In his abridged version of the book, Descent from Cherang’any Hills: Memoirs of a Reluctant Academic, Ambassador Benjamin Kipkorir details the origins and intrigues of local government in Kenya. Calling it Sirikwa County, the chapter details the centralisation of power, and the consequences of such policies.
- 14th Feb 2010 00:00:00 GMT +0300
I took up appointment as Deputy County Clerk with Sirikwa County Council at its HQ in Eldoret on 25th March 1965, a few days after my final undergraduate exams at Makerere. A year and half later I left the position to pursue postgraduate studies at Cambridge and venture into new pastures. I abandoned a position that, under more favourable circumstances, could have led to a promising career in local government administration. The desire to serve my people directly had turned into frustration and bitter disappointment. However, during my stint at Sirikwa, I learnt much about people, management, and the working of government, which was to stand me in good stead nearly two decades later and beyond.
Local Government throughout the colonial period was an experiment in the engineering of community development. Regardless of the original intent, in time, there was in place in pre-Independent Kenya a form of representative local government which was also, and crucially, sensitive and responsive to the needs of the local people. Ironically, LNCs [Local Native Councils] served the colonials as well because it enabled them (the rulers) to do (and be seen to be doing) something 'beneficial' for the natives. Better still, thanks to LNCs, the British taxpayer was spared the burden of African trusteeship. Nevertheless, the councils were a success story which ought to have formed a solid foundation for independent Kenya's rapid infrastructural, social and economic development. The point was missed, and the cause lost, because the institution of local government was seen as a threat to the centre. At Independence the reformed version of the historical local government structure dovetailed so well with the Majimbo constitution that, one supposes, those in the KANU regime opposed to Majimbo felt that they both should go.The immediate origins of Local Government are usually traced directly to the African political protests of the 1920s. The Colonial Administration first created LNCs in the years 1924-25 in Central and Nyanza Provinces, i.e. in those areas where political agitation had manifested itself, fostered by the first set of Christian mission-educated young men. The authorities were intended to serve as safety-valves, to channel African political energies into non-confrontational avenues. However, G V Maxwell, the CNC [Chief Native Commissioner] who was the architect of the authorities, introduced a system which he derived from Fiji and which, therefore, he intended to cover all areas, not merely the ones responsible for political agitation, among subject populations. It did not take long before the developmental utility of the authority manifested itself, as almost immediately, and for most of the colonial period, the LNC became the means by which meaningful social and economic development in the African areas was made possible.Thus right from the early stages of their existence, the LNCs undertook all the social development and welfare functions of government in the areas of their jurisdiction. The councils passed laws and exercised judicial powers through tribunals specially set up for the purpose. The cost of maintaining these courts was met by the councils. In turn, revenues from fees and court fines went to the coffers of the respective authorities. There are records that indicate that as a result of the involvement of LNCs in the administration of law and order, crime as defined by the Colonial authorities, declined. (For reasons that I have yet to determine, these tribunals were abolished at Independence.)In their structure each LNC differed depending on the location and local politics. Councils consisted of both nominated and elected members, the elected members predominating, with elections, where they existed, varying from election by open baraza and election by Locational Councils to election by secret ballot.Development of Local Government (1948-62)By 1948, the local authorities in the African areas had evolved beyond the original scope of the LNCs of the 1920s. Significant constitutional changes came after the Second World War as a direct result of a Colonial Office initiative. A new policy was enunciated, aimed at improving a mode of government that was basically a modification of the theory of Indirect Rule enunciated by Lord Lugard and refined by Cameron. The policy had as its stated objective the creation of an efficient democratic system of local government. In 1950, the LNC was renamed ADC, and given enhanced powers similar to those which applied in the European District Councils, renamed 'County' Councils. Consciously or unconsciously, the African local authorities assumed more of the character of local authorities in Britain, and a decade later observers had no difficulty in comparing them accordingly. On the eve of independence, the roles of both the central government and the ADC's were so ‘inextricably interdependent both physically and psychologically as to be indistinguishable’. Tax collection was undertaken jointly, as was the administration of bylaws. He was supported by a small cadre of