By Dr. Vincent O. Ongore
Luo Nyanza counties of Siaya, Migori and Homa Bay have earned the dubious distinction of being among those that have fiercely and fervently defended their coveted positions at the bottom. Their Balanced Scorecards are a pale reflection of the image and perception of the region and Luo community as the citadel of excellence. I had a Deputy Principal, Patrick Ojero, at Kisumu Boys High School where I taught briefly after my undergraduate studies, who would have aptly described this evident lackluster group as ‘perpetual dwellers of the bottom strata.’
You notice that I have omitted Kisumu County from the list. The City County, under the leadership of the Political Economy guru, Prof Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o, may have its own weaknesses and flaws like all other counties in the country, but there’s evidence of some serious work being done, hence the new-found tag ‘Kisumo Yurop’. One can see that there’s some thinking that has gone into the transformation agenda of the county. Let’s critically watch the processes as they unfold.
The sad state of affairs in the rest of Luo Nyanza Counties has attracted a lot of commentaries by insiders and outsiders in equal measure. Only this week, former Mkurweni MP, Kabando wa Kabando, challenged Raila supporters to provide evidence that the doyen of opposition politics and former Premier has chided his governors on the eyesore that is the region that they lead. While the challenge may have been viewed as a deliberate scheme to puncture Raila’s acclaimed record as ‘mweupe kama pamba’, and deny him the moral high ground to lecture to leaders from other regions on corruption, it’s not lost on keen observers that actually, Kabando’s message was not without merit. One of the tenets of justice is that one must ‘approach justice with clean hands.’ The jury is still out there as to whether Raila’s hands are clean in relation to the rampant mismanagement, looting and malfeasance that have defined the three counties in the last eight years.
Even if the claims against Raila are not true, they’re certainly not far-fetched. These are the reasons. Over the years, the Luo community has been at the forefront in the fight against corruption, bad governance and all manner of vices that have denied citizens full enjoyment of the services underwritten by their taxes. The community has been a thorn in the flesh of successive regimes in Kenya, starting with that of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta through to Moi’s, Kibaki’s, and until the handshake, Uhuru’s. At independence, Nyanza was a flourishing region with high yielding economic activities and academic performance. All that was sabotaged by bad government policies in a bid to send the community to the peripheries of the state and development.
President Kenyatta must have read the colonial government’s confidential reports on the Luo as a ‘hugely bintelligent and progressive people’, and concluded that in order to cut them to size, they needed to be suffocated economically so that their social transformation could be curtailed. The Luo have always fought, in vain, to be incorporated into the country as a legitimate community, and not be treated as a people who are in Kenya by invitation.
When the coup de tat against regime occurred in August 1982, one of the key arguments was that Moi was mismanaging the economy through tribalism, corruption, nepotism, and outright discrimination against certain communities. The main culprits and victims in the failed coup were the Kikuyu and Luo communities. The tag of coup plotter has stuck with Raila to date despite the fact that a commission of inquiry chaired by Justice Cecil Miller established facts that pointed elsewhere. Raila himself has confirmed in one of his books that he was sympathetic to the coup due to Moi’s increasingly draconian and repressive tendencies.
For political reasons, a lot of Raila’s opponents have advertently replaced ‘sympathetic to’ with ‘organizing’. Of course, this matter keeps coming up at every election cycle to try and cut Raila to size as a man who is too ambitious to hold raw power. When you have lived through episodes, and understood them, as I have, you can easily read through the schemes. The second point is that Raila himself has been very consistent in fighting bad regimes to the extent that his name is indelibly and inextricably intertwined with Kenya’s fight for good governance and second liberation.
Thirdly, the Luo Nyanza region and community have suffered deliberate suffocation of economic development for the last six decades since independence in 1963. Literally all the major income generating economic activities that the British colonial regime bequeathed to the Kenyatta Government at independence were systematically killed through bad government policies. The cotton, fish and sugar industries with all their forward and backward linkages were brought to their knees by the government.
Some non-thinking or out rightly lazy intellectuals and apologists of discriminatory regimes have argued that the Luo are lazy. But none of them has ever been able to explain satisfactorily what the Luo are expected to do when government liberalizes or encourages importation of cheap subsidized sugar but fail to subsidize sugar production in Kenya or modernize the state-owned factories. On the other hand, tea, coffee, pyrethrum and horticulture farmers regularly benefit from loan write-offs. Nobody tells me what the Luo should do with their cotton when importation of second-hand clothes is encouraged, and all the textile factories in Kenya brought to their knees by this very policy. None of the apologists of the regimes has ever advised the Luo on what to do in the face of deliberate government decision to withhold funding to the fish industry.
