Jeffrey Sachs on Kenya

Sachs has got the whole developing world in his ken, but we’re going to start small… assuming that a country with over 31 million people composed of over 70 different tribal groups can be considered small. We’re going to be talking about the macro and the micro: about international investment and hyper-local organizing, the ravages of malaria and the nitty gritty of homegrown mosquito repellent. In short, we want to talk about what’s working in Kenya and what’s not. Sachs will provide the invaluable perspective of someone who travels to all of the developing world hotspots — including the Kenyan village Sauri, where he just spent a few days — and someone who has the ears of both Kofi Annan and Bono.

Jeffrey Sachs

director, the Earth Institute at Columbia University

special advisor to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan

[over ISDN from New York City]

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  • Am a Ghanaian based in Accra and so called Accraboy, really thats what i am because i was born, schooled, started my carrier and still operating from there. I have for the past 5 years travelled the globe extensively except Asia, South America and the Carribean (which i hope to do in the next year) with ICTs – Internet, web, blogs, wifi, laptop etc as my light to the world i was born to know very small some years back.

    Today courtesy of the Interent I understand where the world is and where it is “possibly” going for which my greatest fear is, where would Africa fit? I had some knowledge of where it came from but Jeffery Sachs’ “The End of Poverty – Economic Possibilities for our time” gives me more substance of how we in the developing world can fit into this global picture. Am still reading this book which was a “thank you gift” to me from the Technology and Infrastructure for Emerging Regions (TIER) team at UC Berkley for speaking at their UNIDO ICT Conference workshop, focused on emerging regions.

    Jeffery Sachs (who Chris Lydon organised for me to meet two years ago when he was at Harvard and i was visiting but the meeting got cancelled at the last minute due to an emergency) opens a new world of possibilities with his economic realities for developing regions. Am not an economist but he confirms my convictions (at least in the technology sense) of how the poor can leave the abyss of poverty and stand tall with the league of nations.

    I have being in Kenya for a week now (being travelling several African countries for a month now) and wondering why i did not meet Jeffery Sachs (may be because am in the technology space and he is in the economic space…:-) here because i have some questions for him, probably i would get a chance to throw those question at him on “Open Source” which premier’s today with my buddy Chris Lydon back on the mike. I also have some thoughts on Kenya having been travelling it for 4 years now at least on the technology belt. I have seen the poverty but also the technological and business genius in it’s indigenes who are doing great things to get out of poverty, to standout in the technology global space.

    Welcome to the conversation on Kenya, Sachs.

  • The borders imposed on Africa by the colonial powers are inviolate.

    There is no reason to ever change them.

    Stability is more important than justice.

  • Dear Chris,

    Thanks for getting Jeffrey Sachs to speak about Kenya. The problems in Kenya are quitessentially similar to problems in other African countries. Though there are event related differences, the patterns are the same, and the structures that govern those patterns are similar. We hope that by discussing about international investment and hyper-local organizing, the ravages of malaria, and the nitty gritty of homegrown mosquito repellent, Jeffrey will provide some answers that will point towards the right direction in this effort to eradicate poverty.

    Great work Jeffrey, we are with you on this.

    Much respect. The task is enormous, but achievable, if we do the right things.

    Thank you Chris.


    Kenya Development Network

  • Sachs is doing God’s work, but I still want you to be tough on him. He’s claimed, on some level, to have helped cure the problems of transition economies in the former Soviet East, but the general assessment is that his record, based on a particular strategy of trade and growth led development in a free market context, is mixed in its real benefits to others. (Take a look at reviews in the New Republic and the New Yorker for popular press versions of the critique.)

    Get Sachs to answer: why, if this strategy is a mixed bag, does he continue to advocate it? Is it just the least bad of the solutions out there (like democracy, as Winston Churchill once asserted)? What has he learned from his past mistakes? Or is he perhaps (like many economists) a tad overconfident in his method?

    That said, I admire him a lot. He’s an academic trying to use those skills to make a huge difference. He’s no complacent or holding back, and I think his zeal has helped to bring a lot of attention to the issue of extreme poverty.

  • Abby

    natep Sachs was on BBC Radio3 a while ago. He is very prickly on this point. He was clear that he had resigned from his position as an advisor to the Soviet Union when they chose to sell off the state’s assets on the cheap in a way that was basically theft.

    Poland seems to be doing okay, though.

    I’m glad that Chris is planning to go deeper than most do.

  • Pingback: Open Source » Blog Archive » Thursday Night: Kenya()

  • Fertilizers are great, but please follow the chain back on where these fertiliziers come from and how we can keep them available over the long term. I’ve understood that they are made from petroleum products, which have a limited quantity. We may be able to solve it in 20 years, but it will be back in another 5 when we run out of oil.

  • dpaterson

    So I lived out in Western Kenya’s Vihiga District where the average land holding per family is maybe one half acre for a family of 6. So how does fertilizer help these folks? It increases your food supply from one month to two. These people need 4 acres or more. What’s the solution?

  • Brendan

    Dpaterson, if I understand correctly, your point is that pointed assistance — mosquito nets, fertilizer — can’t solve the whole problem without (I wish I had a better phrase for it) land reform?