clerical and subordinate staff, chiefly to service the Council. Most of the local authority's functions were carried out by other organs such as the DEB, the central government's technical departments, and Christian missions, all serving as agents of the Council in question. Accordingly, all the other senior public personnel in a district would be central government officers, either responsible for technical departments (agriculture, veterinary/livestock services, education, health) or seconded to the Council (e.g. Treasurer/ Finance Adviser). The Locational CouncilLocational Councils came into existence after the Second World War but were not established in every district. They consisted of a representative in a location plus the local ADC member, with the Chief serving as chairman. They were subordinate to ADCs. They were sounding boards for local opinion, and had more say on local markets, administrative tracks, bridges, women's clubs, sports and locational halls. Local Government in Kenya in the period 1962-1966 underwent a complex change both positive and negative. As independence neared, steps were taken to accelerate the realisation of representative, i.e. democratic governance at the local level. This was the easier step. The more difficult and complex change (manoeuvre) was the amalgamation of the two different types of local authorities: African and European.The new "arrangement" providing for grants from the Central Government undermined much of the autonomy that the ADCs had. There were two, not necessarily unconnected, issues to be addressed on the eve of Independence. One was to arrive at a mechanism for ensuring that all local authorities had similar and stable revenue bases for their allotted responsibilities. The second was concerned with the role of the central government in both local authority financing and control in a constitutional arrangement that had a regional government interposed between the two. The departing Colonial authorities recognised that the task was not complete and expected the process to continue. Sirikwa CountyThe local authorities in the European districts had since 1952 been restructured into counties, county divisions, townships, urban districts/municipalities and rural districts. These were European bodies, whose members were elected from constituencies called wards. Representation in these authorities was by elected members from designated wards, but African representation was either nonexistent or token through 'advisory' bodies. A few Africans were nominated to represent African interests in some of the more advanced European authorities.In the African areas, as we have seen, the key authority was the ADC which, in most of the hinterland districts, was making rapid strides towards meeting normal local public services as understood, say, in Britain. With the accelerated pace towards Independence, these authorities were strengthened further through the recruitment of better qualified staff, the training and retraining of existing staff, and even the appointment, through secondment, of expatriate staff as 'advisers', especially in the Treasurer's department. It is possible that the idea of amalgamation of African local authorities (ADCs), with neighbouring European County Councils was mooted in response to the need to make better use of the limited human resources available. But it is also possible that functionality alone was not the overriding concern, and that other political issues associated with Majimbo played a more crucial role? Nevertheless, amalgamation was aggressively pursued in the space of a few months between December 1962 and May 1963, leading to the formation of the three huge local authorities in the Rift Valley Region/Province, namely Sirikwa, Central Rift and Kipsigis county councils.Sirikwa County Council was instituted through the amalgamation of the five local authorities in the areas of Nandi, Uasin Gishu, Trans Nzoia, Elgeyo-Marakwet and West Pokot districts. At its inception it was the largest county spatially and the second largest in population (550,000) in Kenya. Its creation was a rushed affair in the dying months of colonial rule, and the aspirations that its proponents espoused were never realized because it was never given a chance to function effectively as a local authority. Initially, it benefited enormously from its twin heritage of the former European local authorities of Uasin Gishu and Trans Nzoia and the extensive service provision mechanisms of the ADCs of Nandi and Elgeyo Marakwet. When I joined it, the County was preoccupied largely with three main areas of service provision: primary education, primary healthcare (including operation of health centres and rural dispensaries), road and aerodrome and maintenance. I was aware of the responsibilities of local authorities under the Independence Constitution, but I was not aware of the underlying currents that would inform the radical retrogressive steps that manifested themselves soon after I reported for duty. It was my firm belief that, after independence, the local administrative mechanisms that had evolved could only be improved. Early signs of corruptionSometime early in 1966, information came to us that an Education Officer had misused a local purchase order (LPO) to requisition school equipment material from a supplier far in excess of the total amount in the district budget allocations. A similar transgression