Downside of reorganisation of the State

President Uhuru Kenyatta announced a reorganisation of the administrative apparatus of the Kenyan state. (File, Standard)
This week, President Uhuru Kenyatta announced a reorganisation of the administrative apparatus of the Kenyan state, with the aim of refocusing attention on development and his Big Four legacy projects. At the core of this was the creation of various development committees at the Cabinet, regional, and county levels. Over the last few days the media coverage of these changes has largely focused on the political implications of this reorganisation – with most analysts trying to explain what this means for the political standing of Deputy President William Ruto in the runup to the 2022 presidential election.

Few have looked at the administrative implications of the reorganisation. What will it mean to have regional and county development coordination committees? How will public officials respond to these new roles? And what will be the political and administrative implications?

To answer these questions, we should look back to the last time a president tried to deploy the provincial administration as the locus of development planning and implementation. It was the 1980s and President Moi, in a quest to consolidate power and defang central Kenya elites, pronounced the District Focus for Rural Development. The goals of this initiative were twofold. First, Moi wanted to channel development projects to parts of the country neglected by the Jomo Kenyatta administration. Second, the initiative created an opportunity to reorganise the patronage distribution network in government, with the provincial administration in charge. Thus through District and Provincial Commissioners (and the development committees they were supposed to lead) Moi could ration “development projects” -- thereby keeping politicians dependent on administration officials and loyal to Kanu.

There is some evidence that the redistributive aspects of “District Focus” worked. But the political goal backfired. In effect, by granting provincial administration officials authority to distribute patronage, Moi exposed the same officials to political capture. Throughout our history, development has always been political. The further centralisation of power in the mid-1980s and beyond – including moves like the imposition of the mlolongo election were therefore not signs of power, but of a president who, unlike his predecessor, had lost ability to effectively project power. 

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The current reorganisation is meant to facilitate monitoring and reporting on development projects at various levels of government. But it is likely that the committees at the national, regional and county levels will also give input in determining which projects should get funding. And it is here that officials in the “national coordination” administrative structure will be exposed to political capture or incessant conflicts with politicians (including governors).

Make no mistake, the president’s directive will politicise the national administrative apparatus. This will likely have negative impact on the relationship between governors and regional and county commissioners and reduce effectiveness of the administration in performing its other functions (including security). Finally, it will likely increase levels of corruption in the national coordination administrative structure.

One hopes that Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i is aware of these risks and will work to ensure his subordinates at the different levels of government do not see their new roles as opportunities for graft or peddling influence with politicians. And in the wake of the recent terror attack in Nairobi, it would be prudent for Kenyatta to ensure any repurposing of the administration as an engine for development does not distract it from the all important task of keeping us safe.

- The writer is an Assistant Professor at Georgetown University

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President Uhuru KenyattaBig FourGovernmentState Organs