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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Go vote for the lesser evil

In this election, we are realistically faced with a choice between Jubilee and NASA. Professor Peter Kagwanja, the Chief Executive of Africa Policy Institute and former government adviser, identifies the distinction between the two political outfits, which he calls a “clash of the socialist, and capitalist ideologies.”

In his words, "Jubilee, espousing a welfare capitalist vision of Kenya and highlighting the expansion of infrastructure, technological education, energy and agriculture as evidence of Kenya as an emerging industrial power led by a Kenyatta scion."

He pictures NASA on the other extreme as "an eclectic amalgam of socialists and bearers of diverse grievances, NASA is crusading for a vision of Kenya that is mundanely redistributive (basic needs of food (unga), free services (education), cut on rents, and the dismantling of large-scale estates and ranches and their redistribution to the poor."

I doubt the existence of such clear philosophical divide as thus portrayed. Both parties have exhibited an eclectic blending of capitalistic and socialistic ideologies in their election platform.

Confirming this, Peter Warutere of Mashariki communications, concluded that there is no difference in the manifestos and plans between Jubilee and NASA. He opined they have similar pillars and messages presented in shades of the red and orange. The most notable difference is the style in which the manifestos were launched.

In this mix, it's easy to whip the tribal card and have people vote. We can avoid this slide. I suggest that the way out of this confusing labyrinth will be how the parties propose to govern.

Jubilee in all intents and purposes favours a centripetal system of governance, where a strengthened central government works to 'enable' the peripheries. Thus, both the economy and political power flows from a centralised core. This favours planning around the presidency, as reflected in communities negotiating their development agenda in State House, creating the notion that development is achieved if one is in government.

NASA on the other hand bends towards a centrifugal system of governance. This is where the peripheries are strengthened to thrive and enabled to be the nerve centers for both political and economic initiatives. The manner in which the coalition is organised is indicative of negotiations and accommodation of opposing interests, expertly woven into a formidable mosaic.

In overwhelmingly voting for the 2010 Constitution, Kenyans were emphatic — no more centralisation of power. We have tasted the fruit of devolution and this should determine how we vote.

Has there been decentralisation of power?

Dr Nic Cheeseman, who teaches African politics at Oxford University, makes this queer but true remark that "many of the policies that have decentralised power in Kenya over the last 40 years have pretended to move power to the people, while actually strengthening the control of central government."

Many agree Jubilee has been reluctant to decentralise power. Under Jubilee, devolved units have been chocked. President Uhuru Kenyatta may be adopting President Daniel Moi’s tactics, when he introduced the District Focus for Rural Development in 1982. This policy ostensibly was initiated to allow the government to be more responsive to the needs of the people.

Moi was less interested in restructuring the state but wanted to break up the administrative and political networks that had grown strong in the Jomo Kenyatta era. As a result, Moi manipulated the district focus reforms to create new political networks that he could trust and strengthen his control. In the process, he did not decentralise power but "de-concentrated " it.

Writing in Decentralizing the state District focus and the politics of Reallocation in Kenya, Professor Joel Barakan of Iowa University and Micheal Chege of Ford Foundation, Zimbabwe, observed that rather than allowing more autonomy for the local leaders, the District Focus led to the posting of greater number of more central personnel to an expanded number of field officers to exert greater control over development initiatives on the periphery.

It is doubtful that devolution will thrive under Jubilee, now that they have employed similar approach on the devolved units.

Returning Jubilee to power will be performing requiem Mass for devolution.

On the other hand NASA, pledges to restructure and realign the state department of Devolution to focus more on inter-governmental relations and co-ordination of inter-ministerial functions relevant to decentalisation rather than supervision of the counties as we presently have. They promise to give more resources to the counties.

In this election, Kenyans ought to vote with eyes into the future and not empty promises: Vote to mature democratic institutions against unstable whims and most important of all vote to keep Devolution.

Omondi is a priest of the Anglican Church of Kenya serving at All Saints Cathedral Diocese, Nairobi

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