“One man, one vote, one shilling” – Beyond the slogan: Unpacking Kenya’s revenue-sharing debate.

  • 14 Jun 2024
  • 3 Mins Read
  • 〜 by Brian Otieno


The Kenyan political landscape has been abuzz with the rallying cry of “one man, one vote, one shilling.” This slogan, ostensibly advocating for equal resource allocation across counties, has fueled calls for a revision of the revenue-sharing formula. However, a closer look reveals a more nuanced reality, where a simplistic “one size fits all” approach might be a political gimmick rather than a well-rounded policy solution.

Role of the Commission on Revenue Allocation

Kenya’s revenue-sharing framework is a complex and intricate web characterised by constitutional provisions and legislative actions. The 2010 Constitution, under Article 215, establishes the Commission on Revenue Allocation (CRA) and tasks it with the critical mandate of recommending a formula for equitable distribution of national revenue among counties, often referred to as horizontal share, and between the national and county governments, known as the vertical share. This empowers the CRA to act as an independent arbiter, ensuring fairness and mitigating political influence.

The Public Finance Management Act, 2012, further fleshes out the process. The CRA undertakes a comprehensive and consultative approach. They do this by gathering data on various factors, including population, poverty levels, land area, and fiscal responsibility of each county. Public hearings and stakeholder engagement are crucial elements, allowing diverse voices to be heard and local needs to be factored in.

Once the formula is developed, the CRA submits its recommendations to the Senate, which has the final say. This approach ensures that the process is premised on both technical expertise from the CRA and democratic representation through the Senate. However, the political dimension cannot be ignored. The formula can become a bargaining chip, with counties lobbying for weightage that benefits them, as is currently the case.

Debunking the “one man, one vote, one shilling” slogan

From the very onset and based on the regulatory framework, the “one man, one vote, one shilling” slogan falls short.  While population is a significant factor, it’s not the singular condition. A purely population-based formula would disadvantage counties with vast, arid lands and lower populations. If solely relied on, it would not account for the specific needs and challenges faced by these regions.

On a practical scale, consider County X with a million residents versus County Y with half a million.  County X might argue for a 2:1 share based on population. However, County Y might be grappling with extreme poverty and require a higher allocation for basic infrastructure development.  A purely population-based formula would not fully respond to these disparities.  

In an attempt to strike a balance, the Commission on Revenue Allocation developed the Third Basis for Revenue Sharing among County Governments. The inclusion of factors like the poverty index recognises the need for affirmative action towards counties with higher economic vulnerability. Land area ensures that vast counties with lower population densities receive resources to manage their geographical expanse.

Furthermore, the concept of “one shilling” ignores the crucial aspect of fiscal responsibility. Counties need to demonstrate their ability to manage resources efficiently before receiving a larger share. The formula includes a “fiscal responsibility” component, incentivising counties to improve revenue collection and financial management practices.

Room for improvement

This is not to say the current formula is flawless. There’s always room for improvement. The ongoing debate is healthy, prompting a re-evaluation of the weightage assigned to various factors. Perhaps population data needs to consider population density or poverty indices could be more finely tuned.

However, resorting to simplistic slogans risks derailing a well-established process. The way forward is open, data-driven discussions facilitated by the CRA. Counties that feel short changed should focus on building a strong case based on verifiable data on poverty, infrastructure gaps, and fiscal responsibility.

Ultimately, the goal is not to achieve absolute equality but an equitable distribution that empowers counties to deliver essential services to their residents. This requires a nuanced formula that considers a range of factors beyond population.

The “one man, one vote, one shilling” slogan might resonate with some, but a policy-centric approach demands a deeper understanding of the intricacies of revenue sharing. By prioritising data-driven analysis, transparency, and stakeholder engagement, the country can prioritise a fair and effective system that empowers counties to deliver on their development mandates.