There are many ways to identify a Kenyan. Besides using the word ‘otherwise’ to mean ‘talk to me’, Kenyans have perfected the art of laughing at their own pain. They create hashtags in a matter of seconds and give hilarious insights into otherwise depressing discourses. However, one of the most peculiar ways to identify a Kenyan is their tendency to do things the last minute.
A Kenyan is the mother frantically trying to procure school supplies the day before school resumes; the father queuing at the bank to pay school fees while their child waits in the lobby in school uniform; they are the masses fighting for the last spot to acquire a Huduma Namba on the last day of the issuance exercise. Kenyans are last-minute doers. They sit pretty and wait until the last whistle has been blown and then frantically rush to do what they should have done days, even months before.
Perhaps this is the reason, it seems, that our political leaders have also perfected this behaviour of last-minute development agendas. They are masters of initiating ‘panic development projects’ – projects critical to the survival of the electorate but which are ignored until two years, maybe a year, to the next General Election. The politicians then suddenly go on the rampage, commissioning one project after the other in a frantic attempt to partly deliver on their campaign promises and partly campaign for the next election.
It is a cyclical, never-ending fiasco of promises that are left unfulfilled until they form the bases for the next campaigns. This habit ensures the political leaders have a constant supply of ‘carrots’ to dangle every election cycle. It is common to hear tales about a rural road that has remained impassable for generations, with each political aspirant declaring their commitment to fix the road as soon as they are elected. While on the surface the ‘opposition’ decries the incumbent’s failure to fix the road, they too silently hope the road remains impassable, or their own campaign manifesto will have nothing to promise.
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The incumbent, on the other hand, will wait until the last year of their tenure to begin the road construction in earnest, conveniently ensuring they hoodwink the electorate to re-elect them in order to ‘complete the work they have begun’. The delay tactics serve to ensure politicians have a political lifeline while leaving the communities they represent deprived of essential services and, therefore, perennially at the mercy of the leaders.
It is no wonder therefore, that money meant for development in some counties is often left un-utilised, with the County Government Budget Implementation Report showing development absorption rates of as low as 3.2 per cent for the first half of the 2019/2020 Financial Year. This against recurrent absorption rates of 50 per cent and above in some counties for the same duration.
During the reporting period, Members of County Assemblies utilised 40 per cent of their approved sitting allowance budget. It seems that in some counties, MCAs merely sit at work without working. It is ironical that counties with major challenges in critical sectors such as health, education and water have high rollovers.
That money can lie unutilised in any county still struggling to ensure equitable distribution of quality education and health services is discouraging, to say the least.
Some people joke that Kenya’s elected leaders spend the first year in office repaying their campaign financiers and rewarding their campaign foot soldiers. Once the financiers have been settled, the leaders then embark on benchmarking trips, to see what needs to be done. They travel widely, both domestically and abroad.
As recurrent expenditure hits unprecedented rates each financial year, development projects are shelved, perhaps to await the ‘appropriate time’ – the last two years of the incumbent’s tenure during which the projects’ benefits to the politician will be twofold: Evidence of commitment to work and, if incomplete, a campaign promise of completion during the next tenure.
Whether by design or default, the underprivileged people have to live with poor road infrastructure, ill-equipped hospitals and dilapidated classrooms as the political leaders take their time in what is characteristically a Kenyan’s way of doing things.
Unless Kenyans learn to voice their concerns and hold political leaders accountable from the day they assume office, it is likely that our economic challenges will not evolve with time and politicians will still be promising basic needs in their campaigns for generations to come.
Dr Kalangi is a communication lecturer and trainer, Kenyatta University