A CASE FOR SMART SLUMS TO SAVE OUR CITIES

JA­SON LAKIN

The East African - - NEWS -

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: ja­son.lakin@gmail.com

Pic­ture:file

A foot­bridge constructed at for­mer Cas­tle Brew­eries plant along Thika road. Its lo­ca­tion has been faulted due to its low pedes­trian traf­fic.

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