The Irreducible Minimums For County Development

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Mombasa, second largest City in Kenya

Kenya recently concluded its first general election with county governments in existence. Previously, when the national government was centralized, it was only through political lobbying that an area got developed.

Inequitable distribution of resources meant that some areas, mostly backyards communities of the ruling party, were prioritized claiming a huge chunk of development programs and carrying most investors with it.

The 2010 constitution introduced to us 47 county governments with a grand idea of bringing services closer to the people.

The county governments became in charge of overseeing functions such as provision of health care, pre-primary education and maintenance of local roads.

The primary objective of devolution was to delegate power, transfer resources and provide extensive representation down to the local level.

This translated to great expectations in the heart and minds of Kenyans to cure regional inequalities that were a result of past social injustices.

The promise of faster development and access to basic amenities and services rests squarely on the shoulders of the governors.

We have already seen various flagship projects being launched all with the aim of improving the living conditions of county residents.

However, there are key areas that should be of the utmost priority to any governor in order to ensure high standards of living and equally high quality of life in their area.

These are the irreducible minimums that county bosses should be held accountable for and they mostly revolve around sustainability and accessibility of basic services.

Affordable Housing

Section of Kibera Slums, Image Courtesy: Portia Crowe

A large percentage of residents in emerging market cities live in slums. This is a direct consequence of a faster growth rate in urban populations than can be absorbed and managed, causing demands on services and infrastructure that massively outstrip supply.

Escalating land prices and the capital intensive nature of the housing sector has made owning a house an elusive dream for low income earners.

Housing is at the root of many of the other issues we work to address—the lack of quality shelter means people live in areas with reduced access to clean water and sanitation, unreliable and unhealthy energy sources, increased exposure to disease, and low levels of financial security.
Affordable housing solutions should go beyond the use of alternative building technologies since this does not necessarily make houses cheaper.
As policy makers, county governments have a myriad of tools at their disposal to create policies that will favor the poor. A perfect example is through zoning.
The physical development of land and the kind of uses to which each individual project may be put is controlled by the government through zoning.
This way, the government can control the demand and price of land in a given area.
Taking away demand makes land less given to speculation and house prices cannot go beyond a certain level. County governments could go a step further and decide that in each zoned area, only houses  going for a given price can be constructed.
Other policy interventions include subsidies and incentives. Subsidizing decreases the prices of houses in the value chain while incentives for affordable housing can be offered through tax rebates to encourage investors and developers to do more large scale affordable housing projects.

Education And Health Infrastructure

Rural School in Voi

Most of our learning institutions were used as polling stations during the August Polls and as Kenyans queued waiting to cast their votes, they couldn’t help noticing and raising the alarm over the deplorable learning conditions that students are subjected to. The loos were unsanitary and most classrooms were in bad shape.

Then came the school fires that exposed the overpopulated dorms that serves as accommodation to the boarders.

The fires brought to the fore the urgent need for the Government and parents to ask themselves how safe Kenya’s educational institutions, especially boarding schools, are. Most schools lack basic needs such as accessibility, durability, functionality, safety and sanitation.

As education is not a fully devolved function, county governments need to work hand in hand with the ministry of education to ensure education sector policies are adhered to to the latter.

Plans should always select a safe site for a school, adhere to building codes and performance standards and ensure buildings are designed to withstand disasters.

Above all, school buildings that include dormitories and classrooms should have adequate escape routes, such as wide doors and windows that can be opened easily.

This will go a long way in promoting the physical and emotional health of students as well as teachers.

Machakos Level 5 Hospital
The health sector has taken a big hit ever since it started being devolved to county governments.
It is no secret that our county governments refuse to prioritize their expenditure when it comes to healthcare, the evidence of which is the ongoing nurses strike.
A crisis in the healthcare sector, a lack of consistency in the hiring and remuneration of doctors across the country and the devolution of clear ethnic bias added salt to the wound – doctors unable to serve in areas where they are considered ethnic “outsiders”.
Devolution has brought new health facilities and medical equipment to all counties but health workers are largely dissatisfied.
Nurses and doctors unions – whose members are protesting delayed salaries and promotions in some counties – claim health was better managed by the national government.
The county health body should prioritize those services that they absolutely must deliver and can cause the most impact with such as childhood immunization, safe births and family planning rather than maintain a huge and inefficient network of costly and underutilized hospitals and clinics.
However, there should also be upgrading of areas that have few health equipment and also establishment of new health facilities especially in areas which are far to reach. All health institutions should be properly equipped and facilitated with enough human resources and infrastructures.

 

Sustainable Transport

Achieving inclusivity and equitable growth for various regions will be achieved only by investing in a road network and public transit system that caters for the masses. History is ripe with many towns that started off as headquarters of the rail network.

This just proves that whenever we build infrastructure, investors will indeed follow. Strong planning and funding should be geared towards sustainable transport system that is universal, efficient, safe and at the same time capable of connecting residents to job markets and social services.

Noting that transport accounts for about 64 percent of global oil consumption, out of the box initiatives that focus on reducing loses arising from costly, high-carbon transport systems based on private motor vehicles should be considered.

This may be as simple as providing ample walking and cycling options, encouraging and investing in public transit with an aim of reducing use of private vehicles.

You’d be surprised at how the traffic menace solves itself when such initiatives are implemented.

I hold a Bachelors Degree in Construction Management from the University of Nairobi, Kenya and have overseen various construction projects since 2014. Based on my first hand experience in the built environment and through my writing, i hope to offer valid criticism to the way things are, and give valuable insights on how things should be. I am passionate about sustainable development and will always advocate for the interests of the general public. Contact me on: sylvie@buildingcode.co.ke

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