had been committed by the DO of Nandi in 1964, soon after Sirikwa's formation, and a whole day's session of a Sub-Committee of the County's Finance Committee had been devoted to inquiring how such a gross breach could have taken place. In that instance, no suggestion of malfeasance was suspected and none materialized. The fact, however, was that an officer with authority to use an official LPO had irregularly committed the Council to an expenditure that had to be honoured but for which no funds were available.In the course of its deliberations the Council's Sub-Committee faced two difficulties. Under the old system, 'gentlemanly' arrangements were accepted when placing orders for books at a time when communication between District HQs, schools and suppliers were difficult and much trust was placed in the manner in which transactions were carried out. Also, the DEO then served the DEB for which he was effectively the accounting officer. Now, two years later, we faced a seemingly similar situation where another civil servant, seconded to and wholly dependent on the County Council for the resources that enabled him to discharge his duties, had abused the office. What was the Council to do? What should have been the central government’s position on the act of misconduct? The Council was clear on its responsibilities; it would not tolerate irresponsibility. It promptly suspended the officer, an action that was fully supported by the County Education Officer who was himself also a civil servant on secondment.The reaction of the central government was surprising. It refused to accept the Council's action and demanded that the officer be reinstated in his former office! The Council stood its ground and a mini crisis erupted involving the Permanent Secretaries of the two Ministries of Education [J K Njoroge and Local Government [J K Koitie], as well as the Provincial Commissioner of the day, [Simeon Nyachae]. The central government’s view, as articulated especially by the Permanent Secretary and his PEO, Shadrack Kimalel (a personal friend of mine who later served as High Commissioner for Kenya in India and the UK), was that the County Council had no powers to suspend a civil servant. The PLO came to see me in Eldoret to persuade me to plead with the Council to reverse its resolution on the suspension. In the event, as the central government refused to second a replacement officer, the County Education Officer appointed one of his supervisors to act in the office. I left Sirikwa before the matter was finally resolved and never learnt how it ended. It was clear, however, that a resurgent Provincial Administration was chary of a democratic local authority system that could 'suspend' civil servants and ignore directives. The great betrayalAt the beginning of the 21st century, local government in Kenya, like most public organs meant to serve the people, was in a shambles. It was characterised by geographical and demographic incongruities, bloated council membership and inadequate resource allocations for an unlimited range of responsibilities. It was manned by demoralised staff whose senior members could be removed at any time for good or arbitrary reasons, depending almost entirely on political exigencies. Above all, local government in Kenya has always been trying to survive under the massive weight of a twin set of powers over which it can exercise no control whatsoever: the all-powerful Provincial Administration whose officers sometimes but not always – act at the behest of individual local or national politicians, and the direction and supervision of a powerful Ministry of Local Government. At the start of Independence, such a hopeless scenario was not foreseen. The Constitutional Review Commission established in 2002, was expected to address itself to the role of local government and to other areas, with a view to providing Kenyans with structures of government that met the wishes of the mythical citizen, 'Wanjiku'. However, a fundamental cause of the stalemate of the review process can be traced to a constitutional adjustment of public structures and relationships that Jomo Kenyatta, the founding president, introduced to the governance of Kenya. Kenyatta sought to establish a relationship structure between local authorities and the central government that did not exist before Independence but which his immediate successor, Moi, retained and amplified, and the present leader, Kibaki, while not saying so clearly, finds useful. How did such a turn of events come to be?When I joined Sirikwa County Council, the writ of local government development in Kenya was at its apex. It had control of the provision of all key public services at the local level: education, public health, minor roads. But perhaps the most coveted power was that of land control, which was only limited by the need for technical inputs from the Commissioner of Lands. The Commissioner's powers only applied to the 'Scheduled' areas, i.e. former white highlands. In the former African reserves, control over trust land was, since the 1930s, the preserve of local authorities; however, it now reposed in the new County/Municipal authorities. Within Sirikwa County, the only key natural resource control that was lost to the central government under the Independence arrangements was forest conservation and management. Throughout its illustrious history, the Elgeyo-Marakwet ADC had derived