Devolution will define elections in Kenya

The first serious attempt at some form of devolution in Kenya collapsed by 1965 when the Jomo Kenyatta regime systematically dismantled Majimbo (regionalism) as provided for in the Independence constitution. That Constitution was a compromise between the Kanu and Kadu political actors at the time and the colonial power, Britain. So the provisions for a devolved system at the time were fairly weak.

The regions— Coast, Rift Valley, Central, Western, Nyanza, Nairobi, Eastern and North Eastern Provinces— never had a chance to rake off at all. North Eastern, in the grip of the secessionist Shifta war, was quickly put under the national government’s control with ruthless security operations that left bitterness to date. The national government starved the regional governments of funds and they folded up. But the desire for a system of devolved power and resources never died and was manifest in different forms for the next four decades. The Constitution of Kenya 2010 gave devolution the most powerful expression and anchorage, which has not been easy to dismantle by the anti-devolutionists, some of who remain fairly powerful.

The Jubilee government is not exactly pro-devolution. President Uhuru Kenyatta jumped into the pro-constitution bandwagon almost reluctantly in 2010 while his Deputy, William Ruto led the NO campaigns against the document, in the process amassing over two million votes. Ironically, the responsibility of implementing the Constitution fell on the lap of the two leaders who also inherited a fairly entrenched bureaucracy with an open inclination for centralised control of power and resources. The push and pull between the Governors and the national government represents what, in the short term may be considered unhealthy, but in the long run, this represents a test to the resilience of the safeguards in the Constitution.

Forget the political noise and media hype on the challenges in the counties. For most of the citizens in the devolved units, the new dispensation has brought a sense of triumph and relief from a suffocating centralised control by far away Nairobi. The voters in the counties are just discussing how to “sort out” those who have misused their resources and caused the slow realisation of the fruits of devolution, come the August 8, 2017 General Election. What the national government and the politicians at all levels should know is that attempts to undermine devolution will cause a serious socio-political backlash that will significantly influence the outcome of the elections.