This year’s presidential election is special in one way.
The two main horses in the race are running without talking much about marginalisation of any part of the country. This is an interesting development.
The theme of marginalisaton has been central in all presidential elections since December 1992.
In the 1990s, the campaigns focused on how KANU and the government of President Daniel arap Moi marginalised areas that did not support KANU and the government.
And when President Kibaki won in the 2002 elections, leaders from other ethnic communities that supported him in this election broke away from his party.
They argued that he excluded them from political power. They argued that President Kibaki’s government was marginalising their areas.
President Uhuru Kenyatta’s government has not been exempt from this narrative.
There have been complaints of political exclusion of groups that are not fully represented in his alliance with Deputy President William Ruto.
But this narrative is not a campaign theme in the 2017 presidential elections.
It has not found its way on the national presidential election platform.
It has not found space on the platform because the organising theme for the 2017 election appears to lack clarity.
It has not found space on the platform also because devolution appears to have eroded the basis for this narrative.
I will discuss this shortly. For now it is enough to say that the complaints of marginalisation contributed to the post-2007 election violence in many ways.
And because of this particular electoral violence, Kenyans began to debate, publicly, on who is marginalised by who and how.
COUNTIES TAKING BLAME
The narrative has shifted to the county governments. It is the governors who are now blamed for marginalising certain areas in their counties.
In areas where there are many ethnic groups or many clans, some of the governors are being blamed for biases in distribution of the dividends of devolution.
They are blamed for distributing development resources in favour of their own clans or ethnic communities.
Some are blamed for excluding those communities that did not vote for them in the 2013 elections.
In the counties where “negotiated democracy” has collapsed, the governors are being blamed for initiating development projects in a manner that favours areas likely to vote for them.
This new form of patronage in use of devolution is not different from what used to happen with the centralised government.
It is what contributed to the narrative of marginalisation becoming a central element of our electoral politics.
There is a need to spend time and discuss its origins and why we must guard and prevent the county governments from “giving” development as if it is a favour and privilege.
Marginalisation or neglecting certain parts of the country in terms of development has roots in our history.
In some parts of the coast, marginalisation began from the period the Arabs occupied the region and acquired land belonging to the indigenous Mijikenda communities.
Slavery forced the indigenous people to run deep into the interior leaving behind their land.
The Arabs later occupied such land on argument that it was waste. But they did not develop the land.
The colonial government worsened the situation by agreeing to give ownership of the Coastal strip to the Sultan of Zanzibar.
The indigenous communities were neglected in the negotiations that followed.
Their demands for return of their land during the subsequent years have never been successfully addressed.
Other parts of the country experienced marginalisation during the colonial period.
The expropriation of best land for settlers meant eviction of many communities from their territories.
The best land was taken as Africans were put into native reserves.
However, the Northern part of the country comprising Isiolo, Marsabit, Mandera, Turkana, and Samburu among others were fenced off as uneconomical regions.
The colonial administration did not care much about these.
In fact, the administration did not wish to undertake any development in such areas because they were useless in terms of settler activities.
But the administration chose to marginalise the Maasai territory also.
After taking their best land, they left the Maasai on their own and with limited opportunities for their livelihood.
Successive governments did not address these problems until 2013 when devolution was introduced under the 2010 Constitution.
Economic policies pursued throughout the independence period, worsened the situation in these areas.
The policies have had the objective of investing more in the high potential areas so as to getter better returns to invest in the marginalised areas.
But the marginalised areas have remained without adequate infrastructure and basic services such as education and health facilities. Today they are the poorest of the regions.
Other actions by successive governments made marginalisation of these areas complex.
One, these regions have not had many senior people in the public service and are, therefore, poorly represented in the civil service.
This on its own has meant limited opportunities for their own people to access opportunities in government.
Two, and deriving from the first point is that the absence of many public servants from these areas has meant lack of advantages in terms of development.
In other words, political patronage that has been central to our politics has disadvantaged many groups that were poor at the colonial period.
These groups have remained poorer even today.
The 2010 Constitution addresses the causes of marginalisation in many ways.
It introduces devolution of power and resources to the county level. Importantly, it introduces the “Equalisation Fund”.
This is a “catch up” fund to help in restoring these areas to the level of development enjoyed in other parts.
It is an affirmative measure to secure development in these areas.
The drafters of the Constitution clearly understood the causes of the differences in development in Kenya.
They knew the imbalances in regional development was a result of both history and politics.
The 2010 Constitution and its centrepiece, devolution, now are the main answers to this history of marginalisation.
This is one reason why presidential candidates are not raising marginalisation as an issue.
It has no traction on its own particularly because everyone sees devolution as a solution to marginalisation.
There are funds given without any condition, and there is the conditional grant, equalisation fund, specifically to help bring development in these areas to the same level as other parts of the country.
But there is a new problem. One, the county governments have no formulae of distributing funds to sectors at the county level.
This is in spite of the fact that some areas in a county could be more underdeveloped than other areas.
Some areas are poorer than others yet the county governments tend to give attention to areas on political basis.
This is producing similar consequences as those that the national government produced in the last 50 years – imbalances in development.
This defeats the purpose of devolution and the quest to end marginalisation.
What needs to be done is simple. Strict adherence to the constitutional values and principles of governance will minimise all these challenges.
There is a need also to demand that the county governments develop a clear approach to development in the counties to prevent marginalisation of certain sections.
Furthermore, there is a need to convert the equalisation fund to a “marshal plan fund” for intensive development programmes in the marginalised areas.
This of course will be fought hard by many of those who feel that the fund is meant for everyone everywhere who has a grievance of development.
Prof. Karuti Kanyinga is based at the Institute for Development Studies (IDS), University of Nairobi; [email protected]