Marginalised Kenya has great potential

A Kenya that is well developed all round would be a much richer country than we can imagine.

In Summary
  • The historically marginalised areas got the Equalisation Fund, which was to last 20 years.
  • Thereafter, it was assumed that the ‘marginalisation’ era from the colonial days would be over if they utilised the funds well.

I have travelled extensively in Northern Kenya in various official capacities or during political campaigns. Many of our current leaders have never been to these places. Every time I would arrive there, the standard question would be ... how is Kenya? On departure, the request would be ... salamia watu wa Kenya. On my tours of the Coast, especially when I was Minister for Lands and Settlements, I would always get a standard comment ... watu wa bara are exploiting us.

These experiences greatly influenced my attitude on how Kenya should develop in future. One, I became convinced that the centralised system of governance would only lead to slow development. I became a strong supporter of the devolved system of governance during the Constitutional Conference at Bomas. Today, even those who were opposed to devolution agree that it is a good system if property administered and if corruption is reduced.

How did we structure funding for the devolved units? First, we had only 14, more viable units unlike the current 47. But it’s probably too late and we have to accept to live with the 47, however uneconomical they may be. We created the Commission for Revenue Allocation as an independent commission in order to remove the excess power that the Treasury held over budget allocations.

Since we did not know how much should be allocated to these devolved units, we settled on a minimum of 15 per cent of Kenya’s locally raised revenues. We left it to practical experience by the budgetary process to fix a maximum at a later date, which is part of the current debate, as it should be.

The CRA was to come up with a formula on how the units would share the funds, and we set up the Senate to review and approve it, in addition to also having an oversight role over the devolved units.

The historically marginalised areas, after several months of negotiations, ended up getting the Equalisation Fund to last for 20 years. That meant Turkana would get the regular allocation plus part of the Equalisation Fund. It would, therefore, end up with more funds than say Kisii or Nyeri for that period.

Thereafter, it was assumed that the ‘marginalisation’ era from the colonial days would be over if they utilised the funds well.

The understanding was that with improved infrastructure and amenities, the areas would be attractive enough for other Kenyans to move and work there. This would lead to opening up of the rest of the 80 per cent of Kenya that has great potential for agriculture along the Uaso Nyiro and Tana river basins; livestock farming, oil exploration and mining in Marsabit, Tharaka and Kitui.

Communities with large tracts of land were reluctant to accept this initially for fear of being ‘taken over’ by the ‘immigrants’. The immigrants tended to be worldly-wise and were likely to take over even the leadership of those marginalised communities as has already happened in some areas. The immigrants tended to mainly come from Mt Kenya, Kisii, Kamba, Luo and Western regions. To get the communities to buy into this idea was not as easy as some people might today assume.

Assuming that the marginalised areas had now made big strides in development, it was obvious that the immigrants would feel more comfortable living and working in those areas. If people can rush to go and live in such desert areas as Dubai because, you imagine how our northern and coastal areas would look like.

It is a known fact that these areas have great wealth potential. A Kenya that is well developed all round, and where one is free to live and earn a living anywhere, would be a much richer country than we can imagine. It would be a country where even people from other countries would want to come and retire to.

There is no question that we can see that there is faster development in the entire country than previously as a result of devolution. But it is also a fact that because of corruption, funds have illegally flowed back to Nairobi from the counties, which was not the intended purpose of devolution. If the marginalised counties get extra funding, they must also promise to utilise them there, and not in Nairobi or abroad.

We may have been wrong at Bomas by coming up with these proposals, but I do not think so. In the short term, the developed areas may feel that they are sacrificing but in the long term, it is the entire Kenya family that will be the beneficiary.

I am confident that the Senate will in the end find a solution to this important issue of sharing the national cake. The formula must not penalise the developed areas, but the marginalised must receive extra funds from an operationalised Equalisation Fund.

The Sh316 billion that we are fighting over is very small. By opening up the rest of Kenya, the national cake will grow and we shall be fighting over Sh1 trillion, which is better for all of us.

Sharing of funds is always a political process, which we should get used to, but not at the expense of our country.