Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Size, Number and Character of Devolved Units in Kenya

The new county government system was preceded by two main institutions – the provincial administration and the local governments (Local Authorities or LAs). The devolved system of government at independence with 7 regional governments and an eighth one for the city of Nairobi (famously known as the majimbo system), It was short lived as barely a year later it was abolished.It was replaced by the provincial administration (PA). The geographical units comprising the regional governments became the 8 provinces – Nyanza, Central, Rift Valley, North Eastern, Eastern, Coast, Western and Nairobi. Below the provinces were established districts, further divided into divisions, then locations, then sub-locations and villages. At each of these units an officer was appointed to represent the interests of the central government. This system was akin to the colonial system that had been used to control the populace. The political elite saw it as a key means of consolidating power and getting up to date intelligence on any matter.

In later days the provincial administration officers were to play a key role in the running of the ruling party – KANU. At one point it was even difficult to distinguish the boundary between KANU officials and government officials as each played the others role. PA officers became lords in their areas and dictated on every matter. Anyone opposing them was seen as an enemy of the state and acting in direct defiance of the president and was dealt with by brute force and without any fair trial. It is this that has bred distrust and negativity among the Kenyan people for the institution. However in practice the administrative functions they provided have been critical especially in the resolving of social wrongs, certification in matters of registration of persons and property, and as agents of the government on matter of law and order.

Also subdued under the central government were the LAs which were put under the ministry of local government. Before the formation of county governments there were 175 LAs. In theory the LAs were expected to be where political, administrative and fiscal decentralization was exercised. However, in practice they had weak system that saw the councillors elected while their executive arm appointed by the central government thus undermining their independence and ability to account to the public. Their limited capacity, controlled resources and rampant corruption with impunity further undermined them and worsened their performance. It was the abuse and failure of these two systems that led to great agitation for a fully devolved system of government.

Through the Constitution of Kenya Review Commission) CKRC) draft constitution, and deliberations at the National Constitutional Conference  (Bomas) and later of the Committee of Experts (CoE), devolution emerged as a key principle of whatever system was arrived at. Kenyans wanted to ensure that they had a say in their local affairs and that the leaders they elected had resources and space to make and effect their decisions. They also wanted to be able to have key services delivered by institutions close to them. Kenyans wanted a government that is close and effective, a government that would enable them to resolve long endured injustices.

This desire raised the question: what kind of structure would best deliver this? How many levels of government and how many units at each level? And what would be the powers at each level? What would be administratively and economically sensible so that Kenyans would not shoulder too heavy a burden?

According to the CoE, the key factors to consider in determining the levels, number and size of units included the geographical features of areas in relation to the services to be delivered; means of communication or accessibility for effective governance; density of population; resources, including human and physical infrastructure; social feasibility in terms of accommodating into the administrative unit; the historical and cultural ties of communities; minority interests; and the views of the people. While CKRC had recommended five levels of devolved government, the CoE through its harmonized draft constitution released to the public in November 2009 recommended three levels: National, Regional and County governments. The counties were to be the basic unit of devolution and there would be 79 of them based on the districts agreed in the Bomas Draft.

The regional governments, though not the basic units of devolution, were seen as important as they would be large enough geographical units with substantial populations and would  accommodate ethnic and cultural diversity and contribute to nation building; they would facilitate coordination of county governments and planning for services that cut across county boundaries; and they would form a productive linkage to the national government especially for equitable allocation of resources and the protection of the interests of devolved governments (CoE Final Report, 2010). Upon receipt of the views from the public it was deemed better to have only two levels largely on argument cost and simplicity of the system. There was also criticism that the CoE had given no very clear role to the regions. Thus the regional government level was dropped. The districts as enacted in 1992 under the provinces and districts act were adopted as the basis of the county governments.

What are current structures like – number and size?

The Constitution of Kenya, 2010 establishes two levels of government – national and county. The national government comprises the executive, a bi-cameral parliament and judiciary. 47 County governments are established each with an executive and legislative arm. Two main reasons seem to have been key in adopting the 47 units. First was the need for units that were easy to manage in terms of costs and size. One option was to have the 79 districts adopted at Bomas as the basis of counties. These were seen as too many and economically unviable. The other option was to go for larger units (say 25) that would mean the merging of some districts. This while making economic and administrative sense sounded to be politically unviable given the interests of various political groupings. Secondly was the delicate balance between having units that are small enough to ensure effective participation but also large enough to maximize on economies of scale of delivering key services. As a compromise, the 47 districts, existing in 1992, before more creation of districts of dubious constitutional validity, were adopted. This did not require a change of names or boundaries.

The Constitution does provide a mechanism for changing boundaries (Article 188), but this would require the recommendation of an independent commission, and then the support of two-thirds of all the members (not just those voting) of the National Assembly and of two-thirds of the Senate delegations (which basically means of two-thirds of the Senators). This will be probably hard to achieve. No change was allowed before the first elections, which took place this year.

