth worst city to live in globally. Nairobi emerged 62nd out of 70 key cities, only, marginally beating cities such as Karachi, Dakar, Abidjan, Dhaka, Lagos and Harare. The ‘City in the Sun’, despite the many improvements it has had in recent years, was down a position from the previous year’s ranking.
A few months earlier, the annual Global Peace Index ranked Kenya in position 120 out of 158 countries. Inexplicably, Kenya fared worse than in 2007 and 2008, when it was rocked by the worst ethnic bloodshed its history. It was also ranked lower than Egypt, which has known no peace in the wake of a protracted civilian revolution that began in January 2011.
As has been the case over the years, Kenya also fared badly in corruption ratings. The country was listed as the 35th most corrupt country in the world in the 2012 Transparency International (TI) Corruption Perceptions Index.
The flurry of off-putting findings raises concerns: First, do the surveys reflect the reality on the ground? Is Kenya a mere victim of the methodology applied? Again, with the survey results presumably influenced by negative feedback from respondents on various aspects of life, among them life satisfaction, could Kenya’s low ranking be testimony that her citizens are champion pessimists who see a problem where none exists?
Ndirangu wa Maina, the Group Managing Director at Consumer Insight, a market research agency operating across Africa, says survey findings are generally shaped by the research methodology applied. He notes that while he is yet to acquaint himself with the methodology used in the EIU surveys, many other studies that have put Kenya in bad light could merely be reflecting the genuine feelings and experiences of the citizenry.
“The findings may be worrying but we have done fieldwork for the TI Corruption Perception Index and I can confirm that they have a very solid structure. The respondents are asked about incidents where they have given bribes or someone has demanded for a bribe. They thus report more of behaviour as opposed to perceptions,” explains Ndirangu.
He dismisses the notion that Kenya’s low perennial ranking in various reports is influenced by the citizenry’s tendency to moan about their problems more compared to their colleagues in other countries.
“From a perception point of view, Kenyans are not pessimistic at all. Indeed, they are very optimistic. We recently did a study called Maisha across 18 countries in Africa and the results prove this,” he says.
“Out of a sample of 1,894 Kenyan respondents, 83 per cent said they are hopeful the economy will improve while 72 per cent said they do not want to leave Kenya. Despite 85 per cent admitting they are worried about insecurity, the general picture is that Kenyans are very optimistic about the future.”
Tiberius Baraza, a policy analyst at the Institute of Policy Analysis and Research (IPAR) says the EIU surveys, which receive global coverage, are damaging to Kenya as they give the impression that the country is the second worst among the 196 countries in the world.
Methodology not meticulous
He blames this on the methodology used, which he says leaves Kenya on the losing end. “The methodology was not meticulous because countries such as Somali, Sudan, DRC Congo, Eritrea, Chad, Gambia, Niger Mali and other presumably worse off States were not part of the sample.
“It is unfair, and a distortion of facts to compare Kenya with the most developed states in the world,” he argues. “These are countries that are at very different levels of economic development and results would thus not reflect the reality.”
The policy analyst urges the institutions behind the surveys to be clear with the methodology and criteria used so that the public can digest the findings on this basis. He says the survey should sample all countries, and if not so, compare the few sampled ones based on their respective regions. “When you compare Kenya with many other countries in Africa, it is nowhere near the worst,” he states. The EIU Where To Be Born Index included many countries more developed than Kenya, with Switzerland, Australia, Norway, Sweden and Denmark respectively emerging as the best birthplaces this year. Baraza says that some surveys simply do not reflect the views of the citizenry.
“The 2012 Global Peace Index was particularly faulty. Egypt has been in turmoil yet the index ranks Kenya as worse,” he says. “We can give them the benefit of doubt if they used data from 2008 when we had violence, but not from 2012.”
Tom Mboya Ocholla, a political scientist and international studies specialist, says the EIU survey could be a reflection of the truth based on the nature of the study.
“The same parameters have been used to evaluate all the countries and compared to the rest, Kenya perhaps did not do so well. If you look at aspects such as life expectancy and even job security, there is relevance to what is happening in Kenya.
The same applies when you look at reforms put in place, the streamlining of public resource utilization and corruption,” he explains. Ocholla nonetheless takes issue with the fact that Kenya was rated against matured democracies such as Switzerland.
“It should be compared with countries at its level in the developing world. There is no point comparing or contrasting Kenya with Norway and Denmark,” he states. But in the same vein, the University of Nairobi lecturer says it would not have made any sense to compare Kenya with Somalia.
“Somalia has not had a functioning Government for a while and may thus not make much sense involving it here,” he notes. Like Ndirangu, the lecturer dismisses the implication that a pessimistic attitude among Kenyan respondents could have led to the low ratings, instead noting that Kenyans more honest than their colleagues in other nations.
Victim of her efforts
“Kenyans are just giving opinion out of experience; it is influenced by the problems people encounter everyday, ranging from politics to prices and even traffic jams. This is a pointer to the Government that there are serious problems facing the citizenry and which must be resolved,” he advises.
Mars Group CEO Mwalimu Mati on his part says Kenya has become a victim of her efforts to develop. He notes that with no accurate data on Somalia and many other African countries that have not even conducted censuses for decades, Kenya and Nigeria are always sampled during surveys since they have updated information available for comparison with other nations. Mati equally notes that the EIU findings on Kenya might not be as flawed as widely portrayed.
“If you look at factors such as life expectancy, the economic situation, housing conditions and even the probability of getting a job, the results are not the reality for every Kenyan but they are for most Kenyans,” Mati argues. “This is the reality we have to live with.”