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If Presidency is everything, then devolution was in vain

By Michael Ndonye | Dec 31st 2021 | 3 min read

There is a worrying trend in our politics. The region and tribe of whoever becomes president are troubling Kenyans so much that we don't care about the caretakers of devolution, the governor and the MCAs. If our salvation as a nation is rested on the tribe and our president's backyard, then the much-hyped devolution encapsulated in chapter 11 of our Constitution was hewn in vain.

Columnist Kamotho Waiganjo in his May 1, 2016 opinion article entitled “Failures of counties killing the devolution promise", enlisted growing corruption, theft and mismanagement of county resource as the ruination of county governments. Kamotho pointed out fodder for Kenyans to turn their guns to county governments for their rescue.

But, mwananchi doesn't seem to realise that their resources are with county governments. Wanjiku is more versed with national government corruption, mismanagement of resources and theft than they are aware of such evils at the county level.

The architects of the 2010 Constitution, who were on the shoulders of Nzamba Kitonga chaired the Committee of Experts on constitutional review, was akin to the fact that the country had nightmares of an all-powerful president and centralised government. Instead, they projected a government where functions and resources are devolved so that the president is largely ceremonial and a symbol of national unity.

Thus, they created 47 other governments. The governors and county executives were managers, and MCAs were microcosmic legislators at the county level. These were supposed to ensure the devolved units deliver autonomously instead of relying on the national government. Regardless of this framework, we have remained with the old mindset; that salvation should come from Nairobi and State House.

There are two culprits for these sustained handcuffs. First, since the inception of the 2013 regime under the new law, State House has coveted the previous glory and supremacy accompaniments. It has been hard for the Presidency to forgo credits on projects done at the county level. On the other hand, governors have used those projects to connect with the Head of State for their reasons. Resultantly, Wanjiku is made to believe that all infrastructural developments are birthed from Nairobi. This way, the national government can’t convince mwananchi that it’s not responsible for their anguishes.

It must be noted that the national government and the county governments spent the best part of 2013-2017 tag warring about which functions to go and which are to remain. The result was a negotiated modus operandi that bends the constitutional provisions.

Secondly, the governors have scapegoated incompetence on the national government. Initially, they methodically created Nairobi as their worship centre and hailed State House. Then, they blame everything on the Presidency, creating a perception that they are wheeled from Nairobi. This self-exonerating culture is flowing over the 2022 polls. To Kenyans, what matters is the Presidency. So, whoever our darling presidential candidate blessed, we shall indisputably elect. But it should be the other way round. Aren’t we doomed!

Let’s know that the 2010 constitution rendered the Presidency partly ceremonial. For this reason, the 47 county governments should account for the money they receive from Treasury. A concerned Kenyan, Charles Nyaga, on December 27, 2021, hailed the belligerent devolution and asked on his Twitter post, “what have they done with the resources sent to the 47 counties?... Political contest is at the county level, and the presidential is ceremonial.” Nyaga is right. 

After all, is said and done, it matters not who becomes president and from which region. Romanticising the Presidency gives the custodians of devolution an escape route.

Dr Ndonye Is a Lecturer of Communication and Media. @Dr_Mndonye  

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