The 47 counties vary in every sense of the word. The largest is Marsabit (70,961 square kilometres) and it’s also the one with the least population density – of 4 persons per square kilometre. Mombasa is the smallest county (219 square kilometres) after Nairobi and Vihiga which have a size of 695 and 531 square kilometers respectively and has a density of 4292 persons per square kilometre.. The table below shows the 5 largest and 5 smallest counties.  An interesting observation is that the size of the counties also has a close correlation with population density and poverty levels. Larger counties have high poverty incidence save for Garissa which is just below the 50 per cent mark and they are also sparsely populated. They are also remote and among those that have a low County Development Index and will thus receive a share of the equalization fund (CRA, 2013). This already indicates that the cost of delivering services there will be higher especially in terms of infrastructure than in smaller and urban counties.

Counties by geographic size in relation to population and poverty indicators (First and Last 5)












Size (km2)






















Density (persons per km2)











Poverty Incidence (%)











Source: CRA County Factsheets, 2012

Key characteristics of the devolved units

The 47 districts were not very different from those created, and named in colonial times, when the rationale was to divide and rule Kenyans. People were balkanized into ethnic blocks and pitted against each other. Others – as with the Kalenjin, Luhya and Meru – were put together as closely related yet they have significant dialect and sub tribe groupings. It is thus of interest that we have adopted the same districts with an objective of fostering national unity by recognizing diversity. With the exception of Nairobi, Mombasa, Nakuru and Eldoret, most of the counties have homogenous majority communities, and they consider the county “theirs”. Even the names of some counties correspond to the name of the majority tribe such as Turkana, Samburu, Pokot, Nandi, Kisii, Embu, Tharaka and Meru. This has raised concerns among minorities at county level. These are persons from communities with smaller numbers in each county and who fear being marginalized.

Given that political organization in Kenya has largely been on ethnic lines, we have started seeing possibilities of certain counties having an assembly and executive with members from only one community. This is why certain county assemblies will be without a single opposition member, as all persons elected are from the dominant political party. Examples are Mombasa with all MCAs from ODM, Kirinyaga with only one MCA from outside TNA out of 20, Kisumu  and Elgeyo Marakwet where all MCAs save three are from URP.. This presents a unique challenge for democracy in Kenya. The constitution makes provision for law to ensure that the county government reflects the community and cultural diversity and protection of minorities (Art. 197). In counties like this, diversity and minority protection may only be achieved through the party list members (often called “nominated”), for marginalized groups and gender balance, but it is unclear how far this has actually been achieved.

Does it matter if a county is homogenous or not? In theory, it is argued that homogenous sub-national units would have an easier time in agreeing on policy priorities. On this basis, one would expect counties with greater homogeneity to progress faster. This assumes the fact that homogeneity is also reflected in policy and political ideology. This would be interesting to test in Kenya as – while counties may be largely homogenous, at least ethnically, and even may have voted for persons in the same political party – they may not hold the same policy positions. This is because during elections, candidates do not necessarily campaign on an agreed set of party policies but on personally identified issues. Thus once in office, they are keen to have the promises they made to the people accomplished even if that may be at variance with what their party stands for. It is of course worth noting that the current devolved units have also meant that there are no more “home” regions for the larger ethnic communities. Good examples are the Kikuyu and the Luo who have been split into 5 counties. The inter-county competition may mean that there is less focus on negative ethnicity. This has the potential of creating an equalizing effect with smaller communities having a greater say in the county.

Here in Kenya, the functionality of counties seems to have overridden concerns about ethnic inclusivity, the latter being seen as an outcome of other factors such as resource allocation. It has been argued that the reason Kenya has experienced ethnic related conflicts is because one community (or group of communities) has been denied its rightful share of the national cake by another. Thus, goes the argument, if all matters of inequality – especially economic and political – are addressed then the ethnic antagonism would resolve itself. It is also why many a community want their own person to take the helm of power at the national level so as to be able to get greater opportunities for their areas. This has been a key argument for devolution of power to make and distribute wealth.

The devolved units also differ greatly in terms of natural resource endowments. While past focus has been on agriculture production of the earlier marked highlands, recent focus is on natural resources exploitation including precious metals, minerals, oil and gas.  Already there is a rush to acquire land in areas thought to harbour such resources. Other natural endowments are based on flora and fauna such as parks, mountains, valleys, lakes, forests and jungles. These endowments and how they are utilized will determine the progress of counties. For instance the great wildlife potential in parts of Eastern and North Eastern of Kenya remains largely untapped with tourism focusing on the west, central and coast of Kenya. Agricultural potential must however not be undermined as it still holds the key to food security and large scale employment creation. Human resource potential will also be key differentiating factor. This is largely as a result of progress in education access and attainment. This of course assumes that the well educated professionals will be willing to take up jobs and invest in counties.

