Monday, April 15, 2013

The silver lining.

Vestigial remnants of the "Tunaomba Serikali" mindset are to be seen in the utterances of various political leaders in the wake of the horrific flooding across the country. No one expected that the turnover to devolution would immediately usher in an era of self-sufficiency, but it is a little jarring to listen to governors, senators and members of the National Assembly begging the national government to intervene to solve one problem or the other caused by the raging waters. When devolved systems are finally up and running, it is only the most efficient of the county governments that will be able to offer their residents the kid of life we see in better run democracies across the world. This is not to say that the national government has no role to play; the announcement by William Ruto of the establishment of an expanded national emergency fund is salutary. But the fund should only augment what is already being done by the county governments; it should not supplant those efforts.

Devolution is just one of the magic bullets in the revolver of the transformation of governance (and politics) in Kenya. During Moi's twenty-four years at the helm, the State became a by-word for corruption, inefficiency and the steady decline in the delivery of public services. It is difficult to blame Moi for the problems caused by his administration without pointing out that the foundation was laid by the First President, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. In his zeal to destroy all opposition, Jomo Kenyatta allowed many things to slide. Now, fifty years after Uhuru, we have the opportunity to re-shape our destinies, and in devolution we have the opportunity to engage in policy and decision-making at the grassroots like never before.

Take, for example, the suffering caused by the current rains. This is not a new phenomenon. Every year, when the rains fall, thousands of Kenyans suffer horrific floods and mud-slides. The Kenya Meteorological Department posts updates on where and when heavier-than-expected rainfall will occur. The Executive is frequently aware of this. All the floodplains have been mapped and it is no longer a question of where there will be floods, but when. So it is surprising that every year the same faces will be televised to millions of Kenyans asking for succour from the national government. It is whipsred that in every disaster is an opportunity for rent-seeking and if this is the case then the solution is in our hands. IN addition to identifying the many creative ways for siphoning off relief funds, the national government together with county governments must establish a mechanism for early warning, evacuation and rehabilitation. Long term they both must ensure that flood plains are protected, either through dykes or some form of canalization. If there are any victims, their welfare must be the priority of both government; these people must be assisted to return to productive work in the shortest time possible. The longer the income-earning members of a family are out of work, the greater the cost to the government in supporting them. This model could be replicated for all the disasters that seem to strike with metronomic regularity.

It is high time that Kenyans gave up the mentality that there is nothing they can do to help themselves survive their harsh environments. Grassroots organisation will be bolstered by the new sub-county structures established by legislation. If citizens had a greater say in how scarce resources could be allocated, they may feel that they have a stake in how their governments perform in development and disaster relief. It will no longer be a question of whether they will receive support from their governments but how that help will be channeled. Their participation in day-to-day governance issues will give them an opportunity to shape their fates. It s the only way that the phenomenon of "Tunaomba Serikali" can be eradicated once and for all.

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