Puzzle of top governors booted out

Voters fired most of the best performing governors in the last election and instead re-elected average performers. [Photo, Standard]

Voters fired most of the best performing governors in the last election and instead re-elected average performers, and in some instances, absolute development dwarfs.

A detailed analysis of the latest data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), the official government’s statistical agency, suggests that economic performance of a governor did not matter in the eyes of the voters in the 2017 election.

The KNBS data that for the first time ranks all the 47 counties’ economic might by Gross County Product (GCP) shows that voters rejected seven out of the top 10 governors whose administration did the most to lift their county economies.

GCP is the equivalent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) at the national level, which measures the size and structure of county economies. It also provides a benchmark for evaluating the growth of county economies over time.

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On the flip-side, average governors and poor performing ones were rewarded with a second term. Either by design or default, voters fired 10 out of the top 15 governors in the counties that had improved their economies most between 2013 and 2017, when they came in.

Though economic growth is not just a factor of the county government and its administration, policies put by governors to support their population had a hand in expanding their economies. Unavailability of this data or just poor voting patterns may have cost performers their jobs.

Economic growth is also one of the best tools to measure the speed of wealth being created and distributed in the county, but it is not the only parameter.

Except for Elgeyo Marakwet, which was the best performer in the five years to 2017, that rewarded its pioneer Governor Alex Tolgos with a second term, the next four best counties all fired their governors.

Mr Tolgos, who was the only lucky one in the list of top five to survive voters’ wrath, led an administration that pushed up the county’s GDP by an impressive 190 per cent, making him the best performing governor in the first term of office.

Volatile growth

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“Growth was volatile across counties during 2014/17. On average, only Elgeyo Marakwet recorded a double-digit growth during this period. Few counties experienced double digit growth at least once during the same period,” the KNBS report notes in part.

A further breakdown of the KNBS data shows that the second best county in growing its GDP was Nyandarua, which was under the leadership of Daniel Waithaka in the period. Under his five year reign, the county’s economy more than doubled, growing by 180 per cent from 2013 to 2017.

But come the August 2017 election, Mr Waithaka was rejected at the ballot and replaced by Francis Kimemia. Similar fate befell county bosses of Baringo, Nakuru and Bomet, which sent Benjamin Cheboi, Kinuthia Mbugua and Isaac Ruto home respectively.

But during their time, the three counties grew their GDP by 126.4, 126.2 and 126.1 per cent in the period. These saw them ranked third, fourth and fifth among counties that expanded their economies the most in the period.  Save for Mbugua who landed a job at State House, the rest are out there in the cold.

Voters in Siaya and Busia were more discerning after they voted back into office Cornel Rasanga and Sospeter Ojaamong. In the first term in office, Siaya was the sixth most improved county, having grown its GDP by 117.3 per cent in the period. On its part, Ojaamong’s Busia also grew its economic might by 117.2 per cent.

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But Laikipia’s Joshua Irungu was not very lucky. During his time as the county boss, the economic might of Laikipia swelled by 112 per cent, but this was not enough to convince the electorate to vote him back into office.

Bungoma also did not spare Ken Lusaka, whose administration saw the more than doubling up of the county’s GDP. KNBS data shows that the economy of Bungoma County expanded by 106 per cent between 2013 and 2017.

But the wheelbarrow scandal and ‘wrong’ political affiliations saw him replaced by Wycliffe Wangamati, who was running on the opposition party ticket. If Lusaka was not lucky to have landed a job at Parliament as Speaker of the Senate, he would probably be also out there in the cold as well.

The other top performing counties that replaced their county bosses include Nyeri, Tharaka Nithi and Lamu. Nyeri’s case was however special because its founding governor died in office.

Despite the regime changes, the county grew its economy by 105.6 per cent in the period.

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Tharaka Nithi voters rejected Samuel Mbae and replaced him with Muthomi Njuki at the last election despite their economy having swelled by 96.7 per cent to make the county the eleventh most improved.

Voters in Lamu were also not very pleased with Issa Timamy, their pioneer governor, replacing him with Fahim Twaha at the last election. During Timmany’s time, however, the county’s GDP grew by 96.3 per cent.

Poor performers

But it was not all gloom.

Some counties that had the poorest growth also seemed to have felt it in their pockets and acted when the time came to vote. For instance, all the bottom five counties in terms of GDP growth replaced their governors at the ballot.

Kisumu, the poorest of them all, sent Jack Ranguma packing after he presided over slowest growth in all the 47 counties. Kisumu grew by 43.6 per cent in the five year period. The second last county was Garissa, which also fired Nathif Jama.

Wajir and Nairobi recorded poor economic expansions but also booted their governors. In between, a number of governors still retained their seats, having done nearly nothing to stir their economies and put more money in the pockets of their residents.

The report notes that counties that are largely dominated by urban centres, notably Nairobi City and Mombasa, have had their shares of GCP consistently decline over the period, mostly due to growth in agriculture’s contribution to the GDP.

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