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One man, one-shilling talk could be diversion trick from real issues

Opinion

 

 ODM leader Raila Odinga and Limuru Conference III convenors during a press conference on the one man, one shilling debate on June, 06, 2024. [Samson Wire, Standard]

Just when we thought our noisy politics was settling down, the “one man, one vote, one shilling” mantra has raised its head, once again.  Loudly championed by Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua and recently supported by former Prime Minister Raila Odinga and the Limuru III conference on the future of Mount Kenya, this mantra returns us to the thorny national subject of resource distribution, or more prosaically, resource sharing.

Some are even linking it to the shambolic BBI constitutional remaking initiative overturned by our courts at all levels. 

The reaction to “one man, one vote, one shilling” has been just as noisy.

Mount Kenya leaders opposing the idea suggest this is village politics, forgetting that Kenya is the sum total of its villages.

Other Kenyans have asked why not “one square kilometre, one shilling” or “one man, one shilling per kilometre” because we think of “others”. For the gender-aware, what about “one Kenyan, one shilling”?  Or for those on social media, “one president, one term, one region”?

From Cabinet secretaries, we have heard everything from “one country, one flag, one nation” at one extreme to “we (Mount Kenya) have enough jobs in government” at the other.  

Because this debate sounds like a devolution question, it is surprising that nobody has tortured the data enough to find that a significant part of the equitable share allocated to counties since 2013 has always been population and land-based.  These are the two key resource variables in our permanent political play. Our land resource is fixed (until we think virtually), and our population is rising. And resources are as much about politics as politics is about resources. 

But let us take a step back.

Is this one man, one-shilling debate a red herring?  Is it a clever attempt by the administration to feign discord in the ruling coalition and divert our attention from the painful and controversial 2024 Finance Bill expected to be summarily passed before the budget statement is read this week in order for the IMF to conclude their latest review? 

Or is it a Trojan Horse to create a unifying narrative that rejects the parochialism of one man, one shilling by building a one Kenya argument consistent with the intentions of said 2024 Finance Bill and 2024/25 Budget? An argument that we are all in this together.

It is not beyond the wit of man to suspect that the timing of this debate is not a coincidence, especially when opinion polls show our unhappiness with the cost of living and lack of job and income opportunity and our surrender to corruption, insecurity and public participation. 

Let us unpack our deputy president’s provincial one-man, one-shilling argument further using a “bottom-up” approach.

First, if you strip out all the noise, and throw in the voices of leaders from the former Central Province rather than the whole of Mount Kenya, this all begins with educational bursaries (think “one child, one shilling”) flowing from the National Government Constituency Development Fund (NGCDF) rather than the national and county governments.  While the latter are per capita based, the former depend on the size of the kitty nationally and locally. 

Because the kitty is distributed equally across all constituencies, it stands to reason that lesser populated counties can afford higher bursaries.  This is the design flaw in NGCDF, but it reflects a larger philosophical flaw. We made a terrible mistake to retain these funds with the advent of devolution.  You will not hear the same MPs making noise about roads given that, in good road density rather than length, Central Province has at least half of the tarmac in Kenya. 

This bursary argument may sound simplistic. But it harks to a second point, population.  Population equals voters.

Mount Kenya rules today, but KNBS projections show that the fastest growing regions by population size are the North (from West Pokot to Garissa), the Coast and the North and South Rift, with Lower Eastern and Nyanza in the middle and Mount Kenya as the laggard.  So one man, one shilling is immediate, because in the long run, the tables will turn in a manner similar to America’s experience with African and Latin Americans. 

We are still on the bottom-up path so let us go to counties as a third point.

Counties are, by design, an equalisation enterprises in both political and economic terms.  They are intended to address the opportunity inequality defined by geography, one of four opportunity inequalities. The others being gender, inter-generational and social exclusion and inclusion.  They are supposed to address outcome inequalities through service delivery and local economic development. 

Ironically, what one man, one shilling does is to test the current input-driven formula for the sharing of county resources. At the bottom, it should be the equalising outcome, say access to education or health care, or market access through roads, that must be reverse-engineered into the revenue-sharing formula (outcome-based costing).

A decade into devolution, we surely have the data to guide us here.  Yes, it can only be guidance, otherwise it would contradict the self-determining autonomy granted to counties.  But it is better thinking. 

Which brings us to our fourth point.

Our painful lesson from history is that development planning that prioritised high-potential areas in the expectation of trickle-down to low-potential areas was disastrous and destructive as a nation-building enterprise. Kenya, the nation, is not a corporation with cash cows and loss leaders.  This is why Article 203 of the Constitution recognises that the allocation of funds between counties must take into account economic disparities within and among counties and the need to remedy them as well as the need for affirmative action in regard to disadvantaged areas and groups. 

To put this differently, one man, one shilling, or a purely population-based formula only makes sense if every part of Kenya started from the same baseline of service availability and economic development and has equal capacity for continued service delivery and economic development.  This is not the case, but, to be clear, a land-based formula is an even worse non-starter.

One man, one shilling is a reminder that, while resource distribution, or sharing, is a challenge, our real ask is resource generation on financial, economic, physical, human, social and knowledge basis.

The fact that we have another killer Finance Bill before us is an indictment on our lack of imagination in finding a return on our resource capital.  We should not be talking about one man, one shilling but a medium-term resource generation strategy.

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