The objectives of devolution revolve around facilitating equitable economic development across all regions of the country.
In sum, the Constitution acknowledges the importance of involving all citizens in national planning and development, so that all persons - irrespective of their social status, region of habitation, population size of their community or any other unique characteristic of a specific group - are included in the development continuum.
This is important because the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, upon which the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are anchored, is premised on various principles, one of them being “inclusivity” and which has been given a rather instructive tag “leaving no one behind”.
Leave no one behind
The development foreseen in the SDGs, and particularly SDG number one which deals with poverty eradication focuses on uplifting each and every citizen – so that income and poverty gaps are minimised. From the global spectrum, it is about reducing poverty within and among countries.
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However, herein lies the big development question - how do we actualise this given the ever-evolving geo-politics, which to a large extent, explain the perennially lukewarm support given to Least Developed Countries particularly those who have been in conflict situations for long periods with devastating effects on living standards and human rights.
Unfortunately, that development conundrum is not only complex at global level, but is equally challenging to individual countries. In Kenya, and in light of the Constitutional obligations highlighted above, both the National and County Governments have critical roles to play.
And this needs to be seen in different contexts. First, the gap between the rich and the poor has been widening and needs to be addressed through short, medium and long-term interventions. Second, there are significant differences in socio-economic development levels of the 47 county units. Third, and rarely considered in development planning, is that there are significant differences in development in the localities or wards that form our counties.
Fourth, are the inequalities in incomes and opportunities that exist between men and women. Fifth, are the inequalities of incomes and life support opportunities across various age clusters such as the youth, middle-aged and elderly populations. And the list of factors that cause some people to be left behind in development can go on and on.
According to the latest Kenyan National Demographic and Health Survey, nationally, about 45.2 per cent of the population live below the poverty line, surviving on less than Sh1,562 and Sh2,913 per month for rural and urban households respectively.
Quite notably, the incidence of poverty is higher in the northern and coastal parts of the country but significantly lower in others. At county level, there are also significant inequalities in poverty. For instance, the proportion of those living below the poverty line in Turkana (87.5 per cent), Mandera (85.8 per cent) and Wajir (84.2 per cent) is four times that of Nairobi, which has the lowest poverty level at 21.8 per cent, and almost double that of Laikipia (47.9 per cent), the median county.
A wide income gap
One of the contributing factors to Kenya’s high inequality is the income gaps between rural and urban areas. Why? – because the rural areas have perennially been left behind by policies and development blueprints that have continuously favoured urban areas. For example, household expenditure in Kenya averages about Sh3,440 per month, but is Sh2,270 in rural areas and Sh 6,010 in urban areas.
A peep at inequality within counties themselves demonstrates that the challenge of some people being left behind trickles down to the grassroots. For example, Tana River, Kwale and Kilifi counties have the highest income inequalities. Comparatively, the counties with the lowest income inequality include Turkana, Narok, and West Pokot.
Interestingly, this data shows that high poverty is not equivalent to high inequality, as the most equal counties, such as Turkana, are also among the poorest. The implication is that the people left behind in the very poor counties must be living in extremely dire situations.
Within the provisions of the Constitution, we have seen efforts by the National and County Governments to involve key stakeholders in policy making and budgeting processes. This is a welcome move, but the scope and effectiveness of such involvement is still not comprehensive.
For example, the public hearings for the budget-making which are organised by the National Government take about four days and are mainly attended by organised non-state actors, who have some formal mechanisms of analysing the budget. However, the extent to which views of ordinary citizens from the expanse corners of the country remains restricted.
Equally, we have seen county governments organise public meetings at ward level to gather inputs for their respective budgets. Again, there is the question of how many county residents are reached. Furthermore, what is the ability of Wanjiku in terms of understanding complex technical issues of budget-making – yet all she wants is to have her local project incorporated in the budget?.
In common mwananchi parlance, inclusion of Wanjiku’s project in the budget is what would actualise the UN’s rosy principle of “leaving no one behind”. It is commendable that there are attempts on inclusivity. However, the realization of the Agenda 2030 and the SDGs calls for greater strategic actions by both the National and County Governments.
And this can only be realised if the respective Governments effectively engage key stakeholders working at the grassroots so that the views of all citizens, particularly the marginalised ones are taken on board in policy making, planning, budgeting and execution of development programs.
Mr Owalo is a Management Consultant