2.7 Development Research and Public Administration in Kenya: Assessing the Unexplored Potential
(Maurice N. Amutabi)
The seventh paper by Mr. Maurice N. Amutabi of Moi University entitled Development Research and Public Administration in Kenya: Assessing the Unexplored Potential examined the issue of development research and public administration in Kenya vis-à-vis its performance and efficacy. The author of the paper contends that much of what constitutes policy formulation and implementation in Kenya is based more on spontaneity than on clear-cut, international and purposive planning. Scanty attention is given to research and development (R&D) as important ingredients of the developmental process.
In the North, R&D is a very significant component of the developmental process. Many of these countries spend a significant amount of their fiscal potential on research, and they have been able to experience an immense breakthrough in discoveries, inventions and innovations.
It has been argued by many that Africa, and the developing world in general, does not need to spend so much money for research as if wanting to reinvent the wheel. Proponents of such a view have been of the opinion that Africa should spend more money on acquiring the already available technology from the North and from South-east Asia. The notion has been that such technology is easily available and just there for the taking. Such notions have also, of course, suffered from the assumption that technological research findings can be shared readily.
The author argues that this assumption is grossly wrong. He contends that development is very wide and encompasses a whole spectrum of political, technological, economic, social, cultural and environmental issues. It is holistic in its outlook and approach.
The author points out that most African governments are positive towards social science research that is applied and useful, the research that potentially offers an answer to questions that bother the government's decision-makers. They require fine and finished (digestible) research that can be used immediately. There is less undertaking of basic research, one that requires excursions, field interviews, statistical tabulations and analysis, and the pros and cons of research.
The paper discusses the grey areas of public administration of Kenya that are wanting as far as proper management is concerned and which are in need of being investigated in order to be reactivated. The author points out that much of the research problem in Kenya has to do with the history of Kenya's bureaucracy and the suspicious nature under which research has been perceived. Having inadequate structures and institutions has made many government functionaries to see research as faultfinding, and generally as unveiling weaknesses. This need not be the case since good policy formulation and implementation has to emanate from research. In fact, development research and public administration in Kenya are supposed to be intimately and intricately intertwined, as is the case in the developed countries.
However, since civil servants cannot do research themselves, the services of the researchers become handy. Yet, because of too much academic jargon inherent in scholarly researches, the bureaucrats are reluctant to use such findings as they find them difficult to understand. There also exists suspicion between government officials and ardent critics of the government, at times for its own sake, while the academics see the bureaucrats as being responsible for the public malady and decay.
From the foregoing, it is clear that the paper makes a great effort to place developmental research at the centre of public service functioning. It has also emerged that research is a holistic process that is supposed to involve the whole societal fabric to be meaningful. The researchers are part of the policy making process, and implicitly reject the top-down moderates of social reforms in favour of something much more like bottom-up actions.
In conclusion, the paper contends that a researcher who engages in any policy-oriented research or any research capable of being used in a political context cannot stand aside from power structures and institutions. The author points out that we cannot avoid taking sides, since we must look at the matter from one point of view despite the fact that the decision about whose side we are on is a political act.
The participants were impressed with Mr. Amutabi's presentation. However, several questions ensued on the substantive facts of the paper. First, the participants were not clear on how the research output of social scientists would inform the decision making process in a context where the social scientists are hardly engaged in policy research. Second, the pragmatism of the bottom-up approach to development at the decision-making level was questioned given a society like Kenya where all policy decisions are top-to-bottom. "How are social scientists expected to bring about the advocated holistic development in a lopsided decision making context?"
In response, Mr. Amutabi urged social scientists not to give up their quest for knowledge generation and to practise their professional calling despite the harsh economic and political landscape in the country.