 Assessing the impact of the current structure

The main concern is that the 47 devolved units are far too many for the economy of our size. Each comes complete with an executive and assembly functions modelled against the national ones. The cost is especially in relation to the wage bill and multiple overheads of running government. This would even be worse should corruption take root in the counties. As to whether counties need more money or better investment on key priorities may also determine the costs. More money is not necessarily equal to more development.

 There has been criticism of the scheme of building devolution on the basis of sharing national revenue because it creates an impression that there are unlimited resources held in some place that need sharing. It is emerging that with counties wanting to control more and more resources, counties with limited resource endowment may find it difficult to run. This is because the national government will have less and less revenue to share out. And those likely to be affected the most are the larger, and poorer, counties although that may be debatable too, especially with discovery of oil in Turkana and gas in Marsabit, as well as the great livestock potential of these areas. A shift of focus to internal generation of wealth through available opportunities would seem a better approach to address the economic challenge of counties.

As for development, the 47 units present more opportunities than challenges. The opportunities are in harnessing the competitive advantage of the counties and especially the human and natural resources.  There is a further opportunity in counties forming joint forums/authorities through which they can pursue cross-cutting development goals. A challenge will be in consolidating the support of all actors of county and national government including institutions such as state owned enterprises and state corporations. Private sector and civil society organizations have also built great capacity in dealing with some key issues and hence counties would greatly benefit in engaging them. All said, the differentiating factor between counties development is likely to be based on human effort, investment priorities and resource endowment and not so much the size of the county and the number of counties.

The writer is a policy analyst specializing in devolution and works at the Institute of Economic Affairs where he heads the Futures Program. This article is part of a series published every saturday by the star newspaper and coordinated by the Katiba Institute. It was published on May 18 2013. For other articles check http://katibainstitute.org/devolution-issues 

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Arming the watchdog: Do MCAs have the capacity to perform?

Devolved government is here with us and it is an exciting time. It is fulfilling to see the units take shape. Of interest is that the 47 units of government not only have an executive to implement the local policies but also have a local elected county assembly. The County Assemblies are the key institutions in the county that will represent, legislate and offer oversight in the running of the county. The Members of the County Assembly (MCA) are elected from each ward and a few more will be nominated to ensure that there is equitable representation of all people. This includes women, youth, persons with disability and marginalized communities in the county. The MCA’s thus have first and foremost responsibility to ensure that the voice and preference of their constituents is present at the table of decisions. They secondly have a law and policy making responsibility. The laws and policies that they make is what makes the work of the county government possible. It provides the desired end while making provisions of how to get there. Thirdly they have an oversight role in which they hold the power to approve, check and follow on every matter being conducted in the county. Their is to check the powers of the governor.

This therefore means that MCA’s have a greater mandate than was wielded by their predecessors the councilors who operated in the local authorities. They have to take this mandate with the weight it deserves. But standing in their way is their capacity to handle this mandate. How well do they understand their legislative and oversight role? What qualifications do they bring to the table of decisions especially where complex matters of development are concerned? There is also the concern of their remuneration against the work we expect them to play. 

In a training I was conducting for the MCAs of Nakuru County it has emerged that they had very different expectations in as far as their roles are concerned. Of concern is that some have not internalized the principle of separation of powers as entrenched in the constitution. That they will not be able to engage in direct service delivery is already a matter worrying to many. And one would understand their dilemma. In a country with nascent political party ideologies and thus no binding party policies expressed in manifestos, every person seeking election goes out promising different things. Some of the promises though exciting to the masses are untenable. So once one is elected, they realize that they have to honour their promises but cannot do so directly. There are collective plans and budgets to be made and this means tradeoffs so as to work within the resource purse available. Their wit in making the budget thus will be of essence to ensure that they can accommodate other proposals while ensuring that theirs are equally addressed.

But how equipped are the MCAs to carry out this mandates. Do they have the expertise or at least access to expertise to ensure their effectiveness. How well are the County Assembly Service Boards resourced to ensure that the MCAs have offices to operate from? In moving forward it emerges that there is a lot that needs to be done. In the short term there is need for continuous capacity development especially after the formation of committees. Some of those committees will have to be merged in some counties given the number of MCAs. The office of the speakers may also need sufficient support to ensure it has the technical support necessary for effective performance. In the long term, there may be need to review the educational and professional qualifications for election of MCAs as well as the remuneration of this position so as to attract high caliber professionals. 

Friday, 12 April, 2013

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Refocusing the Devolution Debate

I feel the debate of why we devolved government is dwelling on non essentials - flags, names (Hon or HE), houses, cars, offices and personal assistants (drivers etc) for ourr good governors. Multiply this with 47 and add their deputies, speakers and other senior officials and we already cannot afford before we even start it. Our (my) reasons for supporting devolution was to ensure better representation and improved service delivery. Thus the question should be: Is our voice better represented and are we setting the systems that will assure better service delivery. Anything else is a side show and will soon degenerate to back passing. The loosers in all this will be you and I who have little say in the fight for power. 