the bulk of its revenues from cesses on forest produce. The ADC had, in turn, performed a sterling job in conserving the forests. With the transfer of forest conservation to the central government, a regime of natural resource destruction and decimation was ushered in a regime that, sadly, continues to the present day. The Kenyan Government has done worse than a miserable job in conserving forests in former Trust Land areas. When I left, a year and a half later, the very existence of local government with the democratic power to manage local services was in jeopardy.What happened? First, the structure, shape and role of local government in Kenya changed radically soon after Independence. It became painfully clear that a career path in it was virtually nonexistent. I was approximately mid-way through my undergraduate studies at Makerere when Independence came to Kenya 1963. In the next 15 months (during which time I intensified my preparation for both my degree qualification and local government employment), I was vaguely aware that the constitutional arrangements with which my country had attained Independence were being varied. I was not, however, aware that the changes necessarily and fundamentally affected local authority functions and responsibilities. Local government had been developing and was actually maturing even before Independence; therefore, I had thought that no self-respecting democrat, not especially anyone who, during the clamour for self-government from Britain, had used such phrases as 'undiluted democracy' in describing the Kenya they envisioned, could find serious technical fault with the local government structure. I was certain that on the basis of the schedule of functions that local authorities were given, the future for me lay in employment at Sirikwa. I was wrong. I should have been paying more attention to newspaper reports of the debates in Parliament and observing the political culture that was rapidly evolving, not just in Africa as a whole – the movement towards one-party rule, for example – but more particularly, the imperial style that Kenya's first leader was adopting.Apart from the opposing views of KANU unitarists and KADU majimboists there was the threat of secession by the Somali community which wished to be incorporated in the greater Somalia which had become Independent in 1960. Meanwhile, the settler community was split into two camps. One camp supported the African majimboists while another (the majority) was concerned with their exit. A memorandum prepared at this time indicated that 60-65% of the settlers wished to sell their lands and leave as soon as possible while the remainder were either too old to start life elsewhere or were so indebted to the banks that they could not realize sufficient money even if their farms were sold at fair prices to retire on capital gained. Regardless of their camps, European settlers themselves proposed the setting up of African settlement along areas adjoining African reserves by splitting the large European farms into high density (10-15 acre) units.From the foregoing, it is evident that the British colonial authorities were in panic mode in the months before Independence. Effectively Kenyatta and KANU became a saviour to the British from a potentially failed process of colonial disengagement. The inference must surely be that the British were ready to concede ground to the extent of tacitly agreeing to KANU radically altering the Independence Constitution to remove 'irksome' provisions relating to Majimbo.It had long been evident that the ruling party, KANU had been unhappy with aspects of the Constitution that the Opposition party, KADU, had managed to 'entrench' in it. KANU was, accordingly, preoccupied with removing them, especially anything to do with secessionist (Majimbo or regional government) vestiges. I had had a glimpse of this intolerance of everything to do with Majimbo. One evening in 1964, half way through my internships with the 'Sirikwa' local authorities, I had the opportunity to meet and fraternize with a few of the members of Kenya's first Independence Cabinet at an Eldoret night club. Among them were James Otiende (Education), Achieng Oneko (Information and Broadcasting) and Njoroge Mungai (Defence), all members of Kenyatta's Cabinet. They had accompanied Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, then Prime Minister, to the North Rift area. During the tour, the central government assumed financial responsibility for the running of Kapkenda Girls School in return for Hon. William Murgor crossing the floor in Parliament (ditching the Opposition) and joining the (KANU) government benches. The school had previously been a self-help (Harambee) venture. I had a long debate with Mungai in which I challenged him on the ruling party's commitment to serving all Kenyans regardless of their political affiliations, as was expected of any democratic state. Mungai informed me, as I thought, in jest, that unless a community supported the ruling party (KANU), the government would ignore its area. I posed for him a hypothetical question, 'What would the government do if oil was discovered in the Rift Valley (then strongly an Opposition area)?' Mungai told me the oil would be left in the ground. That form of vicious political posturing was new to me and, at the time, beyond my comprehension. It was linked to another development about which I became