Any reader old enough to have voted in the 2002 General Election will also remember that just a year later, the Constituency Development Fund was launched with much fanfare.
The CDF was praised as a giant step towards parliamentary independence. This initiative was expected to free MPs from a political tradition entrenched under the leadership of President Daniel Moi: That for a clinic or a road or a school to be built in any constituency, the MP had to go down on bended knee at State House, declare his eternal loyalty to His Excellency and then beg for whatever it was he wanted for his people.
The CDF gave each constituency about Sh20 million a year to be disbursed by a CDF committee consisting mostly of the MPs’ handpicked cronies. That was far more than even the most generous of MPs had been able to raise for their constituencies prior to the establishment of the CDF. And so, although the prescribed allocation for the CDF was just 2.5 per cent of the national budget, we all expected to see ‘development’ miraculously bloom in every corner of the nation.
This of course did not happen. At least not quite as had been expected. The general principle that the people of each constituency should have some autonomy in decisions relating to their development needs seemed valid enough. But these decisions led to some very odd results.
For example, in Central Kenya, where the locals had long endured a crime wave led largely by the ‘Mungiki’ gangs that had been allowed to flourish under Moi, the great priority was often the building of police posts. But the policemen who were to occupy these new police posts turned out to be in short supply, as apparently, nobody had foreseen the eruption of new police posts all over Central Kenya.
And in just about every corner of the country there stood empty ‘clinics’ – buildings intended to serve as health centres, which had neither medical personnel nor medical equipment. By the Ministry of Health’s estimate, there were at one point about 1,000 such empty buildings around the country put up with CDF cash and designated as “clinics”. As the CDF money could not be used for the payments of salaries or the purchase of medical supplies, the buildings which had been so eagerly put up, were in the end no more than emblems of policy failure, and icons of delusionary expectations.
It is important, I think, to remember the successes as well as the limitations of the CDF, in this week when all attention is focussed on the Devolution Conference in Kakamega.
For devolution, which the 2010 Constitution intended as a solution to our regional needs, has also revealed the same pattern that was seen with the CDF. This is the enduring weakness of the Kenyan political class — the failure to think things through.
Perhaps the preeminent example of this seeming inability to think things through is the ‘new’ Standard Gauge Railway. No doubt in due course the problems currently facing this once-in-a-century project will be sorted out. But in the meantime, you must admit that to the extent that the primary objective of this new railway was not to facilitate an increase of local tourists heading to the Coast — the only unequivocal success the SGR has had thus far — this is not a project that was clearly thought through.
When you build a brand-new railway — for the first time in 100 years — it is rather odd to find that importers are more or less being coerced to use it. And yet this is a railway service which is supposed to be not only technically superior but — even more significantly — more efficient and cost-effective than the old railway or the heavy trucks plying the Nairobi-Mombasa road.
Well, as with the CDF, more recently with the SGR, so too is it with devolution.
In the typical Kenyan manner, not enough thought has gone into figuring out what would best bring about measurable change to the ordinary Kenyan out in the villages where most of our citizens live.
More on this next week.