Commissioners: Judge Saved Us From Abyss
Now that Kenya’s High Court has pronounced itself on the legal fate of the recently appointed (nay controversy-laden) positions of County Commissioners, some reflection from the annals of our history may help put this matter to possible eternal rest.
One point that the Honourable Justice Mumbi Ngugi may not have been aware of is that simply by one stroke of her learned pen, she has contributed to the rescue of the country from a den that has been its abyss for close to 50 years. For those who may not be aware, this same County Commissioners scenario reared its ugly head in the early years of our independence.
Then, as now, a few mandarins holding sway in the first republic went into overdrive to forestall the popular idea of seven regional governments as then provided for under the independence constitution. According to those mandarins, the country can only be, and must always be, controlled from the centre in Nairobi. They thus used sheer fiat, influence and raw power to reject regionalism, in what they must have sincerely believed to be a great tactic in political self-preservation, or even perpetuation.
And before you rush to condemn these thoughts: please note these are not exactly new revelations. In a timely commentary just published under the aegis of the Kenya Studies Association, one Professor Thomas Mason revisits that certainly dark epoch. We would only be twice lucky listening to him. He writes unequivocally that, “it was actually by means of the Provincial Administration that those opposed to ‘devolution of power’ and government functions to the seven regions established under the independent constitution, used to negate the constitutional mandates”.
Moreover, “at the insistence of KADU ministers, in particular, the titles of offices were altered; the post of Provincial Commissioner abolished, and a new position of Civil Secretary created”. Mason states that then as now, “ …in a parallel to the current situation, … the first holders of this position were actually named in early April 1963, before the regions came into being.”
The real point is that then as now, there are always forces who fear that if Commissioners (call them by any other name) are not under your control, then you are not government enough!
But the real clincher in Mason’s piece is that if the central government ensures continued control of a vaguely defined “Public Service” in the regions, the long clamour for devolution would have been defeated. He concludes that ultimately, “no effective opposition to this situation emerged from a legislative branch dominated by increasing KANU majorities or a judiciary that was soon to be distinguished by its desire to ingratiate itself to the executive”.
To be sure, the independence constitution was thus abrogated by a well-calculated process of thus, proceeding to starve the regions of cash that could enable them run; with the system completely refusing to as much as acknowledge their constitutional existence. If you ask any anyone who cares, the undeniable result was the sowing of the seeds of unending regional imbalances; historical inequality and inequities; and dare I say a major fermenting ground for what occurred much later in December 2007. Please remember, too, that 2012 has had some unparalleled absurdities: the idea for instance of ‘County Directors of Education’ competing with ‘County Education Directors’ appointed by the Education ministry and the TSC respectively.
As we stand now, it is not entirely surprising that it may take the proverbial 'Return of Christ' to convince some of our compatriots that all is not lost when they cede some responsibilities to other organs or regions of state. The premise here is that it is good enough that a central government be only left with the more 'dignified responsibilities' such as national defence and foreign relations. A nationally elected president remains the symbol of the abiding sense of our collective nationhood and it need not follow us unto every other hole we get into.
On all other matters, the wisdom of regionalism or county governments (as it is today) is that people must be allowed to chart out their destinies and be responsible for other aspects of development based on an equitable distribution of all the collective national resources. If you ask Mason, my guess is that the answer would be that there are really no prizes, fighting so hard against these changes. The world actually marches on. In the language of timeless Shakespeare, we humans only actors, making certain entries and exits.
One can only hope that the law and Justice Ngugi’s historic ruling aside, Kenyans remain — as Attorney General Githu Muigai himself used to admonish in our earlier years of this struggle — eternally vigilant, if we are to avoid these pitfalls of history.
Dr Outa works as communications adviser in the Office of the Prime Minister and expresses the views herein in a personal capacity.