At an ambitious 80 per cent voter turnout, under nine million votes are enough to make one a president. [Graphics, Standard]
There was palpable excitement when voter numbers were published in our intrepid media.
With 5.3 million voters across the entire Rift Valley region, 3.1 million in the old Central province; 3 million in Nyanza and Eastern; 2.5 million in Nairobi alone; 2.1 million in old Western; 1.9 million at the Coast and 866,000 in the former North Eastern province, that’s 22.1 million votes up for grabs.
At an ambitious 80 per cent voter turnout, this means that just under nine million votes are enough to make one a president. Of course, one imagines that respective campaign teams are setting their benchmarks at 10 million. Kenya doesn’t do well with close elections; Which is why 2002 was a truly happy time when Kibaki ascended to the throne with a 63 per cent plurality that proclaimed and then accelerated the decline, if not death, of Kanu.
As a sign of our more modern times a generation later, KTN News ran some interesting scenarios this week around the two-horse race we expect while breaking down voting numbers by county then-dominant ethnicity (so, by example, Trans Nzoia and Nakuru become Western and Central) and assuming 100 per cent voter turnout. We may not like this game we call the “tyranny of numbers” but we clearly cannot live without playing it.
The Rift represents Kenya’s true diversity of unequal economic outcomes. [Courtesy]
Twenty-two million-plus voters is no small change in a country with an estimated population headed to 52 million, of whom as many as 26 million are persons of voting age.
If these numbers are right (before the voter register is cleaned, of course) we are talking about a hit rate tending towards 90 per cent in a country where voting is not compulsory. Registering all 26 million potential voters was IEBC’s essential target.
Because participation in the presidential vote determines the turnout for the other five seats, candidates “from home” should expect a positive bumper vote, while regions without candidates will underperform.
This probably makes Central and Coast important “game changers”, and Eastern too. This is the tragedy of the Kenyan election prototype and practice which is, as KTN News demonstrated, an “ethnic census”.
Of course, we are using the old provincial map so far – where the old Rift is today’s 14 counties, Central is five counties, Coast is six counties today, North Eastern is three, Western is four, Nyanza is six (four as Luo Nyanza; Kisii being the other two); Eastern is eight including Isiolo and Marsabit and Nairobi is on its own. It is an interesting way to think about the old Kenya, and its newer, more diffuse county version.
There are other ways to think about Kenya from a spatial perspective. The old national development planning map, based on rivers, or more technically, catchment areas, splits Kenya into six Regional Development Authorities (RDAs).
Tana and Athi Rivers Development Authority (TARDA) covers 19 counties. Kerio Valley Development Authority (KVDA) covers six counties. Lake Basin Development Authority (LBDA) covers 14 counties.
Ewaso Ng’iro North Development Authority (ENNDA) spans 10 counties. Ewaso Ng’iro South Development Authority (ENSDA) speaks to four counties. Coast Development Authority spreads across six counties.
Kerio Valley Development Authority (KVDA) plaza, Eldoret. [Peter Ochieng, Standard]
Simple arithmetic confirms that some counties sit in more than one RDA, each of which was established in specific statutes enacted between 1974 to 1990. If economics is the electoral conversation we are currently having, it is surprising that little is said about the continued relevance, or otherwise, of these RDAs. Particularly given our new kid on the block; Regional Economic Blocs.
This is the second way to view Kenya from a spatial perspective above our county framework. We have 10 counties in the Central Kenya Economic Bloc (CEKEB); 12 county Lake Region Economic Bloc (LREB); six county Jumuia ya Kaunti za Pwani (JKP) as the only one fully aligned with an RDA; eight-county North Rift Economic Bloc (NOREB); five-county Frontier Counties Development Council (FCDC); three-county South Eastern Kenya Economic Bloc (SEKEB); two county Narok-Kajiado Economic Bloc (NAKAEB), and yet again, Nairobi on its own.
In reality, of course, a couple of counties are playing fast and loose by dipping their toes into more than one bloc but that’s the big picture.
None of this geographical thinking is in our current electoral conversation. The people who want the presidency want to rule us outside these consolidations, collaboration, and coordination arrangements (remember the BBI argument that the counties were not economically viable, and regions made sense?).
The people who want to run the other 47 governments we call counties are focused on their smaller view, not the beginning of a bigger picture. Just look at the almighty scramble to resign and escape cabinet and other appointed positions at the national level. It looks like a mix of going home and taking the spoils home.
So today we introduce a new angle to an electoral conversation as national as it is local. We shall term it the other tyranny of numbers. Kenya is a Sh11-12 trillion economy today, but we sadly lack current numbers on how this breaks down across counties.
The closest we get is the 2019 Gross County Product report from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) on county data in 2017 when we had a Sh8 trillion economy (yes, economic output has grown in handshake times, even if living standards have not).
Let us use the old provinces as a starting point to this “meso-level” – between the macro of national and the micro of counties – discussion today and consider some electoral campaign homework for candidates.
Here are some provincial perspectives. What is the economic promise to 3.2 million acres former Central province of 5.3 million people today (3.1 million voters?) and an economy that did Sh 1.1 trillion in 2017?
From Kiambu’s Sh421 billion economy at the time to Kirinyaga’s Sh 101 billion. Let’s add to this perspective. Kenya is 143.5 million acres of land and spatially, Nairobi only accounts for 174,000 acres.
A section of Kiambu town, July 2020. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]
Cross over to the former Rift Valley province of 14.2 million people and 5.3 million voters spread across 45.2 million acres or almost a third of Kenya when we include Turkana’s 17 million acres of land.
That was a Sh2 trillion economy of 14 counties in 2017, with Nakuru accounting for more than a quarter. The Rift represents Kenya’s true diversity of unequal economic outcomes, with per capita GDP ranging from around Sh38,000 in Turkana and West Pokot to over Sh100,000 in Nakuru and, yes, Elgeyo Marakwet.
Let’s move to Kenya’s borders. Beginning with 20 million-acre former Coast Province with 1.9 million voters out of an estimated current 4.6 million population, and a Sh650 billion 2017 economy half of which is Mombasa.
Then the three million acres former Nyanza province with 3 million votes out of 6.7 million people and its Sh765 billion 2017 economy. Or two million acres former Western province of 2.1 million voters from a current 5.2 million population and Sh511 million 2017 economy.
Throw in 38 million-acre former Eastern province, two-thirds of which is Marsabit (our biggest county by land size) and Isiolo. Here we are talking three million voters out of 6.5 million people in a 2017 Sh885 billion economy.
This brings us to our final provincial land spaces. First, our 31 million-acre, three county former North Eastern province of 866,000 registered voters in a two million population with a Sh111 billion 2017 economy. Then good old 174,000 acre Nairobi, 2.5 million registered voters from a populace of five million generated a massive Sh1.5 trillion in economic output in 2017.
This fresh tyranny of numbers might not end here. If we take people out of the equation, and look roughly at the land space in which economic output is generated; there is a more fascinating insight into the idea that, by these 2017 KNBS numbers, Kenya generated a bit above Sh52,000 per acre across the country, but our land of contrasts is such that, at one end of the scale Nairobi generated Sh8.5 million per acre, Mombasa did over Sh6 million while at the other end giant Marsabit did a little less than Sh2,000. Yes, the tyranny of numbers is true. It might begin, from the data above, with voter registration proportions in relation to actual populations from this provincial perspective.
But more importantly, it might begin a reverse reflection on why the diversity of economic outcomes in Kenya is so drastic. And what the next leadership – from presidency to governors – of our 48 governments plans to do about it.
Watch this space for random thoughts on what else we need to hear in rallies and read in manifestos.
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