Ideas & Debate

Kenyan woes emanate from lack of leadership


The old, and tired, question has always been about whether or not we elect the right leader(s). The new, and young, question, I now understand, is “if you were away from your daily business, would you trust your leader to take care of the business?” That’s what many Kenyans are quietly discussing. Let’s call this our democratic epiphany, inspired, no less, by the need to survive the “pain of government”.

Unfortunately, the anachronism we call Kenyan politics conflates past, present and future. Which explains why our latest education experiment doesn’t sound like a proper balance between life skills (values and virtues), knowledge (for its own sake) and skills for life (the future of work in a digital world).

More prosaically, that’s why universal health care (UHC) can’t be delivered with reportedly near universal medical negligence (meaning lifestyle isn’t understood) and poor living conditions (think dirty rivers). Then, we bounce our water scarcity against families living in forests that are our water towers.

Think about these as leadership questions. There’s many top speeches and stories, but zero results.

Recent experience further explains. That, today, we have people in Kenya not registered (Huduma Namba) or counted (Census) is official malarkey, especially since it was abundantly clear, from the “seeding” of questions, that the two are linked. This was not a failure of process, but honest leadership.


Which brings us to the current leadership question we face; do we or don’t we want devolution? The simple theory was that devolution made development choices more local.

The real idea was that devolution underpinned a progressive Article 43 human rights agenda that would have truly begun to address our poverty and inequality dilemma. Our Judiciary might have more clearly made this point.

Instead, we have turf wars between the “old school” of National Executive and National Assembly, and the “new kids on the block” represented by the Senate and Council of Governors. Ostensibly, we’re talking about a roughly Sh20 billion difference in opinion. In reality, there’s more.

Without tripping over the “subjudice” tightrope, three things come to mind.

First, in the division of revenue formula, what does “national interest” under Article 203 of the constitution actually mean? It’s been used in the past to justify NYS I and II, zero laptops, bad fertiliser and sundry new toys for cops. After that, we went on a global borrowing binge.

Is this more important than a rights-based devolution agenda? Why new roads when people walk naked? Or electricity to huts absent of a housing agenda that’s now talking about elitist “central heating”? And that’s all before odious debt service that’s more than twice the allocation to counties.

Second, in the interpretation of Schedule Four. By all human logic, counties now run the development show. National government facilitates. It is incongruous that national government persists with a local presence when the law has allocated important human rights functions to counties, like say, food, health, shelter and industry. Plus roads.

The endless Treasury bleating about “own source revenue” cannot carry any water if Kenyans in counties continue to pay national taxes which seem to go to waste.

There is a third more practical point behind the Council of Governors assertion that counties will close down by the middle of this month.

Take fiscal 2018/19 as an example from Controller of Budget data. In quarter one, they got eight percent of their annual equitable share (a third of expected in a normed environment). By the half-year stage, counties had received 36 percent of this annual share.

Three months on (quarter 3) we’re looking at 64 per cent. Then, guess what? Treasury tells us counties got the full 100 percent by quarter four. Final instalment right at the tail end of the fiscal year. Treasury is playing the Presidency like a Mexican banjo. That’s why we don’t have answers to cash balances carried forward and inoperative counties. Think cash in bank, unpaid employees, no service.

The parliamentary mediation between the National Assembly and the Senate isn’t addressing these three points. Two of these reside in ongoing court cases. But it seems to me that this is not a legal problem; it’s a leadership problem that resides in our incessant politics. Let’s fix it before we confirm our budget process as the “theatre of the absurd”. Isn’t that what our constitution demanded?

That’s probably our leadership question for today. Think about this as our “Obi Okonkwo” moment.