Pollsters, eating elites and Wanjiku's woes

Infotrak recently released a report on the best-performing counties. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

Kenyans think highly of devolution and the liberal nature of our Constitution. We have space to step back, plan better, spend wisely and rethink our destiny.   

But more remains in question regarding how the 47 counties have utilised the billions in equitable share allocations since 2013.

As it were, there’s much to say about graft roiling us at the national level but little on the situation in counties. In an astonishing way, graft has been propagandised to look like a crisis of just one level of the two-tier system yet the rot in counties is beyond measure.

While growth indicators like infrastructure, trade, production and investments are shaping up in some devolved units, the quality of life for the rural majority in others is still by far pitiable – thanks to thieving elites. To taxpayers, it’s clearly ‘not yet Uhuru’. This is why opinion survey on how governors and senators have outperformed themselves are no reason to be optimistic. Polling that doesn’t track real-time progress pointers may attract juicy media headlines but shouldn’t be used – deliberately or inadvertently – to placate Wanjuki.

While these surveys are oftentimes perceived differently across partisan lines, it is shocking that some counties whose leaders are ranked highly are the very ones bogged down by inept management, or simply failure to appreciate devolution. This is the most perturbing conundrum in such polls.

For the record, pollsters are free to do their work in whichever fashion and profit from it. That being the case, Wanjiku should be reminded that she can trust the findings but must verify. She should place considerably more weight on putting leaders on toes, and not allowing polls that least correlate with the quality of life ‘kwa ground’ to sway her perception. In most recent polls, Homa Bay Governor Gladys Wanga and Trans Nzoia’s George Natembeya led the pack. In the Senate, Kamau Murando and Aaron Cheruiyot got an image spruce up. It would be interesting to know if these leaders have not just made noise or done something else but also fostered innovation, sustainable livelihoods and social inclusivity.

The bias with which the governor rankings are usually perceived further justifies the need to delve into the tangible indicators of progress in rating leaders. From the glitters on the streets, smooth roads and the remodeling of hospitals and schools, there are counties that have proved a broad rebirth of the nation is possible. On the flipside, others are on a deep slumber.

Another stark reality is that the good, the bad, and the ugly of devolution so far means it is fast resulting in an imbalance and inequality of opportunities. I have previously argued that sooner, we’ll have an exodus of Kenyans from underachieving counties to optimistic ones.

Beyond phony surveys, we need a candid conversation on the future of underperforming counties. There’s work to do even in terms of empowering local supply chains and bridging the rural-urban divide. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. Same way, the train moves at the pace of the slowest wagon. A lot is at stake.

Importantly, Kenyans must demand prudence and value for money. Since 2013, counties have received an estimated Sh2.5 trillion worth of equitable share of allocation. But more and more, we’ve been treated to serious dereliction.

The damage and fear left in the wake of plunder won’t be cured by surveys and other maneuvers far removed from what the conservation should be about. Let county leaders impress by way of impacting Wanjiku’s lot rather than showbiz.

Take this to the bank. The day the 47 counties will fully rise to the occasion, the national government will effortlessly resist the temptation to ‘take back’ devolved functions. In the spirit of the Constitution, let’s spread devolution benefits without causing socio-economic disparities.

The writer is a communications practitioner. X: @markoloo