As Kenyans formally usher in a new government I can’t help but notice the confusion galore going on. A little background may be in order to set the stage. Kenyans voted in a new constitution in August 2010 which called for a devolved government with the intention of bringing the government closer to the people and decentralizing power from the city of Nairobi and purportedly the president and cabinet.
On March 4th 2013 we elected a new president and he along with his vice-president were inaugurated on April 9th 2013. In the midst of resolving the election disputes, in the background there has been no shortage of drama.
Several groups of government officials have already protested that their salaries are too low and that they cannot live on such meager remuneration. The most notable are the Members of Parliament who have cited that they quite their rosy jobs to join government and that they cannot take a pay-cut. A Member of Parliament in Kenya now will be slated to earn Kshs. 500,000 per month. They will not be entitled to free cars as in the previous regimes and will be required to pay taxes. This is good news for Kenyans as this means that Members of Parliament who have been getting away with extravagant self-appointed pay rises no longer get away with impunity. In addition MPs salaries formed more than half of the government revenue which is not extravagant but outrageous. It is not a wonder that we cannot implement many initiatives due to lack of money. However, the result of these pay cuts has been protests from elected MPs (who haven’t even started working) and threats to dissolve the salaries and remuneration committee(which they have no oversight over).
As a Kenyan, I wonder then why the MPs went into power, did they really want to serve us or were they hoping to continue in the footsteps of their predecessors and use their power and positions to get richer while their constituents get poorer? It is clear that we voted in the wrong people and Kenyans should seriously consider calling back their MPs in favor of others who are better placed to achieve the need of their constituents. The salary they receive is enough for them to live a comfortable life in Kenya, after all half of the country still barely makes a dollar a day and they did not come into government to sustain their lifestyles but rather to serve the people.
As President Uhuru and his deputy Mr. Ruto start to rile up the crowds to keep momentum of their election and inauguration big gaps are starting to appear in their plans. The promise to offer laptops to every Class 1 child in school is starting to fall through. After all, class 1 teachers are mostly not computer literate so who will be teaching the children to use the computers? In addition, who wants to fund the Kshs. 40 Billion venture? There are bigger problems. It is also a little ridiculous to see to provide children with laptops when most of them do not have the basics needed to have a comfortable classroom experience. Many children in rural areas still do not have desks, uniform, individual textbooks, exercise books and pencils. It is like offering a man dying of thirst a brand new shirt.
Another promise on the TNA manifesto is the promise of free maternity services to all women. On the face of it this is the kind of progress that we need, except that the state of health centers and hospitals in Kenya is pitiful at best. Last year doctors and nurses stages various strikes not to demand for pay but to demand that the government use money allotted to healthcare well. Most hospitals do not have surgical gloves, basic sterilization fluids or even oral rehydration salts used to stabilize patients.
In addition the more sophisticated hospitals which can conduct surgeries lack light in the operation rooms, have no back up power if electricity goes out and do not have enough drugs to disburse to patients. Most hospitals in Kenya do not have enough bed space and still force patients to share beds or send other patients home prematurely in order to create bed space. Many patients have spent days on the floor awaiting a bed to become free. Having painted this dire picture of healthcare in Kenya, the directive to give free maternal care is a little far fetched. Most hospitals have expressed concern that they do not have resources to implement the directive and I foresee a situation where many women will be turned away because much as the government is offering free maternal healthcare, there are no resources on the ground to make the directive a reality. Healthcare funding in Kenya has been a challenge and until basic healthcare can be made available to everyone at albeit a small fee the directive of free maternal healthcare is at beast a pipe dream. Just like the directive of free primary school turned into a fiasco we may end up with sorely substandard healthcare to keep the directive running (in name only) or have “free maternal healthcare” as long as you pay for it from your pocket.
To step away from the new government manifesto, it has been raining heavily in Kenya for the past two week. The result has been floods, internally displaced people, washed away bridges and sadly deaths. It as interesting to me to find out that this happens every year, which means that the government and people on the ground have a year to prepare for the rains, but it seems that no one bothers until the rain actually falls. The government has left the Red Cross to take care of flooded areas. The Red Cross in turn can only do so much, and they offer relief to victims and put in sandbags to contain the rivers overflowing their banks. These measures seem to only work until the next rainy season and then they repeat it all over again. Meanwhile, the new government is more concerned about sharing or grabbing power within the devolved government or negotiating for higher salaries.
I wrote this article in an attempt to bring Kenyans back to earth. The major challenges facing Kenya have not been addressed. The Vision 2030 started with very beautiful and noble ideas, and some of them like the building of highways have been very helpful however other ventures like the building of a fully technological city outside Kenya seem to bee a fantasy for people living in Nairobi slums and barely have a meal a day. The reality is unless we solve the problems of the common mwananchi (citizen) then all promises of advancement and free goodies are useless in advancing our economy. We have bigger problems than laptops and free maternity services and that is what the politicians in Kenya should be focusing on, not on trying to deliver borrowed development ideas which do not quite fit in with the shape and size of the country.