A CASE FOR SMART SLUMS TO SAVE OUR CITIES
Smart slums in Dar es Salaam, Abidjan, Accra and Johannesburg have as their greatest assets ingenious women, youth and men.
As Kenyan politics has unravelled this year, it has become ever clearer that we have yet to tackle the legacies of perceived inequities in the country. It is rather depressing after seven years of constitutional reform that Kenya appears as polarised as before we started these reforms. This does not bode well for the kind of compromise needed to make progress on the country’s most intractable problems.
Last year, my organisation and others tried to put equity on the political agenda through a series of events dubbed Equity Week and hosted in various venues around Nairobi. Equity Week 2017 begins on November 13, and includes a set of Nairobi-based events, but also a regional event in the North Rift to be hosted by Elgeyo Marakwet County. Our goal now as then is to encourage evidence-based debate about policies that can address inequality and ensure greater inclusion.
The year 2017 has not been a stellar one globally for the Enlightenment dreams of rational deliberation or political tolerance. Yet there is no way forward that does not require us all to confront evidence, discuss possibilities for reform, and build coalitions to implement them. Burying our heads in the sand will not save us, in Kenya or anywhere else.
We must therefore welcome any opportunities we have to revisit questions of inequality and discuss ways of ameliorating them. Among these opportunities is the Commission on Revenue Allocation’s redesign of Kenya’s marginalisation policy and the rules for distributing the Equalisation Fund. CRA has already proposed a new direction here, one that addresses itself to sub-county inequalities in a way that the previous approach did not. The commission should be encouraged to take greater leadership on matters of equity across and within counties. And those who feel left behind in Kenya should participate in this conversation, part of which will take place during Equity Week.
Policy discussions of this type are not a substitute for political action, but no one who wants to live in a democracy can refuse to participate when policies that they care about are being discussed. Unfortunately, this has too often been the case. Kenya’s disenchanted are unwilling to engage in the hard work of advocacy when policies are being drafted, but are too willing to criticise the outcomes of these policies later. Equity Week is meant to create space for policy discussion, but we must all be willing to pitch up.
Creating space and showing up is not enough, of course. We also need the government to provide us with the data to have a real conversation in these spaces. This has been a challenge. The government has not released household expenditure data since 2006. Our ideas about poverty and inequality are therefore increasingly anachronistic.
In my organisation’s attempts to assess inequality in the health sector, we have also been hampered by the unwillingness of the government to provide data about the changing distribution of health workers since 2013.
Our attempts to discuss the distribution of national spending across geographical units is also constrained by poor data. While the National Treasury has begun to make more information available about the distribution of national infrastructure projects, enormous gaps remain.
For example, major transport projects are highlighted in the 2016/17 line item budget, but large spending programmes, such as the Ksh22 billion for low volume seal roads, are just presented as lump sums, with no distributional information at all.
Even for those specific projects we can identify, there is no information about how the government thinks about fairness. For example, we can expect road funding to be distributed according to a measure of the capital investment backlog around the country, but there is no public indication of whether this is the case, and if it is, how the government measures that backlog.
This information matters because it helps to clarify whether different claims about unequal treatment are valid. In Kenya, it is cheap and easy to make claims of marginalisation. But the data behind these claims is what allows for a more reasonable public discourse in
Kenya’s disenchanted are unwilling to engage in the hard work of advocacy when policies are being drafted.” Major transport projects are highlighted in the 2016/17 line item budget, but large spending programmes, such as the Ksh22 billion for low volume seal roads, are just presented as lump sums
which negotiations can take place and grievances can be addressed. Without this, everyone’s claim to be marginalised is equally justified and unchallengeable.
This kind of data also allows us to have a better conversation about the scale of the challenge and how to address it. For too long, efforts to address inequality in Kenya, such as the Equalization Fund, have been too small relative to the size of the problem.
Like the CDF, the EF creates unreasonable expectations given its magnitude. But this is not easy to see because of the lack of a clear connection between policy choices and the size of the gaps these policies are meant to fill.
Equity Week is an opportunity to confront these challenges squarely. I encourage citizens, government and the media to participate actively. Jason Lakin is head of research for the International Budget Partnership. E-mail: email@example.com
A footbridge constructed at former Castle Breweries plant along Thika road. Its location has been faulted due to its low pedestrian traffic.