While the recent presidential debates in Kenya are being hailed as a success, a newly-created political office could have a decidedly more powerful influence on the lives of Kenya’s 40 million residents: County Governors.
In order to learn about the platforms of candidates for these new positions and ensure that issues critical to the private sector are addressed, the Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM), with CIPE support, is running a series of gubernatorial debates focusing on economic issues.
One of the major changes introduced by Kenya’s new constitution, adopted in 2010, is a new, devolved style of governance which establishes different administrative units, including the creation of 47 new counties. Part of the purpose behind these new sub-national entities is to ensure that service delivery, political power, and financing is deepened and expanded beyond the capital, Nairobi.
The devolved system of governance gives local governments more power to make decisions with regards to planning and the implementation of projects. Counties will also have a measure of financial independence, as they will be entitled to a minimum of 15 percent of national revenue. Each county will be headed by a governor, and one of the critical tasks for these new governors will be creating a conducive business environment in their regions.
The KAM-sponsored debates are taking place throughout February in seven towns where KAM membership is well represented: Nairobi (Feb. 4), Mombasa (Feb. 11), Nakuru (Feb. 14), Kisumu (Feb. 18), Athi River (Feb. 19), Eldoret (Feb. 20), and Central Kenya (Feb. 22). At each debate, issues raised by KAM members, including land, business zoning, taxes, business licenses, security, and improving infrastructure, health, and educational facilities, will be brought to the forefront. KAM also highlights the need for increasing opportunities for doing business, which will in turn create jobs.
“We have gone beyond just voting people in for the sake of their propaganda. It is high time we give our votes to people who have the interests of the nation at heart and are willing to work for the good of the economy. The business community is pro leaders who will move the economy forward,” said KAM Chief Executive Officer Betty Maina.
The first debate kicked off in Nairobi County, where candidates had the opportunity to share their business manifestos with the audience and answer questions reflecting their views on economic issues. Though all four candidates were invited, only Philip Kisia and Dr. Evans Kidero attended. Housing, electricity supply, and land topped the agendas of the candidates.
“I intend to build on what I started when I was working at the City Council of Nairobi. I would also be calling on the private sector to invest in housing in the county to alleviate housing challenges,” said Kisia, who shared a 10-point agenda addressing security, jobs, solid waste management, water and sanitation, public transport, infrastructure, housing, public health, education, and service delivery.
As Kenyans prepare for the national elections, diffusing candidates’ platforms to the voters will be essential in order to promote more issue-based voting and less personality-driven campaigning. Kenya is at a turning-point. A smooth and peaceful election transition would mean continuance of its rapid growth and position as THE leader for democracy and economic growth in East Africa. But fears from the devastation and violence of the 2007 elections still linger and have many watching and waiting as the March 4 election day approaches.
This post is based on a report from Tobias Alando of KAM and Ben Kiragu, CIPE’s Field Representative in Kenya.
Julie Mancuso is Program Officer for Africa at CIPE.