The constitution of Kenya provides for two levels of government with functions to be delivered to every citizen. In their wisdom the members of Parliament passed the National Government Coordination Act on 16 January 2013. This is in live with Schedule 6 Section 17 that requires that the Provincial Administration be restructured to be in accordance with the county system. It legitimizes the role of County Commissioners, their deputies, chiefs and assistant chiefs in each county. Their role is to coordinate the delivery of national government services as provided for in schedule 4. Thus the national government is represented by the County Commissioner (appointed) at the county level and the County Government by the Governor (elected). The question is: Do we need both? and is there value added in having the County Commissioners? Let us remember that at least 85 per cent of our expenditure is with the National Government and 15 per cent is with the County Government. I do not see the challenge of who should report to the other (Governor or County Commissioner).  

My problem is how to ensure that:-

1. every service that kenyans are entitled too is delivered effectively and efficiently while ensuring value for resources spent
2. both county government (governor) and national government (county commissioners) are accountable for the application of public resources
3. that citizens are assured of a recourse measure should either level of government fail in its role

While I hold in high esteem the governors we elected, it is not lost to me that they may not have the best interests of the county. Thus they need to be shielded from taking us down the drain in the pursuit of their personal interests. Governors can fly the national flag, live in the best houses and drive the latest cars all at state expense but that will be of little value if the livelihoods of the people in Kenya remains the deplorable.

Our constitution provides two measures - one is the Legislatures at both levels i.e. National Assembly, Senate and County Assemblies. Second is the Commissions and Independent Offices. This two have a key role in protecting the interests of the citizens. It is my opinion that both the governor and national officials working within each county should account to the above bodies. That way we remove this competition of who is more powerful than the other. It also provides for citizen participation including petitioning and demonstrating where their needs have not been met. 

As we move forward, lets keep this in perspective: Are we better represented and are we receiving improved services? This is what we will keep drumming until it gets done. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Letter to the Governors

Allow me to congratulate you for earning the confidence of Kenyans. Their gift to you is their vote and your gift back to them is service to all.. We have high expectations as to what devolution can and will achieve. Today you will be sworn in and will sit on the county government driver’s seat. We are all waiting with bated breath to see where you will take us. We will support you where we can. Two most important things to us is better representation of of our opinions in decision making and improved service delivery. This we know will take time, but please make sure it does not take forever. Soon you will tell us that you are not receiving enough support from the national government, but remember we elected you because we thought you are creative and convincing enough to bring government close to us. Please do not let us down on that.

As one who has been closely following the devolution theory and practice, I know that finance should follow functions. We are however concerned that the process of functional analysis is not yet done and hence we are likely to have it the other way round. Could you address this as soon as you are in office? It is only with clarity of functions that we can start the road of allocative and spending efficiency.

What exactly do we mean when we talk of improved service delivery? Kenyans in each county will expect that your government handles these 5 key issues par excellence.

  1. Allocative and spending efficiency: Kenyans want resources allocated to areas of service delivery that are of greatest need to them. For some, it will be to build markets, for others, to make access roads all weather, yet others, it is to ensure that they have water for domestic and commercial use. Please allocate according to the preferences of citizens. But while allocating well is good, spending well is much better. We will be expecting you to spend every coin where it is allocated and not allow room for wastage or under utilization of funds.
  1. Equity in service delivery:  We are at different levels of development and inequality is real to us. We hope you will ensure that services are delivered according to need and taxes payed according to ability. Avoid the trap of treating unequal persons equally for that only worsens inequality. Equity is not the easiest of the choices you will need to make, for we are very selfish and we all want the best roads to lead to our homes. But is that not what leadership calls for. 
  1. Accountability and Control of Corruption: We expect your government to simply tell us how much you have and where you spend it. No more. Tell us how many official staff you have and how necessary they all are. We trust you are good men and will stand against corruption in all its forms, but please put measures of transparency and let it be difficult for people to steal public funds.
  1. Quality of services: The quantity of services is important but the quality is even more important. We do not want to persevere in your county  because the options of migrating are few, so please, give us quality services. We better have few but  good quality services.
  1. Cost Recovery: We want to ensure that cost for delivery of services are recovered but done so in a way we all share the burden. Free things are dangerous so as much as you can, please do not promise free services. Let there be responsibility for citizens too. We may not like you for this but as long as we see value for money, we will pay faithfully.
  1. Clarity of functions that are to be carried out by the county government and national government. The citizenry have a lot of expectations but should you really blame us? some of your manifestos promised everything under sun.
  1. Citizen participation. This is the most progressive provision in the constitution, but its implementation will prove tricky.. This is because we all have opinions and need you to provide a space for us to air them out. You are required to consult and involve us in planning and service delivery at all levels of the county. Make that happen. Plan for it and budget for it too.
  1. Organization and capacity of the county public service. A lot of focus has been put on elected officials and those that you will appoint in the executive committee, but there has not been sufficient attention to the public service, yet these are the key people who will bring to fruition the county service promises
  1. Fiscal responsibilities which refer to how well you will raise revenue, how and where you will spend it, how you will manage the transfers from the national government and how you will deal with budget deficits including the options of borrowing. We know you are placing high hopes on the 15 per cent minimum coming from the national government, but that is not enough. How about you focus more on raising revenues so that the transfers come to fill deficits? What about borrowing? Will you lead us to more debt or more surplus?
  1. Further decentralization within the county. How do you ensure that services reach every corner of the county? How do you ensure that the urban areas and cities are well managed? What about sub counties, wards and villages? The principle of subsidiarity dictates that service delivery is allocated to the most practical level possible to do so. Therefore give us services where they will be effectively delivered. Yes we want a dispensary at our door step, but that will be of no value. Employ economies of scale and we will all enjoy the services.
  1. Lastly are Intergovernmental relations. You are a chief executive in your county and a diplomat out there. We expect to live and work in peace with our neighbors and the national government. Tame your tongue and sharpen your intellect.. Put our interests first and remember your competitors may not be other counties in the neighbourhood.

