According to the World Economic Forum's 30th annual Global Competitiveness Report (see complete report, which was released on 8th October, here; see also Wachira Kang'aru excellent account in the Daily Nation of October 9th), Kenya's global competitiveness ranking has improved to 93 in 2008/09, from 99 in 2007/08. This is an improvement, yes, but still way behind Africa's top country -- South Africa, which holds the 45th position.
All in all, twelve variables (the World Economic Forum calls them "Basic indicators") were considered in arriving at the global rankings. Very broadly, we will not get into details here, these were:
III. Macroeconomic stability
IV. Health and primary education
V. Higher education and training
VI. Goods market efficiency
VII. Labor market efficiency
VIII. Financial market sophistication
IX. Technological readiness
X. Market size
XI. Business sophistication
XII. Innovation (Source: Global Competitiveness Report).
We will say a just little more about some of these variables in a moment.
The Top Ten countries in the world this year are as follows (last year's rankings are shown in brackets, if different from this year's):
1. The United States
5. Singapore (7)
7. Germany (5)
8. The Netherlands (10)
9. Japan (8)
10. Canada (13).
[Note: The UK, which was ranked 9th last year, dropped out of the Top Ten to the 12th position this year]
Africa's Top Ten this year are (their global ranking in brackets):
1. South Africa (45 this year, 44 last year)
2. Botswana (56 this year, 76 last year )
3. Mauritius (57 this year, 80 last year)
4. Morocco (73 this year, 64 last year)
5. Namibia (80 this year, 89 last year)
6. Egypt (81 this year, 77 last year)
7. The Gambia (87 this year, 102 last year)
8. Libya (91 this year, 88 last year)
9. Kenya (93 this year, 99 last year)
10. Nigeria (94 this year, 95 last year).
What is interesting is the variables or criteria, sketched above, which the World Economic Forum used to arrive at this rank-order in which Kenya has placed an improved 93rd. One of the criteria used, as we have seen, was the innovative capacity evident within the country (Kenya ranked 45th, worldwide, here). This was measured by such indicators as the level of corporate spend on R&D, the existence of "good" research institutions in the country, the extent to which they collaborate with "industry" in scientific ventures, and the quality of education offered within the country (Kenya ranked 33rd in quality of education).
For Kenya, all this is very encouraging -- and three cheers to our educational and research institutions. In saying three cheers, I have the indulgence of cheering my colleagues in academia, and myself. Still, there is much work to do on our part. And there are dangers ahead, for the country is far, far, from closing the loop of quality training for the next generation of scholars. What is more, the political elite continues to treat academics with little material respect, and even arms-length wariness.
Another criterion used was the comparative level of of sophistication displayed by the country's financial markets, as gauged against international standards (including ease of access to loans and to the stock market). Here, Kenya ranked 44 th in the world.
A third criterion was the performance of the public sector, and Kenya fared badly here. It was in fact dragged down by poor performance: it ranked 100th in efficiency, 111th in susceptibility to influence by power-brokers, and 101st in the level of corruption.
Security was also a consideration, and Kenya fared poorly here too. It rankes 126th in terms of levels of crime and violence, 129th in terms of exposure to terrorism, and 118th in the degree to which organized crime pervades the country's socio-economic fabric. In the area of health services, Kenya earned the unhealthy rank of 117.
To conclude: in Africa, the five most improved countries were: Mauritius (a 23-position gain), Botswana (20), The Gambia (15), Namibia (9) and Kenya (6). So, South Africa's lead may be under threat in the years ahead. Mauritius continues to excel, and remains a source of inspiration for all Africans. Botswana's performans is stellar too, though I understand that structural and political capital impediments are beginning to stand in the way -- so that the future there is not as rosy as it continues to seem. The Gambia is a surprise (but probably not to the Gambians), and Namibia continues to mystify in its good, all-round performance. I must find out more about these two. The factors which make Kenya less competitive than it should be are well known, and are not insurmountable. However, there is much work to be done to clear all the cobwebs.