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Restore people’s faith in State institutions

By Mohamed Guleid | January 7th 2021 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

ODM leader Raila Odinga and President Uhuru Kenyatta during the famous handshake. [File, Standard]

Faith is an important human attribute that builds confidence and gives hope. Faith in any system is crucial for it to work.

When people lose faith no amount of laws and legislation will restore the lost faith. Even initiatives like the BBI cannot bring back the confidence people once had in the governance systems.

Many Kenyans might not know this; in the 1960s, ballot boxes were placed under a tree and there were no voter registers. Unfortunately, women were not allowed to vote. The returning officer for the elections was the District Commissioner (DC) and the polling clerks were appointed by him. Institutions like the IEBC did not exist. Bwana DC was everything.

By the way, the DC also doubled up as the magistrate. So, if you lost the elections and wanted to petition, you had to lodge your complaints through the DC’s office. The nomination of councillors was also through the DC’s office. Ralph Palmer, in his book; ‘Kenya Matters’, explains how he collected ballots for important people like Daniel Arap Moi who got duly elected as the MP for Baringo North in 1963.

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Interestingly though, the mwananchi had faith in that process. Unfortunately today, we have devised all manner of instruments and measures to get a credible election but still, most Kenyans have no faith in the process.

In the ongoing debate on BBI and the referendum, many of the proponents of the referendum are already suggesting that BBI will go through, ‘wapende wasipende’.

Feel frustrated

This kind of remark takes away faith in the electoral system since the mwananchi is already skeptical of the process. My elder brother, now deceased, served from colonial times as a District Assistant in Isiolo but was later posted to Western Kenya as a District Officer where he retired decades later.

He served alongside people like Yussuf Haji, Luka Galgalo and many other carrier administrators from the Northern part of Kenya. The stories I heard from him about the way the earlier administrators worked had instilled faith in the people. It is only much later when DCs started accumulating wealth and misused public funds that things changed.

After his retirement, I remember he used to go to the DC’s office in Isiolo to see how people work. There was a day he arrived at 8am only to find no one had reported for work. He came back and told his wife, ‘Kenya kwisha kabisa’. He was disturbed by the level of apathy and lack of commitment by the public service.

I only hope we can see a paradigm shift starting this year, 2021. There has to be a plan to ensure we have fiscal discipline and efficient service delivery to win back this elusive faith.

Michael Barber in his book, ‘How to Run a Government’, explains the reasons citizens feel frustrated with their governments. ‘In the modern world where the space for change is unrelenting and the demands of the electorate are insistent’, Barber says, citizens expect immeasurably more from their government.

Public service

In the business world, an entrepreneur must be very clear in his priorities for his business to succeed. Failure to prioritise means collapse of one’s business. Equally, a government like ours must not only learn to prioritise, but also learn to be faithful to these plans.

I was happy when President Uhuru Kenyatta came up with the Big Four agenda. Finally, I thought to myself; here is a government coming up with a few measurable priorities. Unfortunately, this seems to have to been derailed again by other emerging priorities. 

When priorities are set and a good plan put in place, the implementation process is clearer and both government and public can easily track performance of the public service. In this New Year, I hope the governments both at the national and county levels can formulate clear, achievable priorities, even if it is for one year.

This can be a New Year resolution. Ultimately, any clear and transparent plans by the government will restore faith among wananchi. If the public sees something that works they will be the first to celebrate and praise the government and I think it possible to achieve this.

I also believe we do not have to set very high goals. Small incremental progress is better than grand style plans which ultimately might not be implemented. Have a very happy New Year!

Mr Guleid is the CEO, Frontier Counties Development Council. [email protected]


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