Opinion Court

How you react when someone gives his/her opinion is a rudimentary instrument of measuring one’s intelligence or maturity on a subject matter. A walk through these numerous online streets makes it easy to rank the Netizens from those who react by giving their views with decorum, those who keep agreeing with other people’s opinions without giving any reasons, those who disagree—also without any reason, those who just follow, and those who thrive in throwing insults at any opinion. Now, I have an opinion about the last bunch. They have been called ‘keyboard warriors’ for a long time

and I think it is a glorious name that should have perhaps been given to these two ‘Maasai’ guys who tried to sell me a clay molded keyboard pretending they did not know what it was. Long funny story. So, why would anyone call out on your big head or your fat nose just because you gave an opinion online? Why will they be quick to call you stupid just because your thoughts differ? I will choose not to try figuring them out, because that will not help a world that is fighting global warming.

A few months ago, someone asked me to give my opinion on devolution in Kenya. I thought that was cool since it could help in the fight against global warming; haha. You may ask; how is this even related to food? I also don’t know. All I know is that even the government is capable of eating its own people. See; Anything can be related to food. So I gathered some facts here and there and penned down my opinion in this article here:

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The Rolling Devolution Train; are We Really in Charge?

                The promulgation of the constitution in 2010 birthed a new era in governance which saw Kenyans handed the much-anticipated county governments. This landmark transition was a shift from the old centralized system of governance to a new decentralized system that was envisioned in the published sessional paper on devolution earlier the same year. The new constitution set up a guideline for the principles governing the devolution process under articles 174 and article 175. Among these principles was accountability, equity and equality in resource allocation, transparency and public participation in decision making. All these principles were geared towards having a unified nation with cohesively co-existing citizens. The question that begs is; can we confidently say there are substantial socio-economic improvements noted since the commencement of devolved governance?

                Before we delve into the current devolution system, one needs not to forget that there were earlier attempts to create regional governments towards the final stages of the colonial regime by the European settlers in the name of Majimboism. Many critics at the time thought of the idea as a way for the European settlers to maintain an autonomous control of the diverse ethnic communities in the country. This prompted an eruption of pockets of resistance from different quotas of the political class, led by top regional politicians at the time. It was widely feared that the colonial idea of devolution did not mean well for the country and would jeopardize efforts that were being made towards a unified Nation. Meager efforts were made in the post-independence government led by president Moi to revive the idea, but the same resistance the colonial government faced was repeatedly seen from sections of the political elites. A sneak peek into the current devolved government still paints a picture of the qualms and uncertainty by Kenyans in the adoption and implementation of this system.

                One may ask, why would a presumably good idea like decentralization of government services be shrouded in so much controversy even in the contemporary society yet it has been proven to work in other parts of the globe? The thing is, nothing is clear in the political arena and every move by a political opponent is always received with suspicion since a political decision is pegged on motives that are usually unclear to most of the stakeholders in the system. Federalism was meant to help Kenyans have easy access to government services without feeling left out of the equation as was deemed in the centralized system. The growing popular demand for self-governance since independence that led to the establishment of county governments in devolution clearly shows that the whole idea of federalism was good for the country; but only if soundly implemented and supported.

                The 2013 general elections set up the county’s governance with high expectations from citizens on their county governments. Although Kenya is still in the baby steps of federalism, the few years have shed some light on the current devolution system, which allows us to take vital lessons for the future of this country. It is undeniable that many Kenyans can now easily access basic government services from their counties which was difficult in the past centralized government. This has been accelerated by the provision of government services under Huduma Centers strategically located in different counties across the country that has highly improved service delivery.

                The transformation of infrastructure is visibly clear in the counties; most of which were grossly neglected under the centralized system. Remote parts of the country can now boast of tarmac road systems, electricity and running tap water due to functional devolved institutions. Through devolution, areas that were considered unproductive and insignificant in contributing to the national cake are now sprouting and thriving under leaderships that can deeply understand their concerns and vulnerabilities. Institutionalization of governance systems in the counties helped to free up the national government of the bigger tasks of controlling allocated resources to these infrastructures which meant that those counties which practiced high levels of efficiency and accountability in resource utilization emerged from high dependency levels to booming economies.

