In both 2013 and 2017, party politics – especially with an eye on the presidency – drowned out any strategic thinking regarding the management of our counties as tools of economic development.
Consequently, several strategic counties found themselves being governed by leaders who were eminently unfit for office.
While voters are the ones who chose these leaders, the ultimate responsibility lies with the “owners” of political parties.
They are the ones who narrowed the choices available to voters.
The reasons why we need to be strategic about county management are twofold.
First, counties are supposed to be laboratories of experimentation in self-government.
The 47 governments are not supposed to be mere cash cows for glorified real estate speculators who live in Nairobi.
Instead, they should be teaching us 47 different ways of improving access to early childhood education, healthcare, agricultural extension services, small business development, among other functions.
Second, since the national government cannot be everywhere at all times, competent county governments can amplify the implementation of policies at the grassroots.
For example, one can imagine a county government choosing to boost school attendance in primary and secondary schools by implementing a school feeding program.
It is a shame that out of the 47 incumbent governors, barely 10 can be considered to have internalized the point of devolution.
The rest have served either without vision or with a singular focus on theft of public resources.
Yet despite these flaws, Kenyans still overwhelmingly support devolution.
In survey after survey, respondents have expressed the belief that devolution is the best way of delivering essential public services to the people.
Indeed, a plurality of respondents wants the functions of county governments to be expanded.
Given the levels of public enthusiasm, it is not hard to imagine how much more we could accomplish with competent leadership in the counties.
This is why our political parties – and especially party leaders – should demonstrate their respect for voters by nominating serious gubernatorial candidates. As for voters, the decision rule is simple: choose devolution!
The writer is an Assistant Professor at Georgetown University