Decisions made at critical historical junctures are the strongest determiners of a country’s economic and governance status today – Daron and James.
By Mohamud M Abdi
Every five years, Kenyans are afforded the opportunity to remake and reshape the nation for the better. Like the molting of birds and snakes, the change of guard is meant to shed bad practices and implement new ideas and plans to better people’s lives.
This provides a critical juncture in our democratic and governance architecture. The critical decisions made at this moment can either spar the country to prosperity or condemn it to poverty and deprivations courtesy of the caliber of those entrusted with the instruments of power, leadership, and institutions of governance established.
Despite abundant resources and opportunities, no country thrives at the behest of internal imperfections emanating from incompetent and unethical leadership. It is the biggest disaster that can befall a nation, for it denies generations the dreams of better lives.
History has proved that countries that leaped out of poverty and put in place strong institutions have attained so through decisions made by leaders at such critical moments. Ethical leaders have been a blessing at these moments. Such leaders helped shape the trajectory of the country in terms of governance and economic development.
In the book Why Nations Fail: The origin of power, poverty and prosperity, Daron and James observes that decisions at critical junctures in history are the strongest determiners of a country’s economic and governance status today. They, however, advise that countries are afforded such moments to forge changes from time to time through leadership and government changes.
It is not an accident that countries like Singapore, which social analysts and politicians often quote to depict the lost opportunities by Kenya and Botswana, are doing better than us in terms of good governance, democratic credentials, and better public service. These two countries have a comparable history with Kenya. They were British colonies and attained independence almost simultaneously – Kenya and Singapore in 1965 and Botswana in 1963. However, they took a different trajectory from that of Kenya after independence.
Their strong values and tradition of public service are seeds that their founding leaders sowed. President Ssereste Khama of Botswana and Prime Minister Lee Kwuan Yew were the architects of strong discipline and values in public institutions. They were both passionate about the prosperity of their people. They endeavored to create a more accountable, disciplined, and transparent public sector driven by integrity and public interest. Their credentials in instituting better cultures, taming theft of public resources, and misuse of power helped their countries realize sustained growth and prosperity.
It should not be lost on any person that leaders at critical moments have the opportunities to change and reshape the path of a nation. Today, both countries show strong attributes regarding democratic credentials and integrity in their public sectors. For instance, in the Democratic index (2020), Botswana and Singapore scored 7.62 and 6.03 out of 10, respectively, while Kenya scored 5.05.
The Mo Ibrahim’s Governance index ranked Botswana 5th best in Africa with 66.9 percent compared to Kenya at 14th with 58.5%. On the Corruption Perception Index (CPI), Botswana and Singapore’s average score for the last eleven years is 61.3 percent and 81 percent, respectively, while Kenyan’s average was 27.4 percent. In the 2022 CPI report, Singapore was the second-best country in Asia Pacific Region with an 83 score, while Botswana was the second-best in Sub-Saharan Africa with a score of 60. These are strong indicators of the status of governance systems and practices in these countries bequeathed by the leaders at critical moments.
While the two countries were lucky to have two strong and ethical leaders committed to putting their countries on positive paths to prosperity at critical moments, Kenya was not that lucky as the seeds of general governance malaise were sowed at independence and further propagated by the subsequent regimes. There were little or no serious attempts to undo the mess. It would be an understatement to state that Kenya’s biggest challenges result from bad governance courtesy of want of visionary and ethical leadership.
It is strongly believed that the greatest leaders are born during moments of crisis. Kenya is at that moment. With the soaring cost of living, high inflation, huge public debt burden, food insecurity, ubiquitous corruption, and bad governance, the moment calls for strong, visionary, and ethical leadership. The biggest challenge to new administrations, at the Counties and national levels, is reforming the governance system by appointing ethical persons and infusing better values in public institutions.
The governance frameworks in the public sector institutions are enablers of the realization of prosperity. Just as preparation of the land is a prerequisite for better growth of seeds, strong, inclusive, and responsive governance systems are determiners to growth and development.
Therefore, any serious government must institute better governance systems as a bedrock of driving its agenda. The new crop of leaders can reform these institutions to realise the objective of better service delivery and growth. Any attempt to ignore will be sleepwalking into the future. It will be to engage in fool’s errands to expect great results from well-ironed extractive governance institutions, albeit with great intentions and blueprints. (
– Mr. Abdi is a Lawyer and Governance Policy Analyst. Email: email@example.com; Twitter: inasaney