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We should expand our national cake to avert scramble for resources

By Raila Odinga | September 22nd 2020 at 09:05:00 GMT +0300

Building a prosperous nation has been our aspiration and a key national goal right from independence in 1963. Close to 60 years later, however, creating a prosperous nation remains just an aspiration, not a reality. The concept of equitable sharing, which we have embraced as a nation only leads to the type of acrimony we witnessed in the Senate from July until last Thursday over how to share Sh316.5 billion.

The size of the National Cake appears smaller over the years while the number of people waiting for a share has grown. That is why sharing Sh316 billion among 47 counties becomes a threat to our stability and unity as a nation. A dwindling national cake for an increasingly angry and hungry population that is also fed on populist politics is an accident waiting to happen.

Our citizens and our leaders need to come to terms with the fact that boosting productivity is a prerequisite for having enough to share while driving economic growth and raising living standards. Nothing else will work.

During our BBI meeting in Meru last February, Governor Kiraitu Murungi captured the reality of the situation we face in apocalyptic terms. He said, and he has repeated it elsewhere that the national cake is not like the wedding cake that is given to everyone who shows up after which everyone leaves happy. It must be fought for. When the cake is overly small, that fight can go horribly wrong and break a nation. Unfortunately, we have been and still are politicking over this reality rather than confronting it.

The acrimony over Sh316 billion should be a wake up call for us to begin addressing the issue of productivity or growing the national cake with the same passion with which we fight over its sharing and consumption.

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It should particularly be a wake up call for devolved units to begin paying closer attention to tackling poverty, inequality and unemployment especially among the youth. After all, the 2019 population census revealed that 35.7 million Kenyans (75.1 per cent) of our population are aged 35 years and below and 32.73 million of them (68.9 per cent) live in rural areas.

Counties therefore have greater responsibility to help address the issue of expanding our productivity and growing the national cake. We have successfully confronted this ugly reality before and some of our current governors have been part of the journey of transformation and we can do it again.

Under the National Rainbow Coalition, we saw how creating the right incentives for workers and businesses, lowering taxes while increasing the tax base and investing in agriculture and infrastructure pushed the economy from 0.6 per cent in 2002 to more than double a year later.

With devolution firmly in place now, counties should help spur our productivity through key enablers some of which are partially or fully devolved like agriculture, taxation and infrastructure.

We know from that experience that broadening the tax base and lowering the tax rate generates more money for the economy than insisting on high and punitive rates that encourage defaults and existence of black market economy. We need to see our two levels of government engage on how to structure taxation in a way that encourages rather than hinder business, investment and growth particularly in rural areas as a matter of urgency for purposes of expanding our national cake.

Small scale farmers

Kenyans are yet to see meaningful and transformative actions in agriculture particularly small scale farming, which is the mainstay of rural areas. This is despite the fact that in the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, it became clear that small scale farmers, especially those growing traditional crops that hardly get support of the exchequer, are the real feeders of this nation.

We have been kept going through the difficult time by small scale farmers bringing their potatoes, cassava, millets and chickens, among other items.

It is clear that investing in these farmers will pay dividends with regard to economic growth and food security. Kenyans made solid proposals to the Building Bridges Initiative on how we can breathe fresh life into agriculture and expand our national cake.

But even before the BBI comes into fruition, Kenyans need to see counties, working closely with the national government to expand investment in agriculture and livestock.

We need to see more efforts being put to address corruption in this sector and break up the cartels that reap from where they did not sow. A number of counties have done a commendable job with regard to improving road infrastructure in rural areas. More however needs to be done.

With proper focus and commitment, counties can go beyond roads and venture into building light rail networks linking agricultural fields to markets. That kind of investment would be transformative with regard to trade and movement of people and good in rural areas.

We need to see more transformative actions to address the fragility witnessed in food production. In many rural areas, a lot of food goes waste because of absence of structured storage and cooling facilities thus undermining the potential.

In different regions, potatoes, fruits, vegetables and even milk rot or are sold at throw away prizes simply because we haven’t addressed storage of fresh produce. The farmers are virtually on their own with scanty information on where there may be greater need for their produce.

Addressing these gaps will require adequate funding and that what counties get, even with the intervention that saw the President commit an additional Sh50 billion, is hardly enough. But I am also aware that some governors are actively exploring possibilities of asking for conditional grants from the national government particularly for Covid-19 economic recovery.

That ability to think ahead and out of the box, not the usual rhetoric and routine fire-fighting measure is what will put the country on the path to expanding the size of our national cake. Expanding our productivity is a mission we have to embark on now, not later.

-The writer is the ODM leader.

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