OPINION: Decentralisation of politics translates to a more equal and fair society

By Michael Cherambos

As a fervent believer, it was always a struggle for me to accept any true authority other than God. How could one possibly concede to rules and laws which weren’t stipulated by the most perfect being?

One could say that if it were crucial for living a just life to use seatbelts, then God, omnipresent and omnipotent, would have written it down in the revelations of His word. As there is no passage in Scripture dealing with seatbelts, believers might be tempted to disregard this merely man-made law.

Yet, there is one passage which clearly sets out the place for a secular authority to govern: “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21). Thus, Jesus clearly depicts two spheres of influence – God’s sphere, where He rules with supreme authority on all moral and ethical issues, and Caesar’s sphere.

Caesar was, in Jesus’ time, the ultimate representation of the state, and hence the state has the moral authority to rule and govern on all issues which aren’t moral and ethical. This ranges from paying taxes to setting up safety procedures like seatbelts.

But the Scriptures do not tell how the state should spend the taxes he collects. Here, we are on our own. While the Bible contains some general rules about morality and despises corruption, there are no concrete instructions. After God gave us a rational mind, He apparently trusts us enough to make the right decisions.

This brings us to today’s Kenya. We are truly blessed with a beautiful and bountiful country that, despite its numerous challenges, is lush in agricultural produce and rich in natural resources. But unfortunately, our governance still requires some real change.

Our state’s revenues are unevenly and unjustly distributed. It was therefore a real relief to read that the report presented by the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) tackles this issue and proposes some meaningful changes which will go a long way to redistribute the state’s resources more fairly. We owe it to our nation to become a more equal society.

Many of the woes of our current system can be traced back to the days of the colonisers. As they didn’t trust us to govern ourselves, and in order to exploit us and our resources better, they set in place a very centralised government, where all the decisions were made by representatives of the King.

Their policies of divide and conquer set one tribe against the other, leaving us divided and distrustful. When we gained our independence after a long and bloody struggle, our leaders were too focused on building our nation. They decided to keep the governmental structures in place, and installed locals instead of colonisers in the different departments. The centralised and unequal structures persisted.

But in general, big countries can’t really be ruled in such a way. In the United States, for example, the struggle between the federal government and the states is one of the biggest ideological divides between Democrats and Republicans. Here in Africa, many understood that we need to devolve back to local infrastructures of government if we want to assure the development of the country. But how do we ensure this is done fairly?

The BBI demands that the amount allocated in the federal budget for the counties increase from 15 to 35 per cent. The authors of the report proved that they listened closely to the counties’ demands and grievances. However this was not a mere matter of “demand and accept”, with the governors apparently asking for 45 per cent.

Yet, the BBI team are right that only the local government, represented in the counties, knows where the money is urgently needed. And while to split the huge federal budget into many small county-budgets makes it harder for greedy and corrupt officials in the central government to steal our cash, it does demand a greater level of transparency at local levels at the same time. And transparency and accountability is the beating heart of this initiative.

We should thus see that the provision to increase the budget allocated to the counties is another step to deflate tribalistic tensions which arise too often, especially in the aftermath of federal elections. When combined with the diffusion of presidential powers, the decentralisation of politics and a cessation of zero sum winner-takes-all politics, the result should be a more fair and peaceful process for all.

Mr. Cherambos comments on topical issues.

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