Kenya’s new constitution likely to redistribute economic power

Kenya‘s new constitution is designed to redistribute political power away from the capital, Nairobi, to 47 newly created counties.

But economist James Shikwati of the Inter Region Economic Network says it’s also likely to help redistribute economic power. Under the new system, the national government will provide a given percentage of county budgets, with local officials responsible for raising the rest from taxes. Shikwati says this will encourage local officials to recruit foreign and domestic investors.

“It gives people the responsibility to manage their economic affairs. Whereas people [used to] expect the central government to send them revenue,” explained Shikwati, “the counties will have to create [their own]. Each county has to come up with strategies to make its populace more productive. So, the government is [moving] closer to the people and they bear even more responsibility [for helping] their [local] government sustain itself.

He predicts greater local power will also see people getting more involved in battling corruption, a problem that impedes effective economic development.

“The ordinary citizen feels detached from the billions that have been stolen, because it’s mostly been [taken from a] centralised system, [and people feel that] the money belongs to the government and not to them,” said Shikwati.

“But at the county level, it will make people scrutinise operations. Since it’s closer to them; there will be more pressure from citizens against corruption.”

He says on the flip side, the new system could mean that there will be more people to bribe for favors, including the new county governments and their sub-units. But, the Kenyan economist is confident public awareness will help curb the problem.

So will constitutional reforms of the judicial system. He says in the old system, which concentrated power in the executive branch of government, the president would name high officials, including judges and leaders of the central bank. But the new system includes “a collegial approach where parliamentarians also get involved in picking who’s qualified to run what”.

“Now, we’re moving into a system where key leaders will have to be vetted [by the parliament]. It gives a positive signal to an investor that the official he is meeting is not someone picked in a restaurant over lunch, [instead] there is [now an established] process” including checks and balances on presidential power.

Shikwati says the new constitution could make Kenya a flagship for progress in East Africa, a region, he says where political stability has depended on strongmen with largely unchecked powers. With reforms, Kenyans will show how the system, and not the man at the centre, provides democracy, security and development. – VOA