Murmurs of discontent are brewing in Kenya’s civil service over hundreds of new districts created by President Mwai Kibaki for political survival reasons.
“There is no logic driving the creation of new districts, I don’t understand what political or economic strategy is being used to create over 200 districts,” says a senior government officer who, understandably, does not wish to be named.
President Kibaki took power in 2002 promising to put an end to the creation of new administrative districts for political reasons. His predecessor, President Daniel arap Moi had increased Kenya’s districts from 42 in 1990 to at least 70 when he left office in 2002. That’s 28 districts in 12 years.
Rather than reverse the actions of the past, and which he had criticized, Kibaki has embarked on his own record breaking frenzy of district creation. Today, Kenya has at least 210 districts and still counting. Many of the districts have been created since 2005, as Kibaki seeks to win public support. In Kenya’s rural areas, the creation of a new district usually sparks off excitement at having government services, “closer” to home.
Kibaki has created 138 districts in the past three years alone. Kenya government planners are having nightmares from Kibaki’s habit of proclaiming new districts at roadside political gatherings aimed at shoring support for his unpopular government.
Former President Moi, who created 28 districts, this week launched a scathing attack against Kibaki. “Where will the money come from to pay for all the new districts,” Moi wondered while addressing a public gathering. Surprisingly, Moi used US President Barack Obama to emphasize his point. “Whenever Obama wants to spend money, he first makes sure there are enough funds in the Treasury before making the decision,” said Moi amidst roaring applause from the crowd.
Moi is apparently not happy with the way his former Vice President is steering the country. He has been heard challenging politicians to “show leadership.” Recently, he told KANU leaders that they must analyze the current state of affairs in Kenya and “start planning.” But that is a story for another day.
Most of the new districts created by Kibaki lack the necessary infrastructure to develop government offices. Some of them are so small or awkwardly situated that local residents prefer getting government services from their former district headquarters.
Take the example of Kathiani District which was hived off from Machakos. People living in certain parts of Kathiani must cross Machakos Town in order to seek government services at the Kathiani District headquarters in Athi River township. For this reason, it is much more convenient to continue using Machakos Town district offices.
Originally, Kenya’s parliamentary constituencies tended to follow divisional boundaries, with several divisions forming a district. Therefore, each district before 1990 had about four to five constituencies. Today, some constituencies are districts.
“The case of Molo constituency is interesting,” says the senior officer quoted at the beginning of this story, “we now have a constituency with two districts: Molo District and Njoro District.” It is possible that more of such cases exist in other parts of the country.
Kibaki’s district creation frenzy smacks of emptiness in political strategy. Majority of Kenyans do not really care about the creation of more districts and are interested in job creation, poverty alleviation and food security. Obviously, the creation of new districts does not contribute to any of these societal needs.
President Kibaki argues that the new districts will create vacancies for District Commissioners, Divisional Officers, Police officers and other district level civil servants but this argument flies in the face of reality. “Most new districts only have a District Commissioner and a few Administration Police,” says the senior civil servant, “other government officers are being assigned four or five districts at a time.”
This means that the new districts have little impact in terms of creating employment for the millions of youth languishing at home for lack of opportunities. A government decision to increase the retirement age from 55 to 60 years has further diminished any hopes that Kenyan youth had for public service jobs.
With Kibaki’s public ratings the lowest of any Kenyan leader in history, the frenzy of proclaiming new districts is likely to continue. This will not only put pressure on state funds but will add to the confusion that Kibaki has inflicted on Kenyans.