Agriculture, Emerging Markets, Frontier Markets, Geopolitics

How Important Are Services To Economic Growth In Kenya?

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By Anzetse Were

A report by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) analyses four services sectors in Kenya to determine the role of services in economic growth. The four sectors analysed are the financial sector, IT services, transport services and tourism services. The report argues that services are becoming increasingly important, even for non-industrialised countries such as Kenya, as they have a direct contribution to GDP, exports and employment.

Indeed according to the report, services account for 50.7% of the share of GDP; a fact with which the World Bank agrees. Kenya has already become a major exporter of services in areas such as transport services, financial services and, less significantly, ICT. In terms of exports, the export of services from Kenya nearly tripled from $1.9 billion in 2005 to $4.9 billion in 2012; far more than the exports of goods. The ODI report goes on to state that ICT and financial services in particular makes companies in other sectors more productive, help develop value chains and safeguard jobs, while tourism creates numerous jobs within suppliers. Further, services have an important role to play in the ‘servicification’ of manufacturing. Indeed the World Bank survey made the point that in Kenya, services constitute at least 62% of the cost of manufactured goods illustrating the extent to which manufacturing relies on services.

The position ODI takes goes contrary to dogma in economic theory which argues that the most effective path to development is linear with a progression from agriculture to manufacturing and finally into services. Yet here is Kenya, a non-industrialised economy, with services as the engine of economic growth.

Given this scenario, the questions to ask include: what are the implications of a services-led economy in the context of a non-industrialised county? Is a service-driven economy sustainable in the long term? Does a preponderance of services have a negative effect on the development of agriculture and manufacturing?

Well, the report acknowledges that there are weaknesses in the service-driven model, especially in non- industrialised countries. The dominance on services means that it pulls labour in from the other sectors such as manufacturing. This could result in the exacerbation of deindustrialisation as manufactured jobs are replaced by low-productivity services jobs. This is a key concern for Kenya which has a significant informal economy, most of which is not very productive and in which services are a notable constituent. Is Kenya facing a scenario where labour is being pulled into services from other sectors, not into high productivity services which are typically in the context of formal employment, but rather into low productivity informal employment in services?

Further there are questions as to whether the dominance of services in Kenya will lead to skills shortages in agriculture and manufacturing. The report rightly makes the point that there is a risk emerging where the development of skills for the service sector will preponderate, perhaps to the detriment of skills development in other sectors. More and more young Kenyans will opt to train to become bankers and HR specialists because it will be easier to find jobs in those areas of speciality than it would be if they had trained as engineers and scientists. What does this bode for the future of the country?

The final risk of service-driven growth is that, as ODI point out, too much export-oriented services have opportunity costs. It could lead to Dutch disease effects where the shilling appreciates thereby damaging the manufacturing industry as locally produced goods become expensive and uncompetitive due to a strong shilling.

In terms of the way forward, Kenya should continue to reap the benefits of service-driven growth but go through a deliberate process of rebalancing where highly productive agriculture and manufacturing play a stronger role. Further, there is a need to ensure that as long as services preponderate, it is associated with noteable job creation and secondary effects that benefit the economy as whole.


This article first appeared in my weekly column with the Business Daily on March 20, 2016

Anzetse Were is a development economist based in Kenya and a weekly columnist for the Business Daily.  Twitter: @anzetse, email: anzetsew@gmail.com

About Anzetse Were

I'm an optimistic cynic. Born in Africa, raised all over the world, I have a passion to see Africa take its rightful place in the world. Long weary of the Africa bashing, continental character assassination and negative branding I am determined to ask: What can Africa do right particularly with regards to economic development? Most of my pieces will be on Africa's economies. Some pieces will be more formal than others but the guiding thrust is to become one of the growing voices that believe in Africa...We're here to stay. Follow me on twitter: @anzetse

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