  • jimv

    It is remarkable to hear this discussion just after hearing the discussion on Market Place about the “Death Tax�.

    How about caring Americans push to reinstate the “Life Tax� on estates over (pick a number) $10,000000 at a rate of (another number) 15% for the next $90,000,000 and then increase it etc. with the funds raised going to support lives in Africa?

  • shpilk

    It’s an old concept {covered years ago in Scintific American, I believe}, but could micro lending to creative women leaders/producers part of the solution, bypassing the internal corrupt heirarchy?

    I missed part of the show, so maybe this was covered previously. If so, my apologies.

  • I am impresssed with the fact that most of the callers to this evening’s program with Jeffrey Sachs were far more intelligent than the economist. One of the problems with Sach’s analysis is that he downplays corrpution an issue that wasn’t lost upon at least a couple of the callers. What ever happend to all those billions. He misunderstands the Green Revolution in China. No it was the adoption of private property and market reforms that got Red China going.

    The long and the short of it is that the world acording to Bono Sachs’s overrated student and propangandist is wrong. Debt relief they say is a solution. Well the corrupt goverments have figured it out: just run up debt and wait til the next round of debt forgiveness. I do like some of Sach’s observations -small approaches sometimes work; I do not like his gratuitous jabs at the President. (As I remember correctly the folks who ran plans into the World Trade Center were quite affluent; as the the remark about the most militarized administration someone would be wise to tell the professor we are at war.)

    For a more balanced view of development economics one should read –with Sachs’s platitudes in mind — the critical work of William Easterly. It’s too bad that Sachs is smugly dismissive of his critics. Who’s really waving their arms here Professor Sachs? Who’s really delusional about foreign aid, I suspect it’s not Sach’s critics. In the final draw, Easterly gets the best of Sachs. See

    For Easterly’s review of THE END OF POVERTY see

  • Thank you FCONTE. It is extremely worrisome for us Kenyans, and other Africans to listen to Sachs reasoning. None of the arguments presented is likely to result in sustainable development, because it lacks consideration of the system dynamic. His misrepresentation of China’s and India’s success, which we know is largely due to nurturing native capabilities rather than pouring of billions of aid money. We are aware of the great damage that aid has done to Kenya in the past. The development aid model has created the third world conditions, as we know it today.

    Here is what Jeffrey Sachs did not disclose in the interview. First, that Sauri is not poor, but it was impoverished by the closure of the Kisumu Cotton Mills, and other industrial capacity, following high level corruption, and debt/aid issues related to the World Bank. The people of Nyanza Province found themselves without a source of livelihood. They were forced back into subsistence, and extreme poverty.

    Second is that Sauri is very close to Lake Victoria, where there is abundance of fish. Sachs did not discuss why he is not encouraging people of Sauri to get fish from the lake. That beats reason, sincerely!

    Third, he spoke of getting a philanthropist to give fertilizer for helping crops to grow. The problem is that, it is not that there is no fertilizer in Kenya, or people of Sauri cannot be trained to us their locally homegrown technology, such as biomass, to revitalize their soils. He did not tell us from who he will be buying the fertilizer for the crops, and how flooding the country with foreign fertilizers will disrupt the local capacity to produce fertilizers. He has adopted similar approach to malaria control, raising funds in the west, and flooding local markets with foreign products, that come into the country (see The problem with that model is that it has effectually put millions of people out of business, effectively pushing them deeper into poverty. It is arguably true that actions like that are the real cause of extreme poverty, as we know it today. How smart is that in trying to achieve end of poverty.

    We (Kenyans) do not want to go through this cycle. We insist that if Sachs wants to work there, he needs to think through his plans much better that he is doing. The serial plot he is passionately describing, of doing one thing (say importing fertilizer for the people of Sauri) and then consider helping them develop sustainable thinking later lacks the appreciation of systems dynamic. It is fundamental fact that every action results in reactions elsewhere in the system. Disrupting one area, without creating a balancing loop on other areas has lead to massive poverty in the third world, as we know it today.

    For more views about this topic, see James Theuri’s commentary.



  • A few years ago I read in the paper that over 75% of Kenyan street workers (prostitutes) are HIV positive. Apparently this is a growin problem in the area, which suffers so severely from this devestating virus and its associated diseases. What is the government doing to curb HIV and AIDS and how public education is being implemented and communicated to this segment of the society?

  • Hi Endoman, I read your post about HIV and AIDS and Kenyan street workers with great interest. You state that over 75% of Kenyan Street workers are HIV positive. Although it is difficult to know the validity of such numbers, it is also important to know that street work is not the bread and butter of Kenyans. I would like to clarify that in order alley the notion that the 75% may actually represent the Kenyan society. It is fallacious, and misleading to represent information in this way, because it is obvoiusly exaggerated. It is also not true as you state that “this is growing problem in the area.” That is not to say that street workers are not an important people in the society, just like they may be an important people in the society where you live. I am interested to know how you manage HIV and related issues among street workers in your community, and whether you have specific insights, and suggestions, about how this can be done better in Kenya.