A wholistic picture of devolution will be a great treasure in the long run, so please seek the global picture of things even as you implement one part at a time. Make us believe that today’s sacrifices are for our better tomorrow. But as you work towards tomorrow, ensure we have some gains along the way. For this to happen, six things will be of utmost importance:.

In all this we are praying for your good health, clarity of mind and conviction of heart. Give us your best in all you are able to do.

In Service to God and Our Country 
Abraham Rugo Muriu

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Kenya Decides 2013 Wrap Up

PCEA St. Andrews Church
Kenya Decides Wrap Up
Sunday Service, 3 March 2013 @ 0800-1000

Finally the day is here but nothing is finalized yet. The work of building our country is not finalized. Our responsibility to seek and exercise peace is not finalized. Our call to continually pray and stand in the gap is not finalized. Our obligation to be the change we want to see is not finalized.

A lot has been said and done in the last three months of campaigns. Much more needs to be done to move this country forward. Tomorrow we march forth and elect our preferred candidates for the six positions. When you get to the polling station you will be sorted by your surname. Remember you can only vote where you registered and using the original identification documents you registered with i.e. Passport/ID. Once inside the room, there will be 5 clerks. Clerk one will verify your registration by checking your biometric. Once cleared to vote, Clerk 2 will give you the first 2 ballots. Clerk 3 will give you the next two ballots. Clerk 4 will give you the last two ballots. Each ballot is to be folded along the length. Once done with voting, Clerk 5 will mark your small finger with indelible ink. You are then expected to leave the polling station and go home.

This process may take long and hence you will be expected to exercise patience. Do also talk to others to exercise patience. Should there be no winner for the president i.e. No one with 50 %+1 of the overall votes counted and 25% in at least half the counties, then we will go for a run off. This will be in a months time. Only the first and second candidates will participate in the run off.

Our call to us today is to go out, speak and live the peace of Christ. To exercise self restraint especially in matters you hear that make you want to respond in a way that will only worsen things. To be patient and encourage others to be patient. To pray for the following - That there will be order at the polling stations and no room for speculations. That the winners of each post will celebrate graciously and that the runners up will concede honorably. That the system in place especially of relaying and tallying results will have no hitches.

The work of building our country is far from over. The greatest loss in this election will be if we the citizens elect and sit back to wait for our leaders to act. We have a personal and collective responsibility that we can neither delegate or abdicate. Today let us purpose that we will work to see Kenya prosper. That we will build where we can and ask others to build where they can. That we will transform our country ourselves. By all means let we be the winners in this election. So as you elect your leader tomorrow do also elect yourself to the position of responsibility, integrity and justice.

Every morning in an African Jungle, a gazelle and a lion wake up. They both must survive. The lion by eating the gazelle and the gazelle by keeping safe and running away. The lion knows that if it is to survive, it must run faster than the slowest gazelle. The gazelle knows that if it is to survive, it must run faster than the fastest lion. Moral of the story: when tomorrow morning comes, you had better be up and running towards building our country for posterity. God bless and Keep you. 

In Service to God and Our Country 
Abraham Rugo Muriu

Sunday, February 24, 2013


Sunday Service, February 24, 2013 @ 0900-1100


Texts: Psalm 133 & Jeremiah 29:1-11

In December 1991, my family gathered at our rural home in Olenguruone, located in Molo District. We celebrated Christmas and new year. Little did we know that it was our last time to see our home, for in April 1992 everything had been reduced to ashes. All we had was lost and life was never the same. Coming to terms and being able to forgive whoever did that has not been easy. As a family we have learnt that forgiving and living in peace after such an experience takes the hand of God.

