Limuru III is about economic reality

Former Ndaragwa MP Jeremiah Kioni, Narc Kenya leader Martha Karu and former governor Ndiritu Mureithi during Limuru III meeting at Jumuiya Conference in Kiambu. [George Njunge, Standard]

Some politicians who rarely talk are now talking.

The one-man, one-vote, one-shilling debate is back. Simply put, resources or better tax revenues should be shared based on population and nothing else. The counterargument is that land mass matters, adding one kilometre to one shilling. Why is this debate so emotional? Remember it in the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI).

At the heart of BBI was sharing resources, specifically tax revenues. Add debt, which like taxes, also finances our budget. Do not forget donations and foreign aid. Should national debt be shared too so that each county knows what to contribute to clear our debts? Very little time is focused on who generates the revenues we share.

Who really pays taxes in Kenya? Billow Kerrow, a former senator, has noted that most of the taxes are paid in Nairobi and Mombasa, hence no county can claim to pay more taxes than others. Once we loop in more taxes from the informal sector, the equation could change. It’s a good paradox—if the informal sector pays taxes, it would get more clout in the political arena. Remember the USA War of Independence rallying cry, “No taxation without representation”?

Why have we forgotten about debt so fast? Who lends us money? Where does it come from? Where does the money that the World Bank and IMF lend us come from? Where do donors get their money from? Shall Kenya one day become a lender and reap from interest paid?

The one man, one shilling anthem is contentious for another reason: it invokes the fear of domination. The fear is that if one man, one shilling is implemented, more money will go to populous areas. You heard someone say it will lead to marginalization? Do you recall population numbers of some counties being contested just before the new constitution?

The debate, when emanating from central Kenya, feeds into a popular narrative that the region is rich and should not get more. It’s further whispered that a region that has given us three presidents should be “quiet.”

This debate is old; why revive it? Limuru III is a forum to share grievances. Taxation is one of the grievances. On the streets, it’s said that while taxation is for everyone, it disproportionately affects some people, mostly investors and traders. This region speaks the language of money, mbecha. Any debate on the state of the economy is likely to gain traction. They voted for KK based on the promise of economic transformation, with hustlers finally taking the long-awaited rest.

The other reason is that since Uhuru Kenyatta left power, the region hasn’t got ‘a successor’. Neither did he anoint one. The fact that elders had convened this meeting was telling. Did Uhuru leave a traditional leadership vacuum or a political leadership vacuum? Or both?

It’s a big paradox. If the region has given us a deputy president, why would it feel politically neglected? Why did the deputy president bring back the one man, one vote, one shilling debate? He probably knows it’s popular and could be a route to endearing him to the local political base. Connect that to his recent apology to someone’s mother.

The debate has another grievance: the central region, which overwhelmingly voted for Kenya Kwanza, feels it has not received any political dividends. That’s why opponents of Limuru III listed some of the leaders from this region to demonstrate the region is well represented in the government.

This representation and politics of taxation is an interesting mix. The key architects of economic and monetary policies, and taxation thereof, come from this region, from the Minister of Finance to the CBK Governor and the President’s economic adviser. Politicians are smart.

Limuru III becomes even more muddled if you bring in 2027. Politicians start preparing for the next election as soon as they win. What will be the key issues in 2027?

Expect the economy to remain at the helm unless voters feel “money is in the pocket.” Voters are waiting for economic dividends—read more profits for existing enterprises, or more jobs through new businesses or employment in the public sector. The feeling is that taxation and inflation have eaten “economic dividends” and are now eating political dividends.

Limuru III has divided this voter-rich region. This would be good news for some. Divided, it will lose its bargaining power in 2027. Did you hear its leaders reaching out to their cousins to the east and south of the mountain?

If you peel off the politics from this conference, you are left with economics. Clearly, our economy has not grown fast enough to mute politics. Think of China or South Korea. They would be different if the economy was not growing fast. When are we hitting the 10 percent growth rate envisaged in Vision 2030? What is the target for the Bottom-Up Economic Transformation Agenda (BETA)?

The debate leaves no doubt that the 2010 constitution did not resolve all the national issues. It shared political power between the national and county governments. Too much economic power remained with the national government. Who collects most of the taxes? Should the formula on revenue sharing be adjusted? Do we have a formula on revenue generation?

Counties have remained beholden to the national government. They were supposed to grow and become economically independent, ready to raise their own revenues.

Without that growth, it’s no wonder sharing of revenues remains contentious.

Finally, Limuru, known for its cold weather and tea plantations, has stirred politics the same way we cook African tea. In 2027, we shall take political tea. Shall we take it alone or with accompaniments? Sausages? Bread? Ngwaci? Did you attend Limuru III? Talk to us.