fully conscious only after I had taken up a position at the University of Nairobi, viz. the arrogation of all state power to the person of the President. Majimbo threatened the President's hold of power.Even so, if majimboism alone was KANU's concern then, logically, it should have strengthened local government. When KANU abolished Majimbo it must have known that under the Local Government Regulations of 1963 which represented imperfect yet maturing historical arrangements on this key component of public governance, considerable responsibilities were devolved upon local authorities. None of the nationalist leaders had argued, before Independence, that the functions and powers of local authorities were excessive! Yet, soon after Independence, the central government preoccupied itself with transferring to the centre the major local authority functions. In my view, this was tantamount to a deliberate act of the disempowerment of the people of Kenya as far as the management of their local affairs was concerned. The central government seemed obsessed with imaginary fears of threats to its own authority over all that it had inherited from Her Majesty's government and was not satisfied merely with the abolition of Majimbo. Certainly, in my dealings with the Ministry of Education over the suspension of an officer, the Permanent Secretary, J K Njoroge, was so incensed by a local authority withdrawing recognition of a central government officer, that I was puzzled.I was under no illusion that he felt that Sirikwa County Council had exceeded its powers in suspending a government officer from his duties. That crisis placed two parent ministries on a collision course: the Ministry of Local Government responsible for supervising local authorities, and Ministry of Education, responsible for regulating education policy. In a sense, the local authority was an agent for the Ministry of Education, but it was also a corporation, accountable for the resources at its disposal in specific terms. While Njoroge was concerned about 'authority', I was concerned about propriety. I now know that the furore was referred to the Attorney-General's chambers and that was why 'we got away with it'. But really, this was one further sign I had that those manning the centre lived in fear of effective local government. While I was mulling over these minor problems, of how to relate with the central government, a development occurred which Sirikwa welcomed. Kenyatta appointed a commission of inquiry into local government. The Hardacre Commission and SirikwaPresident Kenyatta appointed the Hardacre Commission in March 1966 to inquire into local government in Kenya and gave it a very broad mandate to make recommendations; but after he received its report, he angrily turned away from it and proceeded to act the way he must have intended all along. The puzzle is, why had he instituted the inquiry in the first instance?The members of Sirikwa Council and I were animated by the opportunity to let the country and the central government know their feelings and what must be done to set in motion what we fervently believed were the necessary corrective measures to place local government at the centre of both the nation's democratic governance and the strategies for its social and economic development. The stated objective, of advising the government on the reforms necessary to make the local government system a more effective instrument for the provision of local services and local development within the framework of national policy and programmes, led us into the false notion that the President clearly intended to galvanise the democratic resources both at the centre and the periphery, in a harmonized effort for the good of the people. Looking back today, it is clear that he was concerned about the galvanizing' part but, alas, not the 'democratic' one. It was not his desire to increase the democratic space; the opposite was his intentWe assumed (wrongly as it turned out) that it must be the Government's policy, on purely democratic grounds, that the Provincial Administration, a colonial relic, be disbanded, although we opined that it still could play a role in the less developed parts of the country, such as the Northern areas of Kenya, and in the West Pokot and Marakwet Districts of Sirikwa. We contended, however, that "… should a decision have to be made as to whether the Provincial Administration or Local Authorities should remain, this Council holds the view that the Provincial Administration should give way".One of the areas in which local authorities had been savaged by critics, including the Provincial Administration, was the poor collection of GPT – the tax which, in the last days of British rule, had been devised as the chief means of financing local government. It replaced most of the other sources of revenue, e.g. agricultural produce cesses, court fees, royalties from Trust Land forests and most important of all, poll tax, which had been paid by every able-bodied male. Under the new revenue scheme Councils could also levy rates on land but we argued that reliance on this tax alone was not a feasible proposition, as not all land in the County area was held by title.We should have been reading the subtext of what was intended with the abolition of the Majimbo Constitution by, in particular, trying to make sense of the political statements and declarations of the President and his