                Equity and equality can never be achieved when the public is systematically excluded from having a say in decisions that affect their daily lives. Through devolution, there has been increased public involvement in social developmental projects across the counties due to ease of access to information. The public being the primary stakeholders in most projects have had their views taken into consideration through constant communication with the county government representatives which has served as a good stimulus to sustainable local projects.

                As the country moves forward with the Big 4 Agenda, counties have played a pivotal role especially in manufacturing and food security which are among the targets in President Uhuru’s Big 4. Every county is trying to build up effective value addition systems that will ensure increased food production and take advantage of the natural resources under their care. Numerous food processing units have been launched in counties since devolution to add value to agricultural produce that were traditionally grown for subsistence consumption. There is increased resuscitation of once vibrant manufacturing firms in the counties due to excessive lobbying by county representatives through dialogue between the council of governors and the national government. Companies such as Mumias Sugar, Rivatex, Eveready, Webuye Pan Paper and Karuturi flowers have seen constant efforts towards their revival through county lobbying since they played a big role in their respective county’s economy. These efforts have largely increased revenues in the counties and at the same time improved the living standards of the citizens through provision of employment opportunities.

                The division of revenue Bill 2019 that was ascended to by the president paved way for release of Ksh 378.1 billion to the county governments which is a 36.5% of the National Government revenue collections. With adequate mechanisms to release the funds on time to the counties, areas that were considered marginalized will have a chance to manage their financial affairs in a prudent manner which will help them to catch up with other counties in terms of development. Areas classified as Arid and Semi-Arid (ASAL) have been in the forefront in embracing developmental ideas that have seen them register boundless leaps towards socio-economic development. Northern Kenya counties in particular have been registering tremendous economic improvements and are expected to grow even more with the recent discovery of oil wells in the region. With the county governments in place, these ASAL areas have had the power to negotiate for their fair share of the oil resources from the National Government and use it to develop their region as opposed to when the resources were centralized.

                Vibrant economic activities that are noticeable in the counties have prompted financial institutions to extend their services to areas that were once considered too remote to be served. Banks, microfinance institutions and insurance companies have been rapidly expanding by opening branches across the counties in a bid to capture the growing number of customers. This is a growth that is need driven and couldn’t be possible with a centralized system of government.

                As much as county Governments have been hailed as the hallmarks of devolution, questions still linger on their effectiveness especially in terms of governance and efficient service delivery to the people. Reports of corruption and embezzlement of public funds have been surfacing repeatedly; leading to loss of public confidence in the whole devolution system. Rampant cases of flawed procurement regulations and unaccountability have characterized the tendering systems in the counties where billions of shillings have either been looted or unaccounted for. This has raised serious doubts as to whether the county governments have the capacity to adequately manage public funds in a way that will benefit the citizens.

                Perhaps the most heated discussion around devolution has emanated from its criticism of increasing the financial burden to the common citizen. The diversity of administrative roles necessitated by increased need to establish the devolution system has created numerous offices and positions that have proved to be a burden to the taxpayer in terms of salaries and allowances expenditure. Many argue that these funds could have been used in important infrastructural development projects that could benefit the locals. It is even more absurd to see the way county governments spend exorbitantly on local and foreign trips in the name of benchmarking with no clear deliverables to justify the spending.

                In a world that is rapidly moving towards globalization, the need for devolution was meant to enable Kenyans from different backgrounds have equal opportunities and access to services through modernization. Igniting the rural areas to become vibrant modern towns was meant to attract more people back into the counties. This has however not been realized judging from the recently released preliminary census results that show a decline in some rural population and an increase in the capital city population; an evidence of continued rural-urban migration. It is an indication that the government has not done enough to make the counties attractive to the citizens.

                To sum up, the counties have played an integral part in realization of the devolution dream in Kenya. There are numerous positive pointers that one can confidently tie to the contribution of county governments towards devolution since the adoption of the new constitution. This does not however take away the fact that there are a myriad of challenges in the counties that need urgent closure to fully realize the fruits of devolution as envisioned by the federalism predecessors. As politicians try every day to pull the crowds towards their bandwagons in the name of Punguza Mizigo and Building Bridges initiatives, it is prudent that we get over the excitement and focus beyond the euphoria generated when important national decisions are being made. Counties have the ability to make devolution an objectified reality with positive engagements because trying to fight devolution is akin to a fetus kicks inside the mother’s womb; it won’t give freedom until the right time comes.

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