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VALUE FOR MONEY

A strong case for education reform

Annual expenditure on armed forces less than half of that spent on education.

In Summary
  • Kenya is not one of the African countries that can be accused of “not spending enough on education”.
  • What we need to question is what we are getting for all this money spent.

it was a point of pride for Kenyans who attended seminars overseas where such things are discussed, that their country was always given as an example of an African nation where the annual expenditure on the armed forces was less than half of what was spent on education.

There are people who go through the annual budget numbers with a fine-tooth comb, and can tell you in detail just what is good and what is bad about it.

Personally, I prefer to take in the bigger picture, and the broad patterns of proposed expenditure. And on this I am glad to see that certain things have not changed at all over the past decades.

As someone who came of age during the Daniel Moi presidency – which in its later years was a classic “African Big Man” rule characterised by extreme authoritarianism – I am glad to see that Education still takes the lion’s share of the annual budget.

I say “still” because even in the Moi era, this remained a constant. No matter how many protestors’ heads were being cracked wide open by policemen’s truncheons; no matter how many “dissidents” were being tortured by the secret police in dungeons; no matter what abrupt cabinet reshuffles the late President made, in pursuit of some devious agenda or other; the funding for education remained impressive, and took close to 30 per cent of the total annual budget.

And at a time when schoolteachers in other African countries often went without salaries for months on end, Kenyan teachers were always paid their (admittedly modest) salaries on time.

In some of these other African nations, the president was often some terrifying military dictator who dedicated something close to 50 per cent of the national budget on the armed forces – such armies being desperately needed to keep the dictator in power.

In such nations, the annual budget was usually something of a joke – so completely lacking in transparency that you could not really know how budgeted funds were spent. Money ostensibly intended for fertiliser subsidies, for example, might just as easily be diverted to giving every soldier in the army a nice pay increase.

What has “emerged” from Kenya’s remarkable dedication to providing education for our youth is hundreds of thousands of frustrated young people who worked hard;  got a good education at great sacrifice; and then found that the future which this education had promised, no longer exists.

And given that the period I have in mind – the late 70s and the 1980s – represented the height of the Cold War, these African nations did not have to worry about “governance” or “aid conditionalities”.

If the African leader was left-leaning, then one of the leading Communist states, China, or Russia, would support the leader all the same. And if the African leader were a client of the Americans and their allies (mostly Britain in East Africa, and France in West Africa) then again money would be found to support this leader no matter what.

But through all this, Kenyan leaders seem not to have lost their focus on prioritising budgetary support for education. And it was a point of pride for Kenyans who attended seminars overseas where such things are discussed, that their country was always given as an example of an African nation where the annual expenditure on the armed forces was less than half of what was spent on education.

For in the fully-fledged “vampire states” like the Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) of Field Marshal Mobutu Sese Seko, paying the armed forces more or less took all the money left after Mobutu and his cronies had stolen most of what was available.

If my calculations are right, the current budget proposes an expenditure of roughly Sh500 billion on education in all its multiple platforms (Teachers Service Commission; University education subsidies, etc). This is out of a budget of a proposed Sh2.7 trillion.

That is roughly 18 per cent of the total budget being set aside for education, and is not bad at all when you bear it in mind that all the other priority areas (infrastructure, defence, health, water) each receive way below 10 per cent.

So, Kenya is not one of the African countries that can be accused of “not spending enough on education”.

What we need to question is what we are getting for all this money spent.

There was a Russian revolutionary of the early 20th century who liked to declare, “It does not matter what is intended. What matters is what emerges”.

Well, what has “emerged” from Kenya’s remarkable dedication to providing education for our youth is hundreds of thousands of frustrated young people who worked hard;  got a good education at great sacrifice; and then found that the future which this education had promised, no longer exists.