Devolution should bring community pride

An aerial view of Nairobi. Rural folks yearn to be the city’s residents. [File, Standard]
The aftermath of devolution was supposed to be community pride. With each county making economic strides, leading to higher standards of living, citizens in the regions should be as proud of their counties and communities as Nairobians, who are treated as better citizens.

Nairobians are very proud of themselves, perhaps because they are treated with awe by rural folk who do not know enough of the reality of living in the city. To the rural folk, Nairobi is full of fun and money is plenty. The truth is that only a few make enough money in the city and the skyscrapers do not signify money.

The concentration of services in Nairobi, from hospitals to schools and malls, mystify the city. Add some internationalisation and everyone wants to be a resident there. Even the elected MCAs and governors from other counties want to be in Nairobi, but their special number plates betray them.

Rural folk in Kenya don’t have as much pride as Nairobians; no wonder their dream is to emigrate to the city and live happily ever after. Nairobians are held in high esteem by the rest of the country.

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Owning some rare items -- such as cars and services like indoor plumbing, power and better houses -- is another source of pride for city dwellers. Also proximity to power since Nairobi is the capital.

Devolution was supposed to bring power closer to rural citizens with “His or Her Excellency “in the vicinity. This should have brought some pride but it seems to have brought fear and awe, with governors feared almost like former district commissioners.

It is interesting that the framers of the 2010 Constitution did not realise how much power they had handed to governors; the best evidence that we copied lots of sections of the Constitution. The powerful governorship was likely borrowed from Nigeria.

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We copied a lot from the American Constitution, too. But it’s hard to copy the core of American spirit like the Protestant work ethic and their pride in communities. From towns to states and counties, Americans take lots of pride in their communities. They all have a story to tell about their communities. 

It may be that after more than 200 years, a sense of community has evolved, brought about by common schooling, and other shared services. The pride in communities, in addition to one language, makes assimilation of immigrants easier.

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No matter how remote a community is in America, they have something to be proud of. I recall spending three weeks in the Amish country, in Indiana. The Amish shy away from modernism. They use coal to heat houses in winter, use horses instead of cars and have no electricity in their houses. They prefer basic education, have lots of children and are very religious. Yet they are very proud of their community.

Whether in the Deep South of vibrant California or dynamic New York, every community has some pride. They will talk of something they have that others do not have. They take pride in firms started by their sons and their economic mainstay, whether industrial or service. Kentucky and Illinois haggle over where Abraham Lincoln was born because of the pride that goes with that.

The mottos of the States espouse this pride. New Hampshire is “live free or die”, California is “Eureka”, Florida has “In God We Trus”t, just like the national motto. Check other state mottos and see the trend in pride.

Get mottos

Can our counties be sources of community pride? They have tried to get mottos, some inspiring, others not. Embu is “land of opportunities, Turkana is “cradle of mankind”, Nyandarua is “journey of hope”.

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But pride goes beyond mottos; it comes when citizen’s economic status improves. That is why the rich and affluent have more pride than hustlers. One way to increase community pride is to improve the standards of living by creating jobs.

Unfortunately, the popularity of counties came from the few government jobs and not from the jobs created by the private sector. We now know more of new hotels in the counties than new factories.

Community pride also comes from institutions such as schools and historical sites. Which schools are flagships in each county after the old ones were ‘promoted’ to national status? Why can’t the government build new schools instead of promoting old ones? Which sites are sacred or important historically? Can they attract tourists or pilgrims?

Great leaders are also a source of community pride. Does Nyeri get pride from giving us Mwai Kibaki? What of Baringo and Daniel arap Moi? I have no doubt that Kiambu gets a lot of pride from producing two presidents, and they do not hide it.

Pride in communities can attract more investment as sons and daughters return after school to invest in their communities. Too often, lack of pride chases away men and women most likely to transform their communities. The rural communities suffer from brain drain and stagnate economically.

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Social progress

Further, such pride leads to cohesion and social progress. Today, community pride only appears in politics when we think one of our own can become the next president.

Interestingly, Americans and citizens of other developed countries take pride in coming home after their sojourn to other states or around the world. That includes missionaries who once made Kenya their home. That pride is translated into jobs and more satisfied citizenry.

In Kenya, lack of pride in communities has led to stagnation in the countryside. Has BBI looked at how to rejuvenate this pride? What of Competency Based Curriculum (CBC)? A sense of pride in our communities would do one more thing; mute the excesses of capitalism and individualism best espoused by corruption.

- The writer teaches at the University of Nairobi

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