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November 20, 2018

Wanjiku’s voice still not heard after five years of devolution

Supporters of the new Constitution in 2010 at the KICC. /FILE
Supporters of the new Constitution in 2010 at the KICC. /FILE

Kenyans on August 27, 2010, gave themselves and the generations to come the much-quoted progressive Constitution.

The approval percentage score of almost 70 per cent in the referendum was a clear indication of the need and aspirations of Kenyans for a new governance system.

The establishment of 47 counties and the national government after the March 4, 2013, General Election ushered in the new form of governance.

Kenyans had yearned to have a say in and actively participate in matters of development that affected them in their localities. The other critical aspect was devolution of power, Executive and Legislative, to both the governor and the county assembly, respectively.

The independence Constitution had centralised power at the Executive, progressively emaciating the role of other arms of government, and hence the push to towards a new inclusive, consultative and participatory governance system as we have today.

Questions coming to mind reflect successes and challenges of devolution since its onset. For the five years we’ve had devolution, has anything changed in regard to governance and development in Kenya? Has Wanjiku been fully involved, consulted and integrated in the new governance structure? Is it about devolution of power to the counties or is it devolution of the bad manners of corruption, nepotism, bad leadership, abuse of office and disregard for rule of law from national level to the devolved units?

I may not competently answer the above questions, but they offer Kenyans the opportunity of reflection on devolution — an audit of the gains under the Constitution; an examination of the challenges to establish if they are deliberately caused by human action; endemic systemic or structural failures and would need legal and constitutional review.


Successes of devolved form of governance are varied, unique and widespread in counties. County assemblies have been functional in legislation, while also undertaking oversight on the allocated resources and county executive appointments.

To date, all counties have functional structures as provided for in the County Government Act of 2012 and continue to receive their budgets. County treasuries with requisite staff and capacity back up from the Office of Controller of Budget and the National Treasury are in place. Indeed, the national government has so far transferred over Sh1 trillion to the counties.

The work of pioneer governors stands out in the counties weighed against those who succeeded them last year. The first governors waded through uncharted waters and many placed their counties on sound and firm foundations, despite the teething challenges. Of the 14 functions under Schedule 4 part two of the Constitution, health, agriculture and roads are the most contested between the two levels of government, especially on implementation, staffing, categorisation and ambit of respective levels of government.

The Health sector, being one pillar of he President’s Big Four, Universal Health Coverage, has challenges that saw medics going on strike. Procurement of cancer and dialysis diagnostic and treatment equipment for the counties, at a cost of over Sh38 billion by the national government still causes friction between the two levels of government, with claims of lack of inclusive consultations.


The theatre of the absurd occasionally played out with infighting within the assemblies by MCAs and also with the county executive, where several governors had motions of impeachment successfully passed, only for them to be saved by the Senate or the Judiciary. The fights were mainly over resource allocations and at times unreasonable demands by the assemblies of such items as ward funds.

The fights also attracted pioneer senators, who were overzealous in oversight roles of summoning governors and county speakers right, left and center. At one time, the Senate sought a bill to have a County Development Board, which senators would chair, to decide on development priorities. MPs and the governors vehemently opposed this.

Already, the Summit, the Council of Governors, the Intergovernmental Budget and the Economic Council, Intergovernmental Technical Committee and Secretariat have been operationalised. The Judiciary has been at hand to judiciously interpret and arbitrate on devolution aspects taken before them.

The missing cog here for the wheel of devolution to fully turn has been ‘Wanjiku’ and deliberately so. National and county governments have neglected to undertake civic education on the participation and engagement of the citizenry in devolution.

The County Government Act 2012 obliges the two levels of government to set up continuous civic education committees for public education on the Constitution, governance and active development decisions. The so-called public hearings and engagements on budgetary process at county level is a stage-managed affair, with little input or policy change from what is already decided by the county executive.

Wage bills continue to rise as governors engage in favouritism, tribalism, clannism and blatantly abuse office in recruitment and deployments of staff. Ethical and professional considerations of staff recruitments, together with integrity and accountability, are obvious omissions in the counties.

Ethics and gender balance coupled with regional representation and inclusion of persons living with disability has a measure of success. But a lot remains to be done.

Going forward, seriousness on the part of the national government in providing leadership on development matters is called for if Vision 2030 is to be achieved.

Success of the Big Four Agenda, through the development priorities and programmes in the counties, needs to be harmonised and supported through prompt Exchequer releases, prudent expenditure and regular monitoring and evaluation to stem wastage and curb corruption.

No development is achieved anywhere without a critical mass, research and strategic benchmarking. Counties must move with speed to implement the Urban Areas and Cities (Amendment) Act 2017 for citizens to reap maximum benefits of well-planned and structured urban areas.

The success of devolution is hinged on increased and progressive public participation at the county level and equity in resource allocation and distribution.


 The writer is a devolution policy and governance expert

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