Commentary

Outcome of governorship polls offers hope for devolution

Charity Ngilu has been elected the governor of Kitui County. 

In a demonstration of the power of accountability at the grassroots, several incumbent governors failed to win re-election on Tuesday. Newcomers will run key counties such as Nairobi, Kisumu, Nakuru, Kiambu, Meru, Kitui, among others. We are yet to have any basis for judging the governors-elect. But I think it is fair to say that the incumbents’ loss in these counties is a sign that Kenyans are serious about making devolution work. Simply put, Kenyans are hungry for public goods and services that match their local needs.

Looking at the cast of governors that will lead our counties over the next five years, I am particularly excited about the possibility of experimentation and cross-pollination. In Kitui and Kisumu, we will have social democrats and veterans of the defunct Social Democratic Party -- Charity Ngilu and Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o. Both politicians have national stature and will be under local and national pressure to deliver. Both also have extensive Cabinet-level experience, which ought to serve them well in their duties as governors. They know how the Kenyan system works. Will they create Kenya’s Keralas?

It is sad to admit that no county government has really tried an aggressive, sustainable, and people-centered anti-poverty agenda. Kiraitu Murungi of Meru County belongs in the same league as Ngilu and Nyong’o. Though not a social democrat, he too, has extensive experience in Government and has a national stature. Kenyans in Meru and beyond will be watching to see how he performs as governor.

Nakuru decided to experiment with Lee Kinyanjui, a relative newcomer to public administration. Being a newcomer, Mr Kinyanjui should be relatively unencumbered by “knowing how the system works.” He could, for instance, strive towards making Nakuru the undisputed agricultural hub of Kenya and the wider region.

Lastly, Nairobi and Kiambu have elected two populist, pro-poor politicians in Mike Sonko and Ferdinand Waititu, respectively. Despite being a little rough on the edges, both politicians have carefully cultivated reputations as caring for the poor and knowing where the shoe pinches for the downtrodden. They now have a chance to effect their agenda for the poor and create a model for how to successfully implement pro-poor policies within our political context.

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As of the governors that have been reelected, I am particularly keen to see how Wycliffe Oparanya of Kakamega, Jackson Mandago of Uasin Gishu, Ali Roba of Mandera, and Mwangi Wa Iria of Murang’a continue to perform. Overall, I see devolution only getting stronger. I trust that these individuals will work tirelessly to not only make devolution work in their respective counties, but also to entrench the spirit of devolved government in our political culture and in the core operations of the national government.

- The writer is an Assistant Professor at Georgetown University. Twitter: @kopalo

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