The political discourse in the country today revolves around the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), the 2022 General Election and who will succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta.
But a lot of these conversations need to focus on issues in the interests of Wanjiku. There seems to be selective discussion of the bill and even as we discuss its provisions, we need the broader picture of how a democracy functions. In 2010, we promulgated a Constitution that gave us a big step to a prosperous country.
What we forget is that the parliamentary system that was envisaged in the Bomas draft was subjected to a lot of give and take, but the step had to be made anyway. For instance, after the Narc 2002 victory and the end of Kanu rule, a few people who were close to power then, came out strongly against constitutional changes. Their claim – they had initially wanted to clip Moi’s power because they thought Moi would not leave.
To them, concentrated power was not good, only when Moi was the President. When it was in their hands, they argued it did not need to be changed. That was the situation and political players must have had a hard time settling for the 2010 Constitution, that devolved resources and functions. Despite the teething problems we’ve experienced in the last eight years, devolution has made a big difference in this country.
Only 65 per cent of resources will remain at the national level and timelines to fight corruption are poised to protect these resources from looters. Just like there were forces that did not want change of the Constitution in 2002, there seems to be a clique that does not want more devolved resources to the counties. One of my friends puts it succinctly – these forces want a big percentage of resources at the top because it would mean a bigger loot; they are fighting any institutionalised fight against graft because they want to get away with their loot.
But the crux of the matter here is the serious conversation we need to have about the 35 per cent, to be devolved to the counties and the structures set up to utilise the funds. At the country level, the five per cent that goes to the wards also needs to be a subject of discussion. Not just in terms of the development it will spur, but the structures that will mitigate corruption and cartels to these local levels.
Politicians cite successful Scandinavian countries and how their socio-economic and political systems work. Granted, we are not going to get there in a single leap, but we need to borrow the best practices as pathways to where we want to go.
One striking feature of democratic governance that has made a difference in these Scandinavian economies is the media. These countries have invested heavily in public service media, especially broadcast media. Today they are pushing for more funding of the media.
You see, plurality of media does not necessarily mean that the society is robustly informed. In fact, studies have established that commercial media in the hands of private businessmen are big on entertainment, sports and provide fewer opportunities for holding those in power accountable.
Therefore, even as we devolve more funds to the counties, we need to think of the media’s role in making power attend to the people within the dictates of the law. Discussions on how that will work at the county levels, need to focus on investments in county centric public service media.
The massive resources going to our counties, the presence of an executive and legislative arms of governance urgently call for a publicly funded independent media, or a model that would incentivise commercial media, to invest in county specific watchdog role that would not only hold the leadership
accountable, but also voice the local voices and development issues.