AN INTERVIEW WITH JACKSON KINYANJUI
One of the areas in which the lack of sound policy is particularly felt is in the area of transport. The absence of a long-term vision for the welfare of Kenyans and which takes the long-term preservation of the Kenyan environment into account has serious repercussions on the quality of life of present-day Kenyans, not to speak of the disastrous consequences for the next generation.
Transportation is one of the key economic sectors that has a bearing on the development of the whole economy. Transport is a service sector to all other sectors and hence affects their economic performance. In view of this important role played by the transport sector, it is important that a comprehensive policy be formulated for the sector. Such a policy would take into account the welfare of all Kenyans and in particular environmental issues as failure to do so would have long term deleterious effect on Kenyans. WAJIBU spoke with Mr. Jackson Kinyanjui about the need for a comprehensive transport policy. Mr. Kinyanjui, an Economist by training, worked in the Ministry of Transport and Communication from 1988 to 1992, when he was seconded to work with UNCTAD on a transport sector project known as the Advance Cargo Information System (ACIS). He stayed with UNCTAD from 1992 to 1995, after which he joined COMESA in the same capacity. The interview was conducted by G. Wakuraya Wanjohi, the journal's editor.
WAJIBU: Mr. Kinyanjui, what is your vision for Kenya for the next generation?
KINYANJUI: Kenya has great potential of becoming an economic power in Africa if its enormous resources are fully exploited. This can only be achieved if the necessary economic and social reforms are undertaken by the government and supported by the international donors. This will entail creating an enabling environment for private sector investment, create confidence and eliminate corruption. This includes improvement and development of infrastructure (roads, ports, railways, telecommunications) as well as improving security. This would attract direct foreign investment. We also need to diversify our economic activities and strengthen the marketing of our agricultural products such as coffee, tea, milk and horticulture. We should also encourage informal sector, through credit facilities, as this will create employment to our people. With regard to tourism, we should market our country as a tourist destination and enhance our security in our national parks.
What about improvement in the quality of life for the majority of Kenyans?
Quality of life really depends on one's disposable income. Can one afford the basic necessities of life, like decent shelter, medication, school fees for his/her children, food etc.? One can manage this if there is a steady income. To improve the quality of life of the majority of Kenyans, you must therefore address the issue of employment (either wage employment or self-employment). This can be achieved if the economy of the country is doing well and more jobs are being created. More industries should be created and credit facilities for income generating activities advanced to the people. Land problems also need to be urgently addressed, so that more people can be employed in the agricultural sector. Education is becoming more and more expensive, which means higher drop-out rates or no education at all. Restructuring of the education system needs to be undertaken to make it relevant to our problems. There is also a need to reform the civil service in order to maintain a number that is productive and motivated. Higher pay in the sector is a must. This will eliminate corruption and provide a chance of better service to the public. Recruitment of civil servants should strictly be on merit.
Can you say something about the transport policy in Kenya?
At present Kenya has no comprehensive transport policy. What we have are disjointed policy statements contained in public documents like the National Development Plan and other national sessional economic papers. There is therefore a need to come up with a comprehensive transport policy, which will give direction to the development of the sector and also attract donor funds. However, compared to other countries, Kenya has a well developed transport and communication sector.
What we seem unable to do as a country is to maintain the already developed infrastructure, which results in its deterioration with consequent high transport costs. High transport costs in turn increases the costs of goods and services. Our national road network at the moment need to be improved and in some cases to be re-done. But this will depend on available resources.
With regard to Kenya Ports Authority, the Port of Mombasa, is a natural gateway to Kenya , East Africa and the Great Lakes region. This means that the national and regional economies of these countries depend on what happens at the port. In recognition of this very important role, KPA has undertaken certain measures to ensure improved services to the customers. KPA has constructed an Inland Container Depot in Nairobi, Kisumu and Eldoret, with a view to taking port services closer to the clients. This is meant to insure that there is no congestion at the port. But this assumes that the off- take by Kenya Railways and by trucks is good. However, KPA has at times been faced with equipment breakdown and lack of spares, affecting handling of cargo. Clearing of cargo at the port involves a number of parties who have to be there at the same time. Co-ordination of all these parties is sometimes a problem, causing a lot of delay. Documentation is also a major source of delay. The only way for KPA to live up to expectations is to privatise the container terminal, where the majority of cargo is handled.