Cohesion is the tendency to stick together. From my above experience I have observed that:-

  • ·        It is difficult to accept and move on
  • ·        It is a choice that is personal but with great public implications
  • ·        It starts with you and I not with your neighbor
  • ·        It starts today and not tomorrow

In Psalms 133:1-3 The bible exhorts us that it is good and pleasant when brothers and sisters live together in Unity. The anointing would flow from the top to the bottom. Our National Anthem reminds us that it is our responsibility to stay in peace and unity.

Today I see and hear many people talk of cohesion but how badly do we want to live together in unity in this country? And are we willing to pay the price of such peace. Is it something we think is a must or something we think we can do without sometime. I say this because, I see us recline to our tribal grouping to drawn on security of numbers. When we fail to consider other candidates because we they are not from our own or they are spoiling for our own.

Cohesion demands we take responsibility – personal and collective. While the promised blessing is assured, it comes with a responsibility. Responsibility to do what is right and to accept when on the wrong.

Jeremiah 29 provides the details of this responsibility.

Central in this chapter is the contention between the appealing voice of false versus the hard sounding voice of truth. It’s a tension of to whom we pay our allegiance? To the everlasting truth or to the enticing but shortlived lies? We find ourselves in similar situation in our school, work and life. We have what we desire to have or where we desire to be but there is a reality of where we actually are. Daily we are faced with the temptation to do nothing productive in our current place because we want to save our best energy and ideas for that great day, when we are in our dream state. We feel the desire to do just enough to get us along. God has a different message for us just as he had for the exiles then.

This letter contains five things that are important and applicable to us today in Kenya:

1.      To settle down (Vs. 5) – not to take their situation as though it be a passing wind. They are to build houses, plant gardens and eat what they produce. We live in a world where we are always on the run from one pursuit to another. Accept that we are a country of diversity and that we cannot always have our way. Accommodate others. Be tolerant. God wants us to settle down even in our hearts that we can build a strong relationship with Him and his people. Remember we live once and that is it.

2.     They are to increase in numbers (Vs.6) – Marry, have children and give their children in marriage. While this may not be literally taken as it meant to them then, there is a desire in God that we increase. That we improve his world. That we leave the places where we are in now, better than we found it. That we draw more people to his loving grace.

3.      To seek the peace and prosperity of the place they are in. To pray to the Lord for it, for if it prospers they too will prosper (Vs. 7). It is interesting that their well being was tied to the well being of Babylon. This is an equally true principle that our prosperity is tied to the prosperity of the place where we are in. We see this all the time in economic, social and political crisis - that everyone suffers when things goe wrong and that people are ‘happy’ when systems are well. We thus cannot ignore what is happening around us for in the end it affects us. This we are to engage in remembering that the true source of prosperity is the blessing of the Lord.

4.     To watch against the deception of the false prophets (Vs. 8-9). God’s word as recorded in scripture stands in all times. He blesses obedience and punishes disobedience – regardless of who is involved in it. We live in a world that has redefined what is right and what is wrong. However, this does not change what God’s word says. We are to watch against such and also watch against being the false prophets who give others false hopes.

5.     In God’s time he will come and save us (Vs. 10). For the exiles it would be about 3 generations (70 years) before God would take them from Babylon back to their home in Jerusalem. For us we await in faith that God will meet our desires here on earth. Also for the glorious day when Christ shall return to take us home. This is the gift that God gives to those who have choose to put their trust in Him (Rev. 21:12).

Cohesion starts with you and I. It’s a responsibility we cannot afford to delegate or abdicate. Kenya will remain after 4th March. The decisions we make today have an impact in posterity. This calls for wisdom and tough resolve as we live.

In Service to God and Our Country
Abraham Rugo Muriu

Monday, February 18, 2013

Sound Leadership Lessons from Nehemiah

SUNDAY SERVICE, FEBRUARY 17, 2013 @ 0900 & 1100


Text:  Nehemiah 4:1-15 and Matthew 22:34-40

It has been an interesting week with the first live presidential debate taking place. This is what some of the candidates had to say (paraphrased), ‘It is very easy to deal with the health problem. In my government we will establish the DIDA diet where people will only eat when they are hungry. And even then they will not fill their bellies. A third food, a third water and a third air. And there will be no meals timetable. On foreign policy, the problem of Migingo is easy, I will first deploy the navy there push all Ugandans out then we can negotiate if it is in Kenya or not.’

