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State is broke, counties should find funds to solve some of their problems

By Suleiman Shahbal | September 20th 2021

Suleiman Shahbal caricature. [File, Standard]

The other day, Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho was on stage. Sporting a McQueen t-shirt, the latest Dolce & Gabbana sneakers and an Isaac Hayes beard, he demanded from the people “ufuasi au Ushirika?” (do you want to be followers or partners?).  

Kwame Nkrumah once admonished, “seek ye first the political kingdom and the rest shall follow.” While this wisdom from the past holds water to date as the deepest well of resources stems from the central government, there is need to restrategise as we enter the second decade of devolution.

The coast faces the same old challenges of reviving our flagging economies and improving infrastructure. Most importantly, we need a desperate change in approach in this age of limited resources. The demands we set out in our 10-point manifesto are the same being demanded across the country.

There is cutthroat competition, which demands that we have our men at centre-stage when the spoils of power are being distributed. Seen in that light, Joho’s demand is spot on. We must sit at the centre.

Many parts of the coast use the same limited infrastructure that we had at independence. In 1963 there were eight million Kenyans, today we have about 50 million. The key road linking Mombasa to Malindi and the resorts in Diani are the same that we inherited at Uhuru. We need to revive and rebuild this infrastructure. We need money from the central government to improve some of this infrastructure, but to build others we need a new approach.

Many countries have used public-private partnerships to build afresh. Many of our problems require a new approach. It is sad that most of Mombasa lacks water when there is enough water in Mzima Springs. What is lacking are funds to rebuild worn out pipes that were installed in the 1950’s. Water is not distributed for free; it is sold to consumers.

There is enough revenue to buy new pipes without relying on the central government. Let us find the funds to buy the pipes. We can no longer wait for the central government. The old approach “serikali tunakuomba” (We beg the government) won't work. Sorry, serikali is broke and it will take many years before it can help us. We should demand government support.

Our biggest challenge is constructive education and job creation. We provide an education that does not prepare our youth for real jobs. We need to develop positive mindsets and self-sufficiency. We need to train seamen and nurses that we can send abroad like the Philippines does.

The surging Diaspora remittances that keep our economy and currency resilient shows why that is important. Yet education remains the exclusive domain of the central government. Our governors should chip in whether it’s in their domain or not. 

Raila knows this. He calls it “The New Money.” If a Raila presidency will change this country, then he needs governors who can also change their approach to these challenges. The quid pro quo that we are demanding may end up being a bounced cheque. Serikali is broke.

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