SAME OLD

Devolution too has its drawbacks

Grand corruption, the very thing which Kenyans dread most, escalated rather than reduced.

In Summary

• It did not take us long to discover that “one of us” could rob us with even greater efficiency.

• And that most governors wanted much the same emblems of success as other leading politicians

A generation or so from now, it will not be easy to explain to a young Kenyan just how excited we all were when the new Constitution was (to use the word few of us had heard of before the event took place) “promulgated” in 2010, in a truly colourful ceremony.

Strange to say, the most dramatic event of the day was not the promulgation itself, but the arrival of the Sudanese President, Omar al-Bashir, in his signature flowing robes and turban, strolling ever so casually to take his place on the presidential dais. If I recall correctly, the crowd gathered (the ordinary folks, not the VIPs on the dais) cheered wildly when the great man strode into Uhuru Park, where the ceremony was being held.

And if you had told him that less than 10 years from that day, the Kenyans he had honoured by his presence would see a front page photograph of the ‘former’ Sudanese President, Omar al Bashir, peering nervously around the courtroom from inside a cage – yes indeed, a cage – as the proceedings against him for corruption started, he would most certainly not have believed it.

 

A reminder to the high and mighty among us that the only thing that history ever guarantees any of us is unexpected – and usually unpleasant – surprises.

But back to Kenya and the new Constitution, there was perhaps no innovation in this document that generated so great a frenzy as the promised “devolution”. And in every corner of the country there was delusionary rejoicing, at the prospect of power – at last – being devolved to the counties.

While there was no doubt that Kenyan elected leaders tended to drift into corruption, no matter what their personal ideals when they first got into politics, somehow, we believed that devolution would bring transformational change.

While there was no doubt that Kenyan elected leaders tended to drift into corruption, no matter what their personal ideals when they first got into politics, somehow, we believed that devolution would bring transformational change.

After all, as I heard some say at the time, the soon-to-be-elected governor would be “one of us” – meaning “from our tribe”, as Kenyans are irredeemably tribal in their political outlook. Further, he would “live among us”; in “our county”; dishing out blessings, seven days a week.

Well it did not take us long to discover that “one of us” could rob us with even greater efficiency. And that most governors wanted much the same emblems of success as other leading politicians: the palatial home, maybe a helicopter, a fleet of SUVs, etc.

These, of course, were to be purchased through the proceeds of grand theft. And so most ironically, grand corruption, the very thing which Kenyans dread most as inimical to themselves and to the future of their children, escalated rather than reduced with the coming of devolution.

No matter what the final results of the census are, there will be those governors who will declare that their county population numbers were artificially suppressed, in order to deny development funds to the good people of their county.

Over the past week or so, we witnessed yet another way in which devolution is set to deliver a very bitter harvest. This concerns the recently conducted national census.

Now Kenyan censuses have traditionally consisted of two parts, just like Kenyan presidential elections. First there is what the government declares to be the official tally. Then there is what people will tell you they “heard from a reliable source”, be it from within the National Bureau of Statistics, or the Electoral Commission.

A widespread rumour just after the 1989 census, for example, was that (the now retired) President Daniel arap Moi had decreed, before the counting even got underway, that the total number of Kikuyus and Luos (the two tribes he believed to be totally opposed to his rule) must under no circumstances be found to exceed the combined tally of the Kalenjin, Kamba and Luhyia (the perceived bedrock of his political support at the time).

There is no way to prove or disprove whether indeed such instructions were given, and if indeed – assuming they were given – they were actually followed.

We can expect something very much similar now, with the new Constitution having created a formula for revenue sharing among the 47 counties, which gives weight to regional population figures.

No matter what the final results are, there will be those governors who will declare that their county population numbers were artificially suppressed, in order to deny development funds to the good people of their county.