How the neighbouring counties cannibalise Turkana off the devolved fund

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By Alexander Opicho

Franco Modigliani and Merton Miller introduced the concept of economic cannibalisation in management studies. They used the word cannibalisation to describe how some securities in a portfolio cause others to loose market value so that the portfolio or capital structure of the firm can achieve the highest overall value. As a result, the financial system of a firm experiences a degree of commercial autophagy – one investment eating another investment – so that an entire system is enabled to survive to a higher value. This can look strange but it happens. It happens biologically and is now very palpable in socio-economic organisation.

Biologically, a well doing cell has to eat a deformed cell for the entire organism to survive. This is an in-built mechanism to forestall cancer in a human body. Economically, the interactive socio-economic systems, like devolved government units within the same political universe, have the strong ones cannibalising the weak ones for the overall betterment of the whole country, federal or devolved system. By analogy, this is the social and economic relationship between Turkana County and its neighbouring counties within the mega structure of Kenya’s socio-political organisation of devolved system of governance.

An overtone of all these is the coverage by the People Daily on March 9, 2017, of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s disappointment with the County Government of Turkana on why it receives a yearly devolved fund of Sh12 billion, yet remains the poorest county in Kenya and the poorest place on earth. Kenyatta was not doing politics but raising policy concern in his capacity as an administrator. The answer to President Kenyatta’s question does not come from politics but from use of the biological concept of autophagy or self-cannibalisation to explain commercial cannibalisation in the social-political system known as Turkana-Kenya relationship.

First, Turkana County has a geographical size of nine hundred miles squared, with a human population of less than one million people. Out of these, four hundred thousand are from other counties. The overall state of education is that less than a hundred thousand people have achieved post-high school education.

The county experiences rains for two weeks in a year. It has two rivers: Turkwel and Kerio. These two rivers are seasonal. There is Lake Turkana on the Eastern side of the County, but the communities don’t use it economically given that Turkana people are animal keepers, not fishermen. Lodwar Township is the main shopping centre for the entire county; it has un-tarmacked roads, a small hospital, a prison, a police station, a couple of banks, an airstrip and a church.

The Lodwar CBD is six hundred meters square. The shops in the CBD are poorly stocked – this is due to lack of good road network given that the road from Kitale to Lodwar is not tarmacked and sometimes impassable. This is only a brief morphology of the county that will help us explain how other counties have cannibalised Turkana off its devolved fund.

Let us start with the basics; food, clothing and shelter. Communities in Turkana County don’t practice crop husbandry. They strictly keep animals. People in Turkana mainly eat meat, blood and milk. However, due to long spells of drought, animals have died and reduced in number, thus the daily slaughtering of a goat or a donkey is not possible. The community has been forced to rely on plant products like maize flour, beans and vegetables, which they don’t produce locally. They have to import these from other towns in other counties, mostly from Kitale and Eldoret. Unfortunately, the families in Turkana are not enterprising, so they don’t have money to buy food. Thus, the county government has to spend the devolved fund on basic needs items for the people. This is step one of massive money flowing out of Turkana.

Education is next. Most of the educated people in Turkana work with the county government or non-government organisations. So there is no effective manpower in schools, colleges and universities. This makes the families in the county to take their children to schools outside the county. But still the schools and colleges in Turkana County use manpower from outside Turkana. Out of these two facets, devolved funds bleed out of Turkana in the payment of education-related costs for the pupils and students out of Turkana, and remittances to home counties by the non-local people working in its education sector.

This is also the situation in the areas of domestic consumption and social capitalisation; building material, masons, painters, electricians, plumbers, carpenters, welders, mechanics, mobile phone repairers, bar waitress and salon workers come from other counties. Unfortunately, they don’t invest in Turkana. In this situation the buck stops with the people of Turkana for lack of believing in themselves.

Recently, the writer of this essay, met with one of the top officers in the Turkana County government at Tuskys Supermarekt in Eldoret. The officer was purchasing different types of cakes and bread for family use for a whopping value of twenty five thousand shillings. The officer justified his act by guiltlessly saying that he is buying enough of the cakes because one cannot find them easily in Lodwar.

According to President Uhuru Kenyatta, Turkana is the worst example of public service delivery, which is why it is poor. This is a statement of policy concern that has to be taken carefully before without being discarded by wind of partisan politics. President Kenyatta is very right; Turkana must ensure quality in its public service delivery – both in the corporate and public sector. Such efforts will attract local consumption and hence save some percentage of the capital flowing out to other counties.

Sometimes earlier, Bishop Mahon, the founder of Radio Akicha, Bishop Mahon Education Centre and other charitable institutions in Turkana, made the same remarks about poor state of quality in public service in Turkana County, which rhyme with the observations by Robert Kariuki (2015) in the Turkana Guardian thus: “In Turkana County, improper, disorganised, unplanned food distribution patterns and other public services have been and are still a menace to the lives of the vulnerable groups.”

Such are the deformities in the social organisation of the Turkana County government that make, it in the long run, to become a target of economic cannibalisation by the more organised counties.

There are those who wrongly blame the central government for problems in Turkana, like Egara Kabaji, the Principal of Turkana University (formerly a branch of Mount Kenya University). He wrote Saturday Nation in March that Turkana County is like Ilmorog, a village as well as a symbol of marginalisation and alienation in Ngugi’s Petals of blood. Kabaji was wrong in assuming that Turkana is poor because it has been politically alienated.

Felix Sialo, the former principal of Mount Kenya University, Lodwar campus, has a different opinion. He says that the problem of Turkana County is self-marginalisation. He cites an example to justify his argument by pointing out that the county government discriminated young people from poor families only to allocate bursaries for university fees to the aged civil servants and other aged people that have good jobs. These are the aged people above fifty years who cannot engage in productive work after graduating from the university. Looking at what Sialo and Kariuki said, it is not wrong to conclude that such choices will obviously make Turkana dependent on other counties.

It is taught in economics that buying always without selling is dangerous. Unfortunately, this is what the Turkana County government is doing. It is buying everything and selling nothing. Under proper organisation Turkana County has a lot of commodities it can export, like food products to be produced through irrigation, farming, hides and skins, packed meat, fish, gold, diamond, basketry, electricity from solar and wind power, tourism services along Lake Turkana and many other goods and services.

However, an experience of living in Turkana County for a week will show that each and every person in Turkana community is focused on oil mining. The reality is that blind focus on mining and selling of oil is not an economic strategy, because human beings need food and clothes before they can negotiate with the government for sharing of money from oil.
Politics and economics of mining oil in Africa have never had any encouraging news. It has always been about people killing each other and environment getting degraded.

Technically, over-focusing on oil will put the Turkana community at mercy of the tyranny of the experts. And according to Dmitri Pospielvesky in his book The Church and the Russian Government (1997), professionalism is a conspiracy unto the laity.

Therefore, it is logical that extension of technical professionalism in other counties can possibly be a non-deliberate conspiracy against organisational laity in the oil dream of Turkana County. This is obviously another venue that will push forward the economic cannibalisation of Turkana’s devolved and oil funds.^

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