Did we just begin on the wrong footing? This is the question that has been lingering among critical minds soon after retiring President Mwai Kibaki addressed the first induction workshop for newly-elected county Governors and insisted that, despite provisions of Chapter 11 of the constitution on devolution, Kenya remains a single unitary state.
Mr Kibaki’s body language and tone of speech when declaring that “Kenya is a single unitary state” is what worried many critical minds who listened to him addressing the Governors’ retreat. Looking at the definition of the term “unitary state” as used by the outgoing President, there are genuine reasons to fear that Mr Kibaki represents a conservative political elite that does not believe in devolution of power and resources as contemplated and intended by the new constitution.
The term “unitary state” refers to the technical functioning of a country or organization consisting of a number of areas or groups that are joined together and are controlled by one central government or group. If this is what Mr Kibaki meant by “single unitary state”, then it simply means that the semi-autonomous status that county governments enjoy is illusory and that they should be micro-managed by the national government.
If the foregoing interpretation accurately captures Mr Kibaki’s frame of mind as far as the authority of county governments is concerned, then there should be course for Kenyans to worry about the future of the devolved system of government even as the country ushers in a new government under President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto.
The frustrations already expressed by the Governors over initial funding of their activities soon after taking office and the intention by the national Treasury to micro-manage the funds allocated to the counties helps to reinforce the need for Kenyans to stand up and defend the principle of devolution as enshrined in the constitution.
In this regard, Kenyans should take the earliest opportunity of coming out strongly to challenge the propagation of any revisionist ideas that are intended to undermine the principle of devolution.
A look at Article 176 of the constitution, among other provisions, clearly indicates that makers of the constitution accurately captured the intentions of Kenyans about what county governments should be—semi-autonomous where people at the grassroots have the leeway to plan and execute their development agenda according their unique socio-economic situation.
Article 176 reads: “There shall be a county government for each county, consisting of a county assembly and a county executive. Every county government shall decentralize its functions and the provision of its services to the extent that it is efficient and practicable to do so.”
The foregoing provision is preceded by Article 174 which spells out the objects and principles of devolved government, where Article 174(c) provides that the objects and principles of devolution are, among others, to give powers of self-governance to the people and enhance the participation of the people in the exercise of the powers of the State and in making decisions affecting them.
In view of the foregoing, there is no way Kenya, under the new constitution, can remain a single unitary state where the counties are micro-managed by the national government the way Mr Kibaki would like things to be.
Because of this, as we congratulate the Jubilee Coalition for their victory in the March 4 elections, we should call upon them to ensure full implementation of the Constitution even before they think of implementing the promises they made during the campaign period—if they deliver on other campaign promises but fail to deliver the new constitution, posterity will judge them very harshly.
In this respect, we hope that the new government will not take Kibaki’s advice as far as devolved government is concerned. We call upon Mr Kenyatta’s administration to allow the county governments to evolve and flourish to their full potential as contemplated in the constitution—this can only happen if the Jubilee leadership commits itself to uphold fidelity to the constitution by implementing it to the letter and spirit.
During the campaign period ahead of the March 4 polls, there were concerns that some political elite averse to reforms would do anything to reverse the democratic gains afforded by the new constitution. Such political elite, it was said, would want the old order to remain in place because it serves their best interests—the frame of mind exhibited Mr Kibaki on devolved government now confirms that the threat posed by those who want the status quo retained is real.
Does this, therefore, call for extra vigilance from democracy-loving Kenyans? The answer is certainly in the affirmative—lest the country sees a repeat of what happened 50 years ago when the leadership that took over the reign of power at independence ended up mutilating the independence constitution, thus killing all the aspirations for good governance the people of Kenya had.
The writer is the Deputy Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims and Secretary General of the Muslim Leaders Forum.