BY ELIUD OWALO
Article 174 of the Constitution of Kenya 2010 spells out the objectives of devolution of government, most of which revolve around facilitating equitable economic development across all regions of the Republic. Indeed the section appropriately provides for ensuring that citizens are involved in development processes and programmes. For example, 174 (d) provides for “recognizing the right of communities to manage their own affairs and to further their development”; while 174 (e) espouses “protecting and promoting the interests and rights of minorities and marginalized communities; and 174 (f) advocates for “promoting social and economic development and the provision of proximate, easily accessible services throughout Kenya”.
In sum, the provisions of Article 174 acknowledge the criticality of involving all citizens in national planning and development, so that all persons – irrespective of their social status, region of habitation, population size of their community or any other unique characteristic of a specific group – are included in the development continuum.
Why do I consider this perspective critical? First, the global 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, upon which the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are anchored, is bed-rocked on various principles, one of them being “inclusivity” and which has been given a rather instructive tag “leaving no one behind”. I contend here that the tag is really self-explanatory. That the development foreseen in the SDGs, and particularly SDG number 1 which deals with poverty eradication should broadly focus on uplifting each and every citizen – so that income and poverty gaps are minimized. From the global spectrum, it is about reducing poverty within and among countries. However, herein lies the big development question – how do we actualise this given the ever-evolving world geo-politics, which to a large extent explain the perennially lukewarm support given to Least Developed Countries (LDCs), particularly those who have been in conflict situations for long periods with devastating effects on living standards and human rights.
Unfortunately, that development conundrum is not only complex at global level, but is equally challenging to individual countries. In Kenya, and in light of the Constitutional obligations highlighted above, both the National and County Governments have critical roles to play. And this needs to be seen in different contexts. First, the gap between the rich and the poor has been wide and needs to be addressed through short, medium and long-term interventions. Second, there are significant differences in socio-economic development levels of the forty seven counties of the Republic. Third, and rarely considered in development planning, is that there are significant differences in development in the localities or wards that form our counties. Fourth, are the inequalities in incomes and opportunities that exist between men and women. Fifth, are the inequalities of incomes and life support opportunities across various age clusters such as the youth, middle-aged and elderly populations. And the list of factors that cause some people to be left behind in development can go on and on.
According to the latest Kenyan National Demographic and Health Survey, nationally, about 45.2 percent of the population live below the poverty line, surviving on less than Ksh. 1,562 and Ksh. 2,913 per adult equivalent per month for rural and urban households respectively. The incidence of poverty is higher in the northern and coastal parts of the country but significantly lower in others.At county level, there are also significant inequalities in poverty. For instance, the proportion of individuals living below the poverty line in Turkana (87.5 percent), Mandera (85.8 percent) and Wajir (84.2 percent) is four times that of Nairobi, which has the lowest poverty level at 21.8 percent, and almost double that of Laikipia (47.9 percent), the median county.
With regard to inequality as measured by Gini coefficient, the aforementioned Survey indicated that national ratio was around 0.445, reflecting a high level of inequality. The lower the Gini coefficient the better in terms of equality, so that a Gini coefficient of zero means best equitable situation and 1 highly inequitable. One of the contributing factors to Kenya’s high inequality is the income gaps between rural and urban areas. Why? – because the rural areas have perennially been left behind by policies and development blueprints that have continuously favoured urban areas. For example, household expenditure in Kenya averages about Ksh 3,440 per adult equivalent per month, but is Ksh. 2,270 in rural areas and Ksh. 6,010 in urban areas.
A peep at inequality within counties themselves demonstrates that the challenge of some people being left behind trickles down to the grassroot communities and villages. For example, Tana River, Kwale and Kilifi Counties have the highest income inequalities with Gini coefficients of 0.617, 0.597 and 0.565 respectively. Comparatively, the counties with lowest income inequality include Turkana, Narok, and West Pokot with Gini coefficients of 0.283, 0.315, and 0.318, respectively. Interestingly, this data shows that high poverty is not equivalent to high inequality, as the most equal counties, such as Turkana, are also among the poorest. The implication is that the people left behind in the very poor counties must be living in extremely dire situations.
Within the provisions of the Constitution, we have seen efforts by the National and County Governments to involve key stakeholders in policy making and budgeting processes. This is a welcome move, but the scope and effectiveness of such involvement is still not comprehensive. For example, the public hearings for the budget which are organised by the National Government take about four days and are mainly attended by organised non-state actors, who have some formal mechanisms of analysing the budget. However, the extent to which views of ordinary citizens from the expanse corners of the Republic remains restricted. Equally, we have seen County Governments organise public meetings at Ward level to gather inputs for their respective budgets. Again, there is the question of how many County residents are reached. Furthermore, what is the ability of Wanjiku in terms of understanding complex technical issues of budget making – yet all she wants is to have her local project incorporated in the budget?.
In common mwananchi parlance, inclusion of Wanjiku’s project in the budget is what would actualize the UN’s rosy principle of “leaving no one behind”. It is commendable that there are attempts towards the inclusivity path. However, the realization of the Agenda 2030 and the SDGs calls for greater strategic actions by both the National and County Governments. And this can only be realized if the respective Governments effectively engage key stakeholders working at the grassroots so that the views of all citizens, particularly the marginalized ones are taken on board in policy making, planning, budgeting and execution of development programs. In this regard, and taking into consideration that the voice of individual citizens need to be organized, the non-state actors (NSAs) operating in the country need to up their game to fill-in the gap. They should enhance their capacities to enable them comprehensively and effectively engage stakeholders right from the national level to the grassroots communities.
In conclusion, we need a paradigm shift in our theory of change from needs-based interventions to a more policy influencing (advocacy) approach in order to hold those in authority to account. But above all, Kenyans must be prepared to exploit the opportunities provided by the Constitution and the Agenda 2030, hence claim the right of not being left behind by the National and County Governments. Indeed, as the Constitution stipulates, participation as a national value and principle of governance is binding to all of us.
The Writer is a Management Consultant.