Idiocy, Patronage, Clientilism, Tokenism and Lopsided Projects in Counties
Two years down the line, I am persuaded that the letter of devolution has been implemented but the spirit of devolution sacrificed at the altar of patronage, clientilistic grassroots politics and pure idiocy. Consequently, the priorities of county governments remain lopsided driven by expediency, quick popularity gains and tokeninism. Let us unpack some of this accusations using Bungoma County as a case.
The spirit of devolution is power to the people. This means that people get to own their development destiny through their participation in decision-making and implementation of decisions. The people (previously, the ruled) are supposed to be at the center of decision making, have the power to veto decisions by agencies and supervise implementation of development projects in the county.
In Kenya, the letter of devolution has been followed and mini governments created. Just like the constitution demands, the county governments have been allocated resources, county assemblies empowered and a semi-autonomous local government emerged. However, that is as far as devolution goes in Kenya.
In a county like Bungoma, the residents must have made a mistake to elect a former provincial administrator and permanent secretary as their governor. I have no doubt that our good governor has done well in replicating the ills of the central government at the county level. What were the ills of the central government system?
Due to consolidation of power at the center, power was personalized. Therefore, the nation was more or less the property of Kenyatta and his Kiambu Mafia, Moi and his cronies and Kibaki with his Mt. Kenya Mafia. At the county levels, this has been replicated with the governor being the unquestionable symbol of power and prestige in the county. They are not the servants at the grassroots we hoped they would be. They are Mini-President and use patronage to deify themselves.
Talking of Patronage, nothing happens in the county unless it has found favor with the governor. Because of his power to award favors, a clientilistic system has developed whereby one cannot find favor with the father of the county unless he or she pays rent to certain gatekeepers. The governor and his henchmen are focused on protecting the eating table than engaging the people in generating innovative ideas and building production systems that deliver a cake at everyone’s doorstep.
Given the governors and the system they have created is about eating and guarding the eating table, the governors increasingly find themselves alienated from the people. They go out, people sing for them but deep in their hearts, they know the people are watching. They are frantic, they want to do something that would make the people feel even though billions have been eaten, and they were eaten on their behalf. However, there is little one can do for people in a whole country unless it is pegged on a systemic production strategy anchored on long term social and structural transformation goals. It is for this reason that county governments are jumping at anything popular; thus, expedient gains guide choice of projects to implement.
Long term structural adjustment and socioeconomic adjustments, requires that we engage in evidence based planning and choice of projects. Such evidence should tell us the situation of our people and the priority areas to address in order to gain desired levels of prosperity in the county. I love the Pareto Principle, there are 100 things you can do about a county like Bungoma but only 20 things probably, if done and done properly would yield immense prosperity and put Bungoma on the map as a robust social, cultural and economic center. It requires a bit of thinking in order to identify the right angles at which to hit the nail, so that it enters the wood at designed angle.
Recently, it was announced that the county government of Bungoma is collaborating with Telkom Kenya to roll out free Wi-Fi in Bungoma. When I heard this, I asked myself, how is this going to enhance any production or improve any productivity in Bungoma. Bungoma is an agricultural town with many retail businesses and “boda boda” riders. Who in this town is going to use Wi-Fi for production purposes and help transform livelihoods? Did the county government do any cost benefit analysis before choosing this investment? Considering Nakuru and Kisumu have already rolled out such an investment, would it not have been prudent to assess how it works in those counties before pouring meager resources into such provisioning? Better, still, would the county government not have focused on developing an enabling environment so that local investors avail WIFI in their cafes, schools etc? Are their youths in Bungoma who have the capacity to use free WIFI to do online jobs?
While the county government was thinking of WIFI, an expose by a local television station revealed how jiggers have infested certain parts of the county that children’s learning is jeopardized. This is the irony, what is a priority between WIFI and rolling out basic sanitation programmes in the county. The disease burden in the county can be substantially reduced if community health or sanitation programs worked. How much does it take to engage the community in sanitation activities? Does the community not have enough volunteers who can champion such a cause? The investment by the county government in Wi-Fi, is it not enough to address such things as flea and mosquitoes breeding spaces. What about food handling, general body hygiene, toilets and sewerage systems; is it not possible to address these major causes of petty illnesses that render many unproductive? The health of the people has a greater multiplier effect on the economy than WIFI I believe. One can find many cases to show how lopsided county government priorities are. Things would not be bad save for idiocy and lack of courage to address idiocy in the counties. Idiocy here means, people knowing what is wrong but not doing anything about it because of short-term interests.