Anyang’ Nyong’o Speaks
When I was Minister for Planning and National Development in the Narc government in 2003-07, I described Kenya as a “nation of great potential but a disappointing underachiever” as a preamble to our reform blueprint, which was called “Economic Recovery Programme for Wealth and Employment Creation (ERS)”.
I remember many NGOs and civil society activists attacking me for paying attention to wealth creation as a prerequisite to employment creation, or a sine qua non for employment creation. I was attacked for pandering to businessmen and forgetting to uplift the poor. My argument was, however, that one cannot uplift the poor by poverty itself. It is the creation of wealth that creates jobs and new opportunities for fighting poverty provided wealth is created productively and not through such things as money laundering, currency speculation and other ways of exploiting both the poor and productive capital.
Looking at Kisumu county today, I would make the same observation as the one I made about Kenya in 2003. Kisumu is a county of great potential but a disappointing underachiever. This disappointment is even more pronounced after losing so many opportunities during the past four years of devolution.
County governments have six major functions for which financial resources are allocated every year by Parliament. These are health, agriculture, fisheries, roads, water and markets. There are others such as culture, environment, tourism and so on. But let us stick to the first six we have enumerated.
The question we need to ask ourselves is, how much developmental resources has the county government allocated to these functions, and what have been the developmental outcomes? Let us take health, for example, and choose one or two items. First, improvement in maternal and child care. Compared to our neighbours in Kisii and Kakamega counties, Kisumu has done very poorly. The statistics are not impressive, facilities have seen no major improvements and availability of drugs in health facilities is well below people’s expectations.
Just last week, KEMSA inspectors were in Kisumu to find out why drugs sent to their depot in Kisumu do not reach health facilities. The inspection revealed major corruption, where store records show the drugs had been received from Nairobi and distributed to health facilities but nothing like that happened. All this has been a racket involving county health officials and the KEMSA depot handlers.
Corruption, cronyism and misuse of public resources are simply bad choices made by bad leaders doing the wrong things against the public interest. This must be reversed if Kisumu is to realise its potential.
The agricultural sector is the most disappointing. Absolutely nothing innovative has happened in this sector for the last four years. Our two biggest cash crops — sugarcane and rice — have received zero attention from the county government.
Although we are endowed with great potential for horticultural farming, the county has paid scant attention to this sector. The county of Wajir, for example, has initiated very ambitious irrigation and water development projects. The government has sank 360 boreholes and has a very imaginative water tracking system. Wajir now produces water melons and cabbages which it can sell to neighbouring counties.
What have we in Kisumu done in irrigation and water development, not just in the obvious rice and sugar belts, but to encourage horticulture? Next to nothing.
I can go on and on, but let me say the following. I have some ideas on how this county of great potential can become a breadbasket in the lake region and beyond, creating wealth and jobs at the same time.
Agriculture and fisheries are the bedrock of the county’s economy.
It is one thing to develop poor roadworks here and there driven by rent seeking, selective tendering and procurement of services in favour of business cronies. It is quite another thing to have infrastructural development to support specific agricultural subsectors in various parts of the county with a clear goal to enhance produce delivery to markets or processing plants.
Health and Education
Health and education are critical to human resources development as well as to supporting the service sector and manufacturing. The county needs a healthy and skilled workforce. The development of this workforce starts with effective investment in our youth and women. A universal healthcare programme is vital in this regard. Even if education is largely a national government function, the county government must have its priorities and make national government resources serve local needs and priorities.
There is still room, however, for the county to invest in skills development through middle level training institutions that will encourage innovation in the creation of products, services and markets, while improving the management of small and medium enterprises. All this requires revenues at the disposal of the county government. Currently, inefficiency, poor management and corruption are wasting away revenue generated locally, and killing its potential to grow. Progressive tax policies, even in the form of levies and licences, always aim at encouraging compliance rather than evasion. This always helps in widening the tax base, while reducing the tax rate.
Weak revenue collection systems and outright theft of the little revenue that comes through rudimentary processes must not be allowed in a county that has the ambition to grow its local revenue.
In Sondu Market, for example, the Kisumu government charges traders a licensing fee of KShs 5,000 but issues receipts for only KShs 3,500. On the Kericho side of the same market, traders pay KShs 2,500 that is fully receipted. Were one to look closely at the development performance of the two counties, Kericho will definitely come on top.
Indeed, the fresh produce market in Kericho is much more organised than the one in Kisumu. Instead of county officials flying to Singapore to benchmark on development, a nation light years ahead of Kisumu, they had better visit Kericho and Wajir counties to see the levels of development innovation far much closer to them.
The same is true in maternal and child care. Kisumu has much more appropriate lessons to learn from Makueni and Kisii counties.
Problems, of course, abound everywhere. But there are those who are making innovations and some who are busy perfecting the industry of tenderpreneurship. Kisumu, unfortunately, falls in the latter category.
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~ Professor Nyong’o is the Kisumu Senator, Via The Star