Why Uhuru's Big Four agenda might turn out to be a mirage
This year, some governors failed to realign their budgets with the national government’s Big Four agenda.
They allocated more funds to other sectors, leaving food security, healthcare and affordable housing with minimal funds.
This could be a sign of inadequate engagement between the national and county governments.
President Uhuru Kenyatta has prioritised four key agenda areas in a bid to consolidate his legacy after 2022. If well executed, these will be what the President will be remembered for.
Unlike his predecessor Mwai Kibaki, President Kenyatta took over leadership under the shackles of a case at the International Criminal Court (ICC) and a formidable opposition. Uhuru’s first term in office defaulted to providing continuity of what Kibaki started.
In his first term, preoccupation with the ICC case, corruption in his new government and political opposition set his agenda on a reactive mode other than a proactive one.
The Big Four agenda – food security, affordable housing, manufacturing, and affordable healthcare for all – ought to have been rolled out immediately after he took office. However, it is never too late. The President’s intentions are noble and need to be supported, but the delivery approach will determine whether there will be any legacy at all on the Big Four Agenda.
To start with, food and nutrition security and Universal Health Coverage (UHC) are devolved functions. There seems to be limited buy-in by the county governments.
This year, some governors failed to realign their budgets with the national government’s Big Four agenda. They allocated more funds to other sectors, leaving food security, healthcare and affordable housing with minimal funds. This could be a sign of inadequate engagement between the national and county governments. The Big Four agenda seems to be more top-down. However, the counties appear to be in support, to facilitate the trickling down of the resources. The governors must agree for smooth implementation of these two agendas.
On health, the key element to universal healthcare is accessibility and affordability. There has been over-emphasis on National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) as the key driver to universal health coverage. The reality is different. Despite the recent partnership between the national government and the four counties to pilot the NHIF model, the fund alone will not deliver. In fact, the starting point is reforming the health insurer. This was one of the key recommendations of a Deloitte audit report of NHIF in 2016.
The government should allow new approaches on how the insurer should run its operations, first by putting the members at the centre of its service. At 7 percent, the governments are not spending significantly meaningful resources on healthcare. For universal healthcare to be successful, the government should also consider adopting leadership changes, genuine political commitment and serious approaches to addressing human resource gaps.
Without proper health planning, resource prioritisation, emphasising the centrality of accountability and community engagement, universal healthcare will remain a pipe dream.
Agriculturally, Kenya faces severe food insecurity. According to the United States Agency for International Development, 3.4 million people suffered from acute food insecurity in 2017
There seems to be no well thought-out long term strategy to make the country food secure. The country imports maize, wheat and rice to meet the needs of its growing population. Food production is also dominated by smallholders farming comprising small plots of less than 0.5 hectares. Only about 6-8 percent of land is irrigated. The country’s main staple foods are highly vulnerable to poor rainfall and floods and face many constraints that erode their food production potential, including access to credit to acquire inputs.
The budget allocation at three percent in 2017/18 is well below the 10 per cent target under the Maputo Declaration of 2003. Worse still, a review of State departments in agriculture and food security’s absorption rates for FY 2014/15 - FY 2016/17 remains disappointing, with the National Cereals and Produce Board being hit by inefficiency challenges and scandals.
Kenya’s food and nutrition insecurity does not emanate from a lack of policy and legislation but rather the apparent lack of will and capacity to implement existing ones. Unless there are serious sector changes, development of pro-poor incentives, and mechanisation in the agricultural sector, food and nutrition security indicators will grow worse toward 2022.
On manufacturing, providing incentives and a conducive environment will encourage manufacturing. Shielding local manufacturers from undue and external competition will encourage manufacturers to produce cheaper but quality goods.
However, affordable housing remains a far-fetched dream in the short term. A review of the annual development for Nairobi County on the challenges of housing in Nairobi shows it is a complex problem.
Mr Ndegwa is a policy adviser; [email protected]Gitau Warigi resumes next week