close associates. One weekend, when addressing a rally at the Kamukunji Grounds in Nairobi, Kenyatta, had, it seemed in response to the popular demand of the crowd, declared that outpatient services in government health centres would 'with immediate effect' be offered free of charge to wananchi.The following week, he extended the provision of this 'free' service to local authority clinics, without providing the additional money to cover the costs of personnel, premises and drugs. Next, he halved the lowest GPT [Graduated Personal Tax) tax to Sh24 but a short while later abolished it altogether! The Ministry of Local Government was requested to provide local authorities with additional grants to cover the shortfalls arising from the additional burden that free health services entailed against a curtailed tax base; but it would be quite a while before any monies were received, and they were certainly not sufficient to cover the shortfall.This form of personal intervention in the management of public services at the local level considerably undermined the effectiveness of local government and shifted people's attention from the local to the centre. The roles and relevance that local government in Kenya had accumulated from their inception in 1924 until 1963 were undermined and rendered meaningless in a short span of just three years.What I witnessed in 1965-66 was only the beginning. The usurpation of the powers of local government was but part of an elaborate scheme by which Kenyatta arrogated to his person all power in the state – both political and executive. The Provincial Administration was transferred to the Office of the President in December 1964. It should be remembered that this service used to fall under the CNC during the colonial period. In concentrating power in his Office and, in particular, in promoting the central coordinating role to the Provincial Administration, Kenyatta faced considerable opposition, not least from his own backyard of the Central Province. The instrument he employed to address that opposition was the Provincial Administration, a government department that had never been under the Governor's or Chief Secretary's office during the entire Colonial period.The logical consequence of Kenyatta's action was to make the Provincial Administration an agent, in fact the executive arm, of the ruling party, KANU. Thereafter, both the party and parliament were in fact subsumed under the President, with the Provincial Administration holding sway. It should not, therefore, have come as a surprise that when a Member of Parliament chose to make an allegation against one of Kenyatta's most powerful holders of that office he would quickly have to eat humble pie." Over time, and by 1978 when Kenyatta died, even other organs of the Central Government, had lost ground to the Administration.Kenyatta's Independence administration dealt a knock-out blow to local government as a democratic instrument of governance. The people were disempowered at the local level and nothing that happened in the next 40 years changed that! What remained thereafter was a shell, with councillors, whose numbers would be increased and for whom allowances had to be provided. Kenyatta took local services to the centre and in the process denied local citizens a means of determining responsibility for the presence of even potholes on their rural roads. In the end he was a good leader with pronounced black spots. He clearly admired the British and the way they had exercised control over their subjects. He may have derived some of this admiration from years of watching Chief Kinyanjui at work. He picked from the British Administration those things that answered to his craving for power and discarded some very good things that he did not either fully understand or appreciate, or perhaps more truthfully, militated against his instinctive passion for power and material benefits (to wit, land!). Genesis of land problems The allure of the former White Highlands was so great, especially among the Nandi, that many a progressive farmer sold his good lands in the 'Reserve' in order to move to a white settler's farm, then believed to be flowing with milk (and also perhaps to live in a European-type house?). Often, the lands they were vacating received more rainfall and were accordingly potentially more productive than those they were settling onto. It is said that nature abhors a vacuum and so many a traditional Nandi holding would be bought by a migrating Luyia family. The result of this shift, without doubt, would be ethnic clashes emerging a generation later beginning with those that occurred at Kapkangani, Nandi in 1981.Seemingly, there was plentiful land to buy at Independence. When I joined Sirikwa in 1965 my first monthly salary was Sh1,400 while large scale farms were on sale at Sh70 an acre with loans available for up to 90% of total purchase value! A few of the new farmers employed skills they had acquired through the progressive agricultural practices in the 'Reserves' and exploited the opportunity to carry out large scale wheat farming, using plant and machinery cheaply bought from the departing settlers. The farm machinery companies quickly adjusted themselves to serving the new farmers. In those early years of Independence, and for nearly a decade later, the marketing co-operatives such as the Wheat Board, the Kenya Co-operative Creameries (KCC) and the Kenya