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Devolution working, let’s make the dream come true for us all

By Ken Opalo | November 26th 2021

The economic viability of the 47 counties is a political choice. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

This week, Makueni County hosted the 7th annual devolution conference – which means it is as good a time as any to remind ourselves of devolution’s successes.

The countless hospitals and health centres, technical and vocational training institutions, and all manner of infrastructure projects in counties are testament to the difference devolution is making in Kenyans’ lives. And all that for just over Sh350 billion.

Due to the relative novelty of the system of government (8 years is not that long!), many Kenyans still harbour questions about the viability of devolution. Some have pointed to the corruption in counties, while others have highlighted the fact that some counties lack readily identifiable economic potential.

Many ask: do we have too many counties? Has devolution worsened corruption? Do county governments deserve more resources? Let’s take each of these questions in turn.

The economic viability of the 47 counties is a political choice. The most important economic resource the counties have is their people. Simply put, counties that invest in their people (in farming, agro-processing and light manufacturing) will prosper; while those that will rely solely on grants from Nairobi will stagnate.

Seen this way, claims about economic viability betray a bankruptcy of ideas and nothing more. While there is corruption in counties, it is also true that county governments have undoubtedly expanded the share of Kenyans that can access government services.

Furthermore, whatever corruption that exists in the 47 counties pales in corruption to the obscene theft that plagues the national government. Therefore, even as we fight corruption in the counties, we should not scapegoat devolution. Finally, county governments are in order to demand more resources. In public opinion surveys, a plurality if not majority of Kenyans want the counties to handle an ever-expanding portfolio of services.

Consequently, governors are spending money well beyond their constitutional mandates. Given this reality, it is only fair that funds should follow functions. 

-The writer is an Assistant Professor at Georgetown University

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