CONVENING POWER VS DEVELOPMENT RECORD
A phrase bandied around during Kenyan electioneering periods is ‘Development Record.’ Development record represents all the tangible things that a parliamentary candidate has done for the electorate. These tangible things can range from the profound: initiating water projects and convincing the utility company to deliver electricity to your village, to the absurd: distributing shukas to women at the local market.
Whatever these developments are, they cost money and in most cases, for instance building roads and initiating rural electrification projects, significant clout within the corridors of power. The ultimate question then becomes, in the obvious absence of this might for young contenders, how will the much talked about generational change be realised this year?
Macharia’s response is one that betrays his background in the development industry, “It is about the size of your Rolodex,” he argues. Macharia believes that it is more worthwhile and ethical to leverage social and professional networks towards achieving tangible benefits on the ground than using one’s own financial resources and public office to bribe voters.
“One of the greatest assets any leader can have is Convening Power,” Macharia argues, “the ability to bring individuals and organisations together to solve a particular problem that a single individual cannot.” He illustrates this point with the story of a woman, Joyce Nyakinyua, a single mother of five that he met on a campaign trip to Kieni. Joyce depends on casual labour to fend for herself and her children and yet on the day Macharia met her, she had not found work for several weeks and her five year old son was so starved and his feet infested with jiggers he could barely walk. During this visit, Macharia was accompanied by his friend a catholic priest who runs a rescue centre for needy children in nearby Naromoru. The priest being touched by the plight of this family offered to take the children under his care. Yet a great imperative to keep the family unit together was noted and so the priest offered the mother a job on the spot.
In this jigger and poverty infested village in Kieni, giving cash handouts would have been the equivalent of the proverbial ‘giving a man a fish rather than teaching him how to fish.’ But unfortunately giving cash handouts is the method that Kenyan politicians apply every year to their advantage. It works in postponing the grievances of the electorate for another five years when the politicians return to seek votes with the knowledge that the voters will still be poor and willing to sell their vote.
And though more sustainable models for empowering the people exist, they involve huge human and financial resources that are beyond the means of a single leader and that really shouldn’t, as Macharia sees it, be the sole responsibility of any individual. A good leader her says is the one that connects the needs of his/ her people with the resources of others. That is the reason why he is working closely with organisations such as the Kenya Network of Women with AIDS (KENWA) to support other families in need including facilitating the identification of HIV positive individuals and their subsequent enrolment into KENWA’s programmes.
The last few years have seen the government plough back a significant percentage of its revenues into units managed closer to the citizenry. This has seen the setting up of such entities as the Constituency Development Fund, the Local Authorities Transfer Fund and, more recently, the Youth Enterprise Fund.
Macharia applauds the Constituency Development Fund as a force that will steer Kenya’s from the politics of personalities to that of issues. The CDF has defined, through its proper management or the lack thereof, a distinct parameter within which a sitting member of parliament’s performance can be judged by the electorate.
In Kieni, particularly, Macharia contends that the general feeling on the ground is that the current MP has been a disappointment. In Murungaru’s tenure, the running of the CDF has been characterised by a leakage of funds and a seemingly nepotistic awarding of contracts a situation which Macharia believes that the voters will express their disaffection with at the ballot. Interestingly, though, the Chairman of the CDF committee, Mr. Mathenge Wanderi is also a contender for the Kieni seat and he considers what he sees as his prudent management of the CDF as an asset to his campaign. Clearly politicians will argue this way and that but only the voters will carry the day.
In the matter of the Youth Fund, Macharia chooses to disagree with government’s preferred mode of disbursement. The government, in Macharia’s view, shouldn’t be in the business of lending out money; they are not a financial institution and they lack the capacity to determine what is or is not a viable business idea. What the government, Macharia opines, should have done was create a guarantee fund that would serve as security against additional risk financial institutions measure youth borrowers to have. This would not only increase the amount of funding available to the youth by leveraging the institutions’ own liquid capital, but also ensure the institutions lend money to viable projects by having some skin in the game.
But even with access to start up capital, the main challenge for youthful entrepreneurs remains that of markets. One avenue through which markets could be opened to youthful entrepreneurs would be through giving them a weighed advantage in government procurement. Since the Government remains the biggest procurer of goods and services, by defining a formula through which businesses run by women and young people earn affirmative action points when responding to government tenders gives them an opportunity to raise their profile and grow their businesses while still in competition with established corporations.
Macharia is of the opinion that the youth are the country’s most entrepreneurial demographic group and there is an urgent need to harness their strength. The challenge for the youth becomes one of identifying existing gaps in the market and grabbing them. But that is best made possible by availing to them entrepreneurial skills’ training. And that especially for those youths who for varied reasons find themselves out of school at a considerably early stage and thus their chance at formal employment reduced.
The battle for the Kieni seat will be long and bruising. The field is crowded and the contest will go down to the wire. But one thing is almost certain; that the candidate who gets nominated to run on the ticket of the same political party, most probably NARC-Kenya, as President Kibaki will take the spoils. And even as Macharia argues that this will be the year of the generational change in Kenya’s politics, he is throwing his lot in with the president’s. Indeed politics is about the strategies of self sustenance.
The number of candidates in Kieni who count on running on the ticket of the president’s yet to be declared party is staggering. As a matter of fact, and an indicator that Kieni will be won at the party nominations rather than at the general election, of the ten or so declared candidates only Mr. Mwangi Mbuthia is running on the ticket of another party- ODM Kenya- of which he is the Chairman in Kieni.
Macharia might want to take advantage of the huge youth and women vote but both Mrs Lucy Kairu, who is the widow of the late Munene Kairu and Mr. Nemeysyus Warugongo might want to directly appeal to the same demographic group and they have an edge over him in that they have been on the campaign trail longer, have a distinct financial advantage and have nurtured local networks for longer.
But Macharia is hopeful. He quotes a recent informal opinion poll held by a local radio station that put him second only to Mr.Warugongo. Mr. Warugongo was the runner up in the last election and has a history of involvement with local women and youth groups but Macharia argues that since Warugongo has been campaigning for at least six years, the tables can easily be turned. In the long run then, one can only hope for a free and fair election and one in which the will of the people of Kieni will prevail.