When I first arrived in the city in 2001, I was full of expectations. My parents had sent me to take computer studies as I prepare for university education. I spent my first year in the city at Pumwani Youth Hostel and attended the Kenya Christian Industrial Training Institute (KCITI) in Eastleigh section 1. I ate chapati chafua, which was basically chapati with free soup splashed on it. I walked along conjested streets and sometimes on sewage and severally went wondering what I had just stepped on. This was not the city I had anticipated. Yet it was in this place that I saw diversity in its totality. I saw people from all walks toil in the hot sun to make ends meet. They worked so hard although many earned so little.  Nairobi was and remains to be a city of many faces. There is the city those who are able live in and there is the other Nairobi that many wish that never existed. This is the city where everything goes. But this is the Nairobi that drives the productive engine of the city – the labour, the consumer and the tenants. Same applies to many parts of our country.

Our country has made many strides but the inequalities especially incomes is a matter to worry any person. Poor incomes have left many Kenyans vulnerable, hungry and angry. They are the broken walls and burnt gates of our generation.  The inequalities that abound call for leadership that rises above the parochial interests of ethnicity, class and even the so called analogue/digital divide. A leadership that is courageous enough to turn the narrative and usher in a new story. That leadership is what each of us is being called to. While is mostly on political/public leaders, the truth is that each of us is a leader only that our spheres of influence differ. It is how we lead where we are that will make or break our country. We have a unique opportunity to shape the future. Shall we build or shall we destroy it? Let’s turn to Nehemiah. I encourage us to read the entire book to catch a grasp of this great leader.

Nehemiah is in exile. Despite his odds, he is a privileged man just like many of us. He has risen to serve in the Kings palace as a Camp De Aide. He is a high man but an accessible one. He receives his brothers and enquires about his home country and specifically the city of Jerusalem. He is told it lies in ruins. Its walls are broken and gates burnt. The walls signified the security, protection and community. In their absence the people were vulnerable. He is troubled and decides to do something. He cannot stand to be enjoying a privileged life as his brethren live in insecurity and disgrace from their neighbours. He prays and acts. He approaches the king with a clear plan of what he needs and the amount of time it would take him. Arriving in Jerusalem he assesses the problem, gathers like minded people and gets onto the work of rebuilding. He faces opposition firmly. At one point he arms his people to work and fight, calling on them to ‘remember the Lord who is great and fight for their families’ (Neh. 4:14). He addresses the plight of the poor and ensures that the people’s dignity is respected (See chapter 5). Once the wall is done in 52 days, he invites Ezra to lead the people in rebuilding the spiritual walls and gates. He knows that while the physical infrastructure (hardware) is important, the spiritual infrastructure (software) is more important. Indeed, a society is as strong as the inner strength of its members.

Kenya is at a decisive time in her development. In the 50 years of independence, a lot has been achieved. Much more needs to be done. Especially on improving livelihoods, feeding our people and providing quality education and health care. Ours is a call to be Nehemiah’s of today. Men and women who get disturbed by what disturbs God. People who are connected to God and relevant to the world. I get the sense that as Kenyans, we know where we do not want to go but we have not fully resolved that we won’t go there. Not when we are increasingly operating on fear. Fear of domination and revenge should one who is not our own take power. This fear is what has made many of us retreat to our ethnic numbers as a source of security. Not when we politic with health, security, pensions, food and education of our people. Not when we fail to address the plight of the majority young and educated but jobless people. Not when we glorify those on the wrong and crucify the honest and hard workers.

We do not want to go over the cliff but no one seems willing to stop and turn the car. We want to do things the same old way but get different results. The family is in turmoil, the church is crying for dedicated women and men, and the country needs leaders in all its facets. This is what pains most: That we are not angry enough. But why should you and I care, when we can fly out when things go wrong? When we can afford private services when public health and education systems fail? When we can afford supplies for the next one month especially with elections around the corner? I think we must care because unless we address the plight of the majority who are poor, we will not protect the minority who are rich (paraphrasing John F. Kennedy). Unless we do that, we will build gated communities that we cannot drive or walk out of. We will invest with fear of loosing all should things fail. What then is God’s call to us?

It is to stand and do something. We see this in Nehemiah. While what he did is commendable, the real cracks of it are in the person of Nehemiah. They are in his software so to say. Sound leadership will only stem from leaders who are sound in and of themselves. I hold the view that a leader can only give who they are and what they have. For a leader, being is as important as doing. A leader can only take people where s/he has been to or is willing to go. It is in Nehemiah’s being that we see the fountain of all he did. In Mathew 22:34-40 and Mark 12: 30-33, Jesus is confronted by the leaders of those days. They ask him what the greatest commandment is. In essence they are asking him, what makes a great person? What makes an outstanding leader? Jesus answers that 5 things matter.

  1. Love the Lord your God with all your heart - integrity
  2. Love the Lord your God with all your soul – conviction
  3. Love the Lord your God with all your mind – knowledge/intellect
  4. Love the Lord your God with your strength – ability/competence
  5. Love your neighbour as you love yourself – compassion/justice

Pastor Oscar Muriu calls them the Five Loves of a leader. They make the hallmarks of sound leadership. They are the software of sound leadership. How did Nehemiah live this attributes in his life? And what lessons can we take with us in leading where we are?

