The past fortnight has been a useful moment for national reflection. Important questions have been raised about our current, largely administrative, economic model; one driven by elite state capture and bureaucratic capitalism. We also know that our focus has been discombobulated for a while now.
To cheekily quote the recent (and impressively new format) 2017/18 report of the Auditor-General on the accounts of national government, “projected expenditures seem to drive the revenue collection projections as opposed to actual revenue collections driving the projections of expenditures to be incurred. The government has engaged in mega development projects, thus increasing the gross estimated expenditures over the last five years, without due consideration of revenue collection performance. This has driven up borrowing from both the domestic and foreign markets to fund the budget.” Now, there are quiet admissions that Kenya is “dead broke,” as the papers wrote today.
These “mega development” projects are now the stuff of legend. A Standard Gauge Railway in two phases. First, the one parallel to an existing railway. Second, the one that, thus far, ends “nowhere.” A Galana-Kulalu mega-irrigation scheme that’s reliant on a river that keeps changing its course. A medical equipment fiasco that consumes taxpayer money for inoperative machines without (wo)men. The “mega-dams” that bear no relation to drought, on the one hand, or flooding on the other. The “last mile” electricity connection scheme that has us subsidising the fixed costs of millions of non-consumers.
Yet the promises keep coming. “Big Four” and endless budget reallocations away from “operations and maintenance” (basically, service delivery). “Building Bridges” and a report we shall read or not. More and more shiny new projects, now officially titled “vanity projects” as if people eat buildings and roads.
The most forthright comment I read this week is that we may end up judging the legacy of the Jubilee administration as somewhere between “modest success” since the country didn’t collapse and “outright fail” because the country is on the verge of collapse. In the end, the “digital” that beat “analogue” in 2013 now looks terribly “plastic.” Will last week’s “Fridays Made in Kenya” dress order for public servants help?
All doom and gloom, right? Well, not quite. We have made our bed, and we must lie in it. But here are a couple of executive suggestions that our leadership may contemplate as we rush headlong into 2022.
First, work with a machinery of government that creates focus. Kenya has a well-established institutional framework for budgets built around our Medium-Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) Sector Working Groups. The trouble is that it ends at the budget stage. Why doesn’t our leadership engage this framework through subsequent implementation, reporting and accountability? Here’s an idea. Cabinet meetings and ministerial work ought to focus on sector performance and accountability in the face of Auditor-General reports, with parliamentary committees operating similarly.
Second, and I wrote about this early 2017, apply the government paradigm you are most comfortable with. President Uhuru Kenyatta clearly enjoys a view of national things from a security, rather than governance, or socio-economic lens. Ok, then think of “human security” not as an alternative but as a complement to “state or national security.” Without delving too much into the theory, think about human security around three ideas. Freedom from fear (peace). Freedom from want (development). Freedom from indignity (human rights). And two pillars. Top-down protection meaning shielding people from menace and bottom-up empowerment indicating enabling people to build their resilience.
What would our leadership do with this paradigm? Well, they would better view droughts, then floods in the context of our environmental or climate security, as well as our food, health and economic security as people rather than projects. They would understand that the failure to deal with graft or thievery isn’t just about our economic security, but also impacts food, health, personal, community and political security. Mostly, however, it helps our leadership think about the clear and present links between the seven “securities” that define the Kenyan “sphere of peace” necessary for progress and prosperity.
“Joined-up Government 102”? Imagine positive security conversations that enrich our tired development discourse. What if cabinet discussion or parliamentary debate spoke to a human security dimension that recognises risks as it promises rewards? So that we avoid official doublespeak about “climate-smart” this and that when people are one day suffering drought, then swept away by floods the next. Or we think not just about “safety nets” but “safety ropes” for the people.
Hell, what if all we really needed at the beginning and in the end was a unifying national human security strategy, with plans, projects, structures as detail? This might be “left field” thinking but, in leadership, when you’re in a hole, it’s best to stop digging.