An editorial in the East African newspaper last week indicated the Kenyan government allocated the military an estimated Sh96 billion in this current financial year’s budget.
This figure is apparently also the highest within the East African regional block. Much more even than our bigger and more war-ravaged neighbours.
No breakdown is given as to how this sum will be spent, but the assumption is that a significant portion will go towards military hardware and the balance to “software”. Given the secrecy shrouded in Kenya’s military spending, this figure could even be higher.
As allocated, the funds are perhaps aimed at mitigating potential threats arising from unrest in neighbouring war-torn countries or internal strife. The recent pre-election and post-election chaos being examples of possible uses of these monies.
In the same week, an interesting dataset published online shows the leading causes of mortality in the United States, whose data collection system is more reliable.
The majority of mortalities were related to medical causes mainly cardiovascular, cancer, respiratory followed by a few other medical conditions of old age.
What was interesting though from the data was the revelation that American civilian gun related fatalities outnumbered external and domestic terrorist related deaths for several years looked at in the series.
The irony though was that resources expended to fighting “terrorism” far outweighed the related fatalities attributed to it. A similar argument can be advanced in Kenya’s current and ongoing trend of escalating military budgets at the expense of critical sectors like healthcare.
Although health is now a devolved function, the national government still retains key policy functions and administrative roles like training, disease surveillance, research, equipping certain hospitals and strategic commodities’ supplies.
These roles have not been as well met as would be expected, offering room for improvement and perhaps more resource allocation.
A look at the top causes of mortality in Kenya would likewise raise eyebrows as to how and why the military was allocated such vast sums.
Earlier on in January a controversial Sh41 billion purchase of modified military planes raised eyebrows locally. This against a Sh60.3 billion health ministry allocation in FY 2016/2017, for instance.
Last year may have seen a slightly higher number of mortalities related to insecurity, these figures are nowhere close to those attributable to amenable medical cases.
With our limited resources, a naïve health worker’s viewpoint is that a rethink is needed in our budgetary allocation policy. Do we buy planes worth Sh41 billion or equip incubators, intensive care units and buy cancer care equipment for our hospitals?
Our aim as medics is to prevent as many mortalities and avoid as many morbidities as possible. The fight is easier won with adequate resources. Your role as a citizen is to decide whether we need more military hardware or a better equipped hospitals.