The fourth point is that all the current Luo Nyanza governors were elected on the tickets of the Orange Democratic (ODM) Party, which is led by Raila. Pundits have argued that apart from Okoth Obado of Migori, all the other Luo Nyanza Governors were selected into office. Raila’s name keeps cropping up, rightly or wrongly, as the ‘invisible hand’ in the ODM party selection process. Raila may or may not have been party to the flawed nomination processes in his party, but one thing is obvious: he knew about them.
The fifth point is that the Luo are yearning for development. Most economic sectors have either collapsed, or are in their death beds. There’re marauding educated youth who are not gainfully employed in Nyanza. In their hopelessness, the youth become ready fodder for political manipulation. They are easily turned into goons and hired by politicians to wreck havoc against opponents. They boo perceived opponents in political gatherings and funerals in an attempt to deny them an opportunity to connect with the electorate. The youth have abandoned the land and entrepreneurship in a bid to get quick handouts from politicians. In this respect, the local politicians unwittingly perpetrate the national government’s scheme to deepen the impoverishment of Luo Nyanza region.
If this discriminatory scheme is combined with alienation of the professionals in public service, and the fact that Raila himself has been cheated out of his presidential win a number of times, then one gets a complete picture of the dastardly and primitive scheme against the Luo community. To clarify this point further, one should ask how many Luo people are CEOs of key state corporations that run into their hundreds. If you count ten, you are a genius. Does it mean that the Luo are not sufficiently qualified to run state corporations? There are some megaphone of the establishment who try to defend the government on its discriminatory policy against the Luo. I am waiting for a satisfactory explanation from them.
With all these overt and covert discriminatory schemes against the Luo community, one would expect that once the country entered into the dispensation of devolved units with constitutionally mandated funding, the governors would employ the most prudent management approaches to lift thousands of their people out of the debilitating poverty that they have been consigned to by discriminatory government policies. Naturally, therefore, the performance standards by which the Luo community is evaluated are way ahead of those used on other communities. After all, the community has staked out as the beacon of excellence. Alas, the Luo counties are lagging behind in literally every aspect of development.
There has been a plausible argument that Luo Nyanza started way behind other counties, and may take some time before they can catch up with the regions that have traditionally been favored unless there’s a deliberate government policy to provide equalization fund to the region. That’s is a correct observation. What about the spectacle of the governors and their cronies engaging in buying and building sprees way above their known incomes? We know the official salaries of governors and all those who work at the counties. We also know what they own and how large they now live. We can safely conclude that their new-found lifestyles are way above their known sources of income. Therefore, we can safely speculate that the opulent lifestyles we see have some correlation with the dwindling performance of the counties whose resources they’re supposed to hold in trust for citizens.
The oversight responsibility rests on the citizens through the Members of County Assembly (MCAs). Some of the MCAs do business with the counties whose executives they’re supposed to oversight. The oversight role is therefore, grossly undermined as the MCAs become beholden to the executives, and some of the sub-optimal deliveries which are subjects of investigations have actually been done by the very MCAs that are supposed to investigate them. So, the MCAs lack the wherewithal to question misdeeds of which they are perpetrators. Most of the MCAs were elected and nominated on Raila’s ODM party. The party cannot, therefore, escape blame whenever there’s poor performance of the counties where its members are the majority.
Some governors have actually used Raila’s name to either escape arrest on allegations of corruption, or demonstrated unbelievable impunity in dealing with the Senate or government’s investigative agencies. Two examples should suffice. In one instance, a governor publicly said that ‘they wanted to arrest me, then I called Baba, and they were forced to run away.’ In another instance, a governor, while being put to account on the huge disparity between budgeted and actual own revenue, surprised listeners by his outburst that ‘fish ran away into the deep waters, and couldn’t be caught’.
Charity begins at home. Raila has a responsibility and duty to reign-in on his governors and stop defending their malfeasance. The region urgently requires an integrated strategic plan for its development. This would entail for example, pooling together resources to put up cold rooms to preserve fish so that middlemen do not take advantage of desperate fishermen and buy fish from them at a fraction of their value. The counties could also develop a plan for irrigating the lake region to invigorate food production, agro-based processing and other value addition activities to boost the region’s income levels.
At the same time, ODM party must ensure free and fair nominations / elections so that the electorate can put in office men and women of their choice to be in charge of stewardship of their resources. When that happens, then the electorate will have the political muscle and legitimacy to hold their leaders to account. Whenever the party imposes candidates on the electorate, impunity is planted as the leaders become answerable to those who selected them, and not the electorate. For as long as the selection continues in ODM party, nobody will take seriously Raila’s preaching on corruption and justice.
I am happy that Raila himself has recently acknowledged the flaws in the ODM nomination processes, and promised a new beginning. All eyes are on Raila and ODM party. Until then, Raila’s preachings on corruption are like the proverbial playing of the guitar to a goat.
The writer is a Business Administration & Management Lecturer at the Technical University of Kenya, firstname.lastname@example.org