In the living spirit embodied in our national motto – Harambee!
The Public Fundraising Appeals Bill which now awaits for assent from the president, seeks to regulate public fundraising. While private fundraising will not require licensing, appeals to the public for fundraising will require it. For the supporters of this bill, harambees have been used to buy political support, enrich individuals and are unnecessary because there are funds allocated in national and county budgets for development projects[i]. Perhaps this is because some politicians are forced to steal from public coffers in order to contribute to fundraisers (those who are fortunate are expected to help those who are not). Sometimes one is left to wonder just how generous some individuals are in order to be able to contribute huge amounts of money to numerous fundraisers. Harambees force individuals to contribute beyond their means.
As regulation for Harambee is sought, it must be done in a way that doesn’t cripple the citizens’ ability to take charge of their own development or discriminate against certain individuals or groups. It should also be efficient and shouldn’t involve a lot of red tape or cost taxpayers a lot. The importance of Harambee (pulling together) in Kenya can be underscored by the fact that the word is inscripted in our coat of arms. It is a force for development. It is a Kenyan motto and a national philosophy. Remember that invitation you received to join the wedding committee of a fellow you haven’t spoken to in years, or a request to support a medical bill (on face book) of a friend’s parent? I do remember mentioning the word harambee in the Kenyan loyalty pledge during school assemblies: “In the living spirit embodied in our national motto – Harambee!“. The pledging wasn’t in vain, many Kenyans utilize harambees to fund raise for weddings, funerals, to raise school fees etc. Harambee is a deeply embedded culture in Kenya. In my community (the Akamba), people come together (vuli) to labour in the farm, to harvest and prepare produce for storage etc. Women even have merry-go-rounds (mwethia) which are used to advance them in various ways. Mwethia is mostly in the form of money. Women can meet every month and contribute Ksh. 1,000. If there are 50 women in the group then one woman gets to keep the Ksh. 50,000 for that month. Will these require regulation? Many communities in Kenya and indeed in Africa value Harambee whether in the form of providing additional labour in the farm or in raising funds for a needed development project in the community. Those who are “well endowed” or have more than is necessary are expected to help others. We have seen communities come together to build churches, dispensaries, roads etc. Many of these have used their own funds in the first phases of development and with the advent of constituency development funds etc projects have benefitted. Various Studies have been done on the importance of harambee for development cf. Murage, 2007 and Chepkwony, 2008.
Taxation as a Form of Public Fundraising
How can we develop taxation systems that are guided by the approach in the public fundraising bill? The bill ensures that the public is not fleeced and the money is used for projects in public interest. How often is tax money used to implement policies that the citizenry would not agree with? Public fundraising isn’t limited to Harambee, taxation is the source of revenue for government and this bill can enlighten how taxation is done. Corruption is possible because we have a certain amount of money set aside and is depersonalized. Money is collected from employees, business persons, traders etc. and most of them do not know how the money is used. In fact, most never get to see any benefit accrue from taxation. It’s as if the money exists in a vacuum and is a sort of lottery where those responsible for utilising the money feel no pinch in misusing it. Tax is deducted as one earns and every time one buys an item, he/she is paying tax. However, if people contribute a certain amount of money for project A, they expect to see the project take off and have the funds utilised as they expected. This becomes easier if people have a sense of ownership of development projects. Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and Community Based Organisations (CBOs) have somehow not captured the essence. Communities grow organically, by themselves and a sense of belonging is slowly established. These could be ethnic communities or clans, schools, churches etc. People have a sense of belonging and most of the time do not have to be forced to do what is required of them. NGOs and CBOs on the other hand seem like artificial institutions that are either headed by individuals who purport to know what individuals need for development or individuals who make a living out of peddling development projects. Organisations in which people have to be paid to participate in or do not even participate in do not serve development. Yet some CBOs and NGOs can only have citizen participation through giving individuals stipends and incentives. In fact, many community members see these organisations as places of wanton enrichment and not development avenues. How about tapping into already established kinship or ethnic groups? We look at the negative aspects of ethnicity but do not find in them an already established commitment and sense of responsibility towards its members. At the expense of development, we have preferred artificial institutions and labour towards making them functional. It is sometimes difficult to get elected representatives to initiate development projects. The whole leadership process is depersonalised. Citizens may have to endure dusty and muddy roads even when they could come together, raise some money and accomplish the development goals they have. The kinds of structures we have make citizen engagement in development difficult. It is possible to have systems that tap on citizens’ initiatives in development. Ultimately good governance is possible when it involves organic and smaller communities that are not depersonalised.
[i] Odunga, D. (2015, May 6). Nod for Bill to regulate harambees. Retrieved from Daily Nation: http://www.nation.co.ke/news/politics/Nod-for-Bill-to-regulate-harambees/-/1064/2708502/-/yity7a/-/index.html