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KABAARA: Why Kenyan leadership needs some ‘policy time’



Ideas & Debate

Traffic congestion along University Way, Nairobi last Monday. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO 

Kenyans have suddenly gone dark on optimism. We have moved away from the economy, taxes, fiscals and debt.

Meanwhile, “Building Bridges” seems to be a discussion of political arrangements, rather than, say, the international human rights agenda celebrating its 70th anniversary on December 10.

In the past fortnight, we have seen social media messages calling for an “app” to track corruption, questioning the many profit warnings by public listed firms, wondering about the KRA’s agenda to snare MSMEs through new presumptive taxes, or asking what the “blue economy” means. Don’t forget the traffic “decongestion that become over-congestion” last Monday.

Within the same fortnight, we learnt about a new development in the US White House; the creation for President Donald Trump of “policy time” to supplement the “executive time” he already demands.

Executive time? CNN saw this as “Trump skimming headlines, smartphone in one hand, a landline in the other and “Fox and Friends’” blaring in the background”.

The Newsweek added that “it seemed to consist of tweet storms and cable TV viewing”, while Politico suggested that some days would have “as many as nine hours of executive time”.

Policy time? Apparently an attempt by White House staff to get Mr Trump to “focus on issues”. As the Washington Post reported, “policy time sessions included advisers giving Trump their competing views over a specific issue”. One tweet suggests this process “sometimes goes better than others”.

The idea of “policy time” seems appropriate in Kenya’s context. Do we allow our leaders — national and county — too much “executive time” at the expense of “policy time”?

Forget national stuff, and consider Kenya as the equivalent of one giant 150 million acre plot, where Marsabit, Turkana, Wajir, Garissa, Tana River and Kitui together account for over half of this space.

Then think about a smaller space that is roughly 170,000 acres, and from its own recent planning and budgeting documents, understand it a little better (only two other spaces are smaller).

First, population here is growing at almost five per cent, against an average of 3.5 per cent for other developing countries, and 1.8 per cent for similar areas around the world. In poverty terms, it performs better than Kenya as a whole, although almost a third of people over 70 per cent live in absolute poverty.

On inequality the picture is less positive. The top 20 per cent of people here control 86 per cent of spending, compared to 56 per cent for the same percentage of people at national level.

Intriguingly dependency is about 60 per cent of the national level; more people are self-sufficient here.

In this place, tarmac (bitumen) accounts for a little less than 40 per cent of its 3,000 kilometres of all in roads. Road transport accounts for 80 per cent of all movement of people, goods and services.

Population density is roughly 30 people per acre. Of the food consumed in this place, only 20 per cent is locally produced. Roughly one per cent of the land in this place is under crop cultivation.

Only 10 per cent of its housing demand is met. Almost half of this annual housing supply goes to upper income households. Iron and corrugated sheeting accounts for one third of all walls, and over half of all roofs.

In this place, only 45 per cent of the garbage generated by households is collected and transported. A mere tenth of this garbage collection is recycled.

Roughly half of the residents here access sewer services. Pedestrians and cyclists account for half of total traffic. Traffic congestion costs Sh37 billion a year. This place accounts for over half of all public transport in Kenya.

The government’s budget here is Sh30-35 billion, half of which it wants to generate from residents, almost all of which goes to payroll, while it struggles with debt of Sh50 billion plus.

Then consider this. In 2009, the population was 3.1 million, this year’s estimate is 4.9 million and, by 2022, we are talking 5.9 million people. With little change in opportunity, infrastructure and services.

If Nairobi looks like this today, then we definitely need more “policy time” (issues and problems) than “executive time” (showbiz and gimmicks).

But it probably also means we need to engage better as residents if our leaders are to deliver. Think about this during your “policy time” today.