First, sound leadership is one driven by loving God with all your heart. This is what I call integral love. It is the highest mark of integrity. Being undivided in your commitment to God. He has your heart and you will follow where he leads. Nehemiah is totally sold out to God. When he hears of the turmoil in Jerusalem, he turns to God in prayer. He knows his heart is God’s and pours it all to him. He prays in confidence that God will hear and lead him. And even as he rebuilds he constantly reconnects with God. He records that the work got done because the people worked with all their heart (Neh. 4:6). He knew his heart will remain restless unless it finds rest in God (paraphrasing St. Augustine). Our greatest problem is a problem of the heart. Where is your heart today?

Secondly, sound leadership is one based on loving God with all your soul. This is the attribute of conviction that is beyond surface talk. It is a deep conviction in what you have believed. It is this conviction that makes Nehemiah arise and take action. It is the conviction that that binds all your nerves and being in following a cause. It enables a leader to see through a hopeless situation and turn the narrative – from hopelessness to hope, from operating by fear to walking through fear in courage. It is the drive that things can change. That people can change. It is sad to observe that many a Christian are so by association and not by conviction. They have no stand for something and thus fall for anything. Kenya is crying for leaders of conviction not of convenience. Men and women who go for what is right and not just convenient. Men and women who are willing to help us delay certain gratifications so that we can enjoy long term prosperity. Will you be the one? Will I be the one?

Thirdly, it is a leadership grounded on loving God with your entire mind. It is a knowledgeable leadership. Our intellect matters to God. It is a mind submitted to God and plans what will benefit his people. What we saw in the Goldenberg and other scandals is people using their knowledge to destroy a country. Nehemiah understands the work ahead and makes careful planning which he submits to the King. When on the ground he first assesses the problem to clarify his plans and when it comes to work he divides it into manageable pieces. Using our mind to serve God and his people. We have not always loved God with our minds. For starters we have many at times failed to develop our minds. We read popular news but shun from challenging matters. Yet God has given each of us a mind that is creative. A mind that can innovate solutions that will serve many generations to come. Sound leadership thrives on using our intellect to engage our society’s challenges.

Fourth, sound leadership is based on loving God with all your strength. A leader’s ability, skills and competencies are a great asset to a society. God desires that we serve humanity with excellence and legacy in mind. Applying our strength to its best. Shunning mediocrity and laziness. Nehemiah plans the rebuilding and is also there to build. He does what he needs and delegates only that which he must not do. He harnesses the collective strength of the people. In 52 days the work is done. We live in a society where people want jobs but no work. Pay but no pain. People want to reap where they sowed not. Think of all the gambling going on in the name of brand promotion. Think of middle men and brokers who make unbelievable margins by exploiting farmers and informal workers. God is calling us to be leaders who use our strength. Who eat the sweat of our labour. It is also a call to harness the collective strength of the people of Kenya to build this our nation together. To collectively pay the fare and equitably enjoy the wellness fruits.

Lastly, sound leadership is founded in loving your neighbour as yourself. It is being compassionate. It is being merciful, just and gracious. It is in treating others as you desire to be treated. It is in seeing people as valuable creation of God. It is in working for the good of the people around you. It is in protecting the weak and supporting the vulnerable. In chapter 5, some of the wells to do people are exploiting their brothers and sisters. Nehemiah steps in and reprimands them for such unjust acts. He ensures that such oppression is stopped. Today we are faced by a situation where many are exploited by the few who can. While it is easy to blame the government for poor pay of civil servants, think of the working conditions in our industries, commercial farms and factories. Think of the working conditions of many of our house helps and office assistants, cleaners, cooks, watchmen. Take what you we pay them and calculate how long it will take them to get out of poverty. They work so hard yet we pay them so little. They too are children of God and have the same attributes as we have. The love for neighbour has to start in the house of God. It is also the basis of bridging inter clan and ethnic divisions that are threatening our country.

Sound leadership has to start in the House of God. It starts with you and I. It starts with an individual resolve to be all for God. To see what he sees and to be concerned by what concerns Him. To start and sustain the change we want to see. When the history of this country is written, on which page will you name appear? On those who built or those who destroyed. And more importantly, when God asks what you did with you leadership opportunities, what will you answer? In the words of John Maxwell, sound leadership is the call to stand when others are sitting, to stand out where others are standing, to be outstanding when others are standing out and to set the standard when others are outstanding. Kenya shall be transformed when we all practice sound leadership where we are. This calls us to prepare and do our best for it is better to prepare and get no opportunity than to get opportunity unprepared. God bless us and God Bless Kenya.

In Service to God and Our Country 
Abraham Rugo Muriu

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