We read so much about the hopelessness of so many African countries to ever become full-fledged members of the modern world, swamped as they seem to be in health care failures, violence, political tyranny, and financial corruption; that this story from the Wall Street Journal about an Opus Dei central banker is a welcome antidote.
NAIROBI, Kenya —Heads of central banks seldom achieve celebrity status, but residents of the Kenyan capital regularly stop Patrick Njoroge on the street to talk interest rates and the state of the economy, even to snap selfies.
The tall, slim governor of Kenya’s central bank is a far cry from many of the continent’s top officials. He evinces no interest in amassing personal wealth, and he’s a numerary in the Roman Catholic group Opus Dei. That means he has taken a vow of celibacy and lives with others of his religious rank in a group home, after declining to live in the regal Nairobi residence reserved for the country’s central bank governor.
Six months into the job, the Yale-educated and former International Monetary Fund official has become well known in Kenya for his efforts to protect the country’s currency and for his perceived incorruptibility in a nation roiled by graft and economic uncertainty.
After moving aggressively to stabilize the Kenyan shilling, the confident, 54-year-old Mr. Njoroge is gearing up for the expected increase of the Federal Reserve’s policy rate.
“We feel quite prepared,” Mr. Njoroge said Tuesday as he sipped tea in his office in the central bank building in Nairobi. “We’ve gone out of our way to distinguish ourselves from the other economies” in Africa.
Kenya has built up dollar reserves of $6.7 billion and has access to another $700 billion from a special IMF fund should it be needed, he said.
East Africa’s largest and most advanced economy, Kenya is currently beset by a series of scandals that have exposed again the long-standing graft and corruption running through the country’s political and financial institutions. Against this backdrop, Mr. Njoroge has emerged as a standard-bearer for cleaner, better government.
“Why do I need to have a fleet of cars at my disposal?” he said, referring to one of the perquisites of high office in Kenya. “I’m only going to drive one. What’s the big deal?”
Mr. Njoroge’s refusal to exploit public office for personal gain goes down well with Kenyans. “He’s clean, he’s not here to eat or steal. Our prayers are with him,” said Anne Kinuthia, a receptionist at a Nairobi beauty parlor.
The efforts by Mr. Njoroge since June to halt the slide in the value of the shilling have won him widespread praise. By spending $1 billion to buttress the currency and hiking the policy rate twice by 150 basis points to 11.5% to stabilize the shilling, Kenya’s currency has steadily recovered since hitting a four-year low in September. It is now trading steadily in markets.