As far as Kenya Railways is concerned, rail transport is the cheapest means of hauling bulky goods over long distances. This means that in transporting cargo from Mombasa to the hinterland, Kenya Railways has a comparative advantage over trucking. As is the case for the Port of Mombasa, Kenya Railways also serves several land-locked countries for their exports and imports. However, Kenya Railways (KR) has been faced with a serious financial problems. This is mainly due to falling traffic, rising costs and an increasing burden of loan and debt service charges. Unavailability of wagons and locomotives has also contributed to poor performance. However, Kenya Railways has undertaken structural reforms, with a view to improve operational performance and hence increase revenue. It has addressed over-establishment of staff, resulting in retrenchment. Kenya Railways has also installed the Advance Information System's Rail Tracker, which is a high tech information system of tracking cargo and equipment. KR, as a specialised mode of transport can still play an important role in the economic revival of our economy. But just like KPA, KR too needs to consider privatising some of its operations, like the workshops or even certain lines, which perhaps can be better utilised by the private sector. It also needs to aggressively market its services to the public to win more business.
In a recent article in the local press (Daily Nation, April 16, p. 22 ff.) Mr. Philip Wambugu makes the following statement: "Transport activities constitute some of the most environmentally damaging acts of mankind. It is imperative that our planners pay particular attention to this aspect of transportation." He then poses some probing questions about the cost of this damage, who pays for this cost, and whether our motorists are properly sensitised about the extent of this damage. Please comment.
Planning in general now is better approached if you involve experts from all disciplines, in order to address all possible effects of the construction of a project. The effects of transport may be social (particularly impacting health) or economical. In the case of Nairobi, most of the roads were designed during the colonial time when vehicles were very few. However, since independence and especially after the economy was liberalised, we have seen an influx of imported vehicles in the country and particularly in the major towns. What has resulted is heavy congestion on the roads, pollution from smoking vehicles, an increase in accidents as well as high fuel consumption. All this means that we spend more foreign exchange to import fuel and spares to maintain the vehicles. Serious environmental effects are caused by leaded fuel which has adverse effects on people's health. Noise pollution greatly affects our young children whose organs are still in a formative stage.
At present it appears that, due to deteriorating conditions in public transport, more and more people are preferring to buy cars, even those who can hardly afford it. Yet, in the long run, this will only compound Kenya's transport as well as its environmental problems. What can be done to break this vicious cycle?
The development which we have experienced in all sectors of the economy since independence has had both positive and negative effects. On the positive side there has been progress in agriculture and industry as well as in education, occasioning a higher standard of living. Some of the negative aspects have been a rise in crime and in environmental degradation, congestion of settlements, shortage of housing due to migration of people from rural to urban areas in search of jobs and a better life, an increase in traffic jams and accidents and the occurrence of previously unknown diseases. The social and economic costs of these problems if they were to be quantified are enormous.
Turning now to transport specific effects, you will find that on account of higher income people tend to buy private cars for their daily transport needs. This is a result of unreliable public transport which causes overloading and a high rate of accident. Lack of planning has resulted in most public amenities (such as shopping centers, hospitals, schools, cinemas and other recreational facilities) being concentrated in one area forcing motorists to crisscross the city, hence causing congestion and delays. Liberalisation of the economy has also made imported vehicles cheaper than locally manufactured ones. These are the various reasons why private cars have multiplied.
In the short run, we need to urgently reorganise our public transport services so that they can serve Kenyans better. For example, let buses and matatus be regulated so that they operate on schedule. Widen the roads, with proper markings and tall/hanging traffic lights. Encourage satellite towns with all services. To check on pollution from vehicles, they should regularly have to go for roadworthiness tests and perhaps have age limits after which they should be junked. People should be encouraged to use bicycles and to share their vehicles. We need also to introduce urban transport management to ensure free flow of traffic.
In the long run, we need to address our transport problems through designing a comprehensive national transport policy that will address our current and long-term problems in this sector. Such a policy could look at underground trains, mass bus transport, trams, widening of roads and at regular maintenance. It is only with a national transport policy that there can be direction in this sector in terms of making our transport services more efficient, safer and less of a threat to the environment.
It appears that transport policy has an impact on practically every other sector of the economy as well as on the quality of life. Vice versa, policies taken in other sectors have repercussions on the transport sector. What can be done to inform Kenyans about the urgency of thinking about AND implementing a sound and comprehensive transport policy?
Transportation is a service for all the other sectors. Formulation of a transport policy must take into account all other sectors and their economic activities. For example, a transport policy must spell out very clearly what possible social effects various policies will have. It must take cognizance of the fact that development activities of any sort must be backed by good transport and communication facilities. It must address the issue of environmental effects, including effects on human settlements. In the drawing up of a national transport policy it is important that all sectors be involved, as planning today has become interdisciplinary. In addition to engineers, sociologists, economists, financial experts, environmentalists, and urban planners should be involved in the exercise.
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