By Dr. Guyo Malicha Roba
The power of devolution can be best expressed by a story of a Nigerian wise man who moved from village to village answering complex questions. But one day, he met his match: a clever Yoruba boy. The boy had a butterfly in his hand and was out to prove him wrong. He was going to ask the wise man if the butterfly was dead or alive.
If he said it was dead, he would release it; if he said it was alive, he would squeeze it to death. Either way, the wise man would lose. And so the boy cut through the crowds and confronted the wise man with a question:
“… Dead or Alive?” The wise man was puzzled. He examined the boy wisely and after a few minutes, he told him: “… it all depends on you!” Like in the case of this story, the development choices are mainly in our hands. We need to recognize devolution as a double edged sword, in which, if our county leadership plan and execute things thoroughly, our development outcomes are predictably positive. In contrast, if we do things haphazardly, we fall into expensive trap of never ending trajectory of hit and miss affair. For the latter, the long-run sunk costs are agonizing.
Over last few years, I have observed and interpreted the conduct and the approaches of our leaders. From myriads of tested and tried options, I concluded that the outcomes are far from encouraging. Therefore, genuine change need paradigm shifts in many aspects, including, but not limited to the following:
1. Strong baseline to guide investments
Baselines are strong foundation on which sound investments are couched. However, lack of rigorous sectoral baseline data is one costly weakness in our county development. Marsabit is among the county that had substantial funds spent on conducting baseline studies, ostensibly done (by both government and development partners) to ensure that development respond to the need of the people but largely remained a duplicated task. For example, it is not surprising to see arm of a child measured 5 to 7 times a year by organizations working to improve nutritional and food security status. Such duplication arise from – i) disorganized storage and management of existing baseline information, hence every new donor establish ‘new’ baseline without building on or updating existing ones, ii) lack of coordination between government and development agencies, leading to mistaken assumption that basic information is either missing or at best inferior.
Therefore, as a start, the county need to consider central management of data as a priority and build strong baseline. This requires, among others, a seasoned data analyst and monitoring expertise to pull together and organise the data for use and access by different users. In so doing, we reduce wastage of funds on repeat studies and in turn avail funds to other development priorities vying for limited financial resources.
2. Clear road map for all strategic sectors
Development of strategic resources like livestock, water and energy has been largely a hit and miss endeavour in Marsabit because we primarily adopt a ‘piecemeal’ development approach. Largely, this wrong approach was a continuation of failed centralized development approach practiced across Kenya in 80s and 90s. To date, we cannot easily verify our resource potentials in different corners of the county. Thus, the resource exploitation becomes a pricey affair. Now with the financial resources and decision making autonomy to the county, I expect a more coordinated approach through a strong master plan or sector strategies for development of water, livestock, fisheries and other potential resources.
3. Balance development hardwares with softwares
In Marsabit, we have incurable obsession with building physical infrastructures (be it markets, schools, dispensaries and toilets). This invariably happens at the expense of other development softwares. When investments in expensive physical infrastructures are not well targeted, the county incurs irretrievable sunk costs. It is common to see exquisite dispensaries without hypothermic syringe or bandage or a well-trained nurse. To strike harmonious balance, we need to take stock of what additional infrastructures are required in different sectors and balance this with other priority investments such as equipping existing facilities to functional standards.
4. Invest in youths
Low post-secondary transition to meaningful colleges is worrisome. Owing to lack of requisite skills to join competitive employment or operate businesses, youths are commonly seen idling in many small urban centres across Marsabit County. What the county government urgently need is an ‘investment bundle’ for youths that include training in appropriate skills and technologies, connection them to private sector for internship or jobs and establish seed funds to start businesses among others. This can be well targeted with thorough skills and labour survey to identify areas with specific skills gaps and design a tailored scholarships for selected courses.
5. Quality of projects executed by the County
Our investments are currently at cross road of rewarding cronies and genuinely fulfilling election promises. The political quid pro quo require that different people are rewarded differently. A typical reward option in Marsabit is via ‘contracts’ that frequently sacrifices quality at the altar of political reciprocity. There is nothing wrong with contract allocation to individuals per se, my only problem is when individuals without required skills or capabilities are entrusted to do the job. The result is that we collectively get crummy roads or public buildings, and overall poor public goods. We need to raise the threshold of quality slightly high. One way is to earmark top priority projects such as key connectivity roads or other mega investments and ensure these are done to exceptional quality standards, possibly not through local or national contractors. This entails closer supervision by the county government through their technical arm and minimization of financial leakages.
6. Lastly, less talk, more walk.
Our leaders talk too much and do too little. My final summons of change is simple: let’s do less talk, and rather do more walk.
Read from Dr. Guyo