Farmers Association (KFA) functioned with little or no government interference and farmers prospered accordingly. The departing colonial and the incoming Kenya governments arranged settlement schemes at the coming of Independence, as a means of addressing a long felt grievance and also to alleviate pressure on land in the Native Reserves. Although not all Kenyan communities had been identified with these grievances and needs, both governments were anxious to establish an element of equity and justice. Accordingly, there were schemes all around the core of the districts within the former White Highlands (the Lugari Settlement Scheme for the Luyia, the Kipkarren, Lessoss, and Ndalat schemes for the Nandi, the two Suwerwo schemes for the Marakwet, and the Elgeyo-Border and Kapng'etuny schemes for the Keiyo). Similar schemes were arranged for communities in Central and Nyanza Provinces/ Regions.The schemes were designed to be affordable to anyone who was in need. For example, on Jennings’ farm (formerly Crown land) next to my home at Kapcherop, one needed to raise only Sh103 (approx £5 Sterling) to be allotted 100 acres (41.5ha), with an annual payment of Sh103 for 30 years. Between the settlement schemes and the group companies most of the former European farms were taken. The concern with the unknown consequences of wholesale removal of large-scale farming led the Government of Kenya to establish the Agricultural Development Corporation (ADC). The Corporation was to acquire as many of the remaining European farms as possible for seed growing and to serve as national livestock stud farms.Many years later, these settlers began enjoying the fruits of their efforts, chiefly because of capital appreciation of their investment.The picture in the settlement schemes, often incorporating the more marginal European settler ranches, was not at all rosy; that notwithstanding its affordability and, correspondingly, attraction for the pioneering sort. While the new settlers gained access to considerably more land than they ever held in the 'Reserves', they faced many infrastructural difficulties and it was some of these that concerned me in Sirikwa. Soon after Independence, the central government relaxed the [tacit] rule regarding these holdings and allowed subdivisions to affordable sizes. On the farms adjoining urban centres, informal settlements emerged that we knew clearly presaged the rise of slums and which we sought to prevent. The County Council acted as a Land Control Board, with powers to recommend a change of user. Thereafter, the Commissioner of Lands in Nairobi (then still an expatriate) would provide the necessary authority for whatever was applied for. The scramble for former European farmlands, presented us with great challenges.The rules on land use, physical planning and business and housing developments were those enacted during the Colonial period (just ended) and were meant to ensure regulated planning and development. While the procedures laid down were strictly followed at the first sale stage, it became difficult to maintain them at subsequent stages; and yet the procedures remained unchanged. The use to which the lands were put soon changed as land owners found it more profitable to subdivide and sell portions of the land; or to erect residential or commercial premises. Often these actions contravened existing (Colonial) by-laws, which local authorities were required to enforce.When we sought to control the emergence of these developments, on the ground that the key services of roads, water and related amenities were prerequisite for them, the last British Commissioner of Lands, Mr O'loughlin, together with his deputy, Frank Charnley, told us that it was not possible to prevent those developments 'in this day and age'. I was astounded at how quickly former Colonial civil servants had changed tack, and were now prepared to cut corners and compromise on key policy areas to appease new political masters. That was in early 1966; the era of informal development had come. In a sense, these expatriates correctly discerned that following Independence, a degree of social deconstruction was necessary. Unrestricted subdivision of former large scale holdings was deemed necessary to allow the wananchi to enjoy their share of Uhuru.Today, when I see the extent to which the government has to go to clear central business districts of hawkers, kiosks, maize roasters and other such informal activities, I often wonder how far we would be as a nation had we built on the sound local government infrastructure that we inherited at Independence! But I am not so naÔve as not to realize that a certain degree of relaxation of rules and regulation is at times a political necessity. In a democracy, the government can only stay in office if it enjoys the support of the majority. I can now see that the government had no choice but to relax some of the strict prescription of the Colonial regime. But it persisted with this laissez faire approach for far too long, and now we are paying the price, for the countryside is being turned into a vast rural slum, with litter everywhere. Without an empowered local government system, we shall go on promoting squalor until a revolution forces us to our senses.
|Ambassador Benjamin Kipkorir|
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Benjamin Kipkorir Cherang’any Hills Memoirs of a Reluctant Academic Local Native Councils