Let a thousand small projects bloom: CDF state of mind has Kenya in its grip

Saturday July 26 2014

Most of us expected Kenya’s Constituency Development Fund to wither and die after the onset of truly devolved government.

Not only has CDF not died, it has continued to grow. Worse still, however, is the pervasiveness of what I will call the CDF state of mind.

This is the view, apparently shared by everyone from Kenya’s most sophisticated senators to its most illiterate villagers, that development is driven by local capital projects. 

The CDF state of mind doesn’t believe that policies or programmes will drive maendeleo. It doesn’t even believe that large regional or national projects of scale will prove the engines of welfare. For those with a CDF state of mind, small is beautiful, and the smaller the better.

We should have projects in every constituency, but also every ward and every village. Why not? If you can see it from your hut, you know it exists.

And the maendeleo of big government programmes (like, say, universal health care) we cannot see? Those castles in the sky are for the birds.


The CDF state of mind is behind much of what passes for government action these days. Kenya’s MPs, of course, put billions more directly into CDF in this year’s budget. But the CDF state of mind doesn’t start and end with CDF.

MPs also added money for constituency-based initiatives of other types, too. They took nearly Ksh250 million from the Ministry of Education for school infrastructure and put it in CDF. They put another Ksh140 million in the budget for Constituency Aids Control Committees.

And they added Ksh300 million to the Kenya Rural Roads Authority budget, which operates through constituency committees.

It isn’t surprising that the pioneers of CDF have a CDF state of mind, but it is unfortunate that the virus has spread to those who should be discarding the pseudo-devolution of Kenya’s “devolved funds” and championing a more holistic view of decentralisation.

County Assembly members are theoretically the lynchpin of a functional devolved system, but they are busily slicing up county budgets to focus on ward projects they can control.

First, they copied CDF with the creation of small Ward Development Funds. Now there are rumours that they are slashing county budgets to divvy up into big pots of ward project funding.

Governors, too, have encouraged the notion that they are running giant CDF pools. Uasin Gishu recently released a 2014/15 “simplified budget” to citizens to facilitate public participation.

This was a good idea, except the only thing “simple” about the document is that it doesn’t include any discussion of recurrent costs. Other than a summary table at the outset, the document has nothing but capital projects by sector (nor is it particularly user-friendly).

Apparently, 64 per cent of the county’s budget is recurrent, but it would seem that health workers, fertiliser, and ECD (early childhood development) teachers are not worth discussing. In the CDF state of mind, the only thing worth debating is how much your ward will get for “development.”

Of course, the upper echelons of the CDF state of mind are inhabited by senators. The senators seem to believe that, since counties are not implementing the requirement to spend 30 per cent of their budgets on development, they should be forced to spend 60 per cent on development.

Aside from the irrational belief that if laws are not enforced, we should make them even more difficult to follow, there is the question of why counties that are responsible for the operational costs of health, agriculture, markets and other services should be forced to invest so much in capital projects. Or why counties that already have enough infrastructure should not be allowed to fund service delivery. 

To say nothing of the fact that any serious capital investment requires substantial recurrent spending on maintenance and operations, which the senators seem inclined to outlaw.

And why, pray tell, should counties be forced to meet a standard that national government is not forced to meet, and would find impossible?

Senators now want to be involved in the selection of development projects as well, through their nifty County Development Boards.

These, we are told, are to encourage governors and senators to take tea together. But no law is needed to force people to take tea.

The opportunity for tea-taking exists in any free society. The only thing this law can do is allow Senators a shot at controlling county projects and budgets, which is illegal.

The emphasis on projects is telling, however; why do senators too seem to think that controlling projects is the only route to maendeleo?

Why are they not focused on policies around enhancing county revenues, protecting regional resources, guidance on how to classify public spending, and so on?

Why? Because these national policy issues have little appeal to those who live in a CDF state of mind.

Jason Lakin is a senior programme officer and research fellow at the International Budget Partnership. E-mail: [email protected]