The contentious issue of increasing the number of counties, potentially raising the current count from 47 to approximately 58, has once again taken centre stage in the ongoing reform debates.
This matter first gained prominence several months ago when some MPs vociferously advocated for the addition of 11 more constituencies, saying their respective communities were marginalised.
However, the issue has now garnered even more attention, thanks to the stance taken by Kalonzo Musyoka, a key figure within the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya coalition, which plays a significant role in the ongoing reform discussions.
Kalonzo has called for the establishment of an additional county.
As the leader of Wiper party and the co-chair of the National Dialogue Committee alongside National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichung'wah, Kalonzo used public rallies as a platform to express his support for the creation of Gucha county.
This declaration was made during his participation in rallies alongside co-principal Raila Odinga in Kisii, just two weeks ago.
The proposal to increase the number of counties touches on issues of representation, governance, and resource allocation. The calls for additional counties reflect the ongoing efforts to address historical imbalances.
“Even though it is not one of the agenda items under discussion now, it is my wish that Gucha should become a county,” said Kalonzo in Kenyenya.
His statement has garnered more attention due to the position he holds as the co-chair of the National Dialogue Committee.
The bipartisan committee is anticipated to facilitate dialogue and consensus-building while making recommendations for constitutional, legal, and policy reforms.
Prof Gitile Naituli of Multi-Media University advises Kenyans to avoid engaging in a hasty overhaul of the Supreme Law driven by short-sighted emotions, and political opportunism.
“The BBI case which traversed the three levels of superior courts, (high court, court of appeal and the supreme court) provides a vital procedural, legal and constitutional roadmap which if followed can guide the country into successfully improving the 2010 charter,” says Naituli.
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The evaluation is of utmost importance, as in 2019, the same argument was presented to the Steering Committee on the Implementation of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), led by Yusuf Haji.
However, in its final report submitted to President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga, the committee chose to disregard the calls for additional counties.
In their submission to the BBI task force, Kalonzo, accompanied by MPs from his party in 2019, including Makueni Governor Mutula Kilonzo Jnr, also proposed a reduction in the number of MCAs from the current 1,450 to just 700.
He proposed an increase in the number of counties to 50, with the addition of Gucha in Nyanza, Maua in Meru, and Mwingi in Kitui.
According to his plan, Members of the County Executive Committees were to be appointed from among the elected MCAs.
The reasons given by the former Vice President for the establishment of additional counties were entirely different from the arguments now being put forth by the MPs advocating for the creation of 11 more devolved units.
At that time, the rationale behind the proposal was that Meru and Kitui counties were too vast, necessitating the need to bring services closer to the people. In Kisii, the population factor was cited as the driving force behind the creation of Gucha county.
Now some 26 MPs led by Kuria East MP Marwa Kitayama want Kuria hived from Migori, Teso (Busia), Mount Elgon (Bungoma and Trans Nzoia), East Pokot (Baringo) Mwingi (Kitui), Gucha (Kisii), Suba (Homa Bay), Ijara (Garissa), Nakuru West (Nakuru), Wajir South (Wajir) and Nyambene (Meru).
Before his death, the former Committee of Experts (CoE) chairman Nzamba Kitonga told The Sunday Standard that the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) altered many proposals made by Kenyans in the 2010 constitution.
“The mistakes of the Naivasha PSC have come to haunt Kenya because the harmonised draft contained all the provisions of the expanded executive contained in BBI, whose intention was to create national cohesion and harmony,” said Kitonga.
Among the changes made by MPs included designating the Senate as the lower house, when the original idea was to let bills flow from the National Assembly to the Senate for approval and then to the President for assent. Under the current law, the MPs who met in Naivasha retained the Senate but then restrained it to the narrow mandate of just overseeing devolution.
Whereas the MPs and Kalonzo are calling for more counties there is a critical mass of Kenyans who want the current number of 47 reduced to eight using the old provincial administration boundaries as was proposed in the Bomas draft before the 2005 referendum.
Prof Naituli says there's a realisation that the 47 units are not economically viable and that they are merely mismanaged employment bureaus.
This idea has been driven by the notion of counties forming regional blocs to facilitate effective planning and coordinated regional development, aligning with the distinct circumstances of each region.
In his perspective, devolution serves as the cornerstone of the constitution, translating ideals into genuine empowerment of the people, fostering their active participation in shaping the national agenda, and ensuring the equitable distribution of resources.
Power and resources
“Devolution of power and resources is meant to resolve historical marginalisation injustices, reducing the high voltage competition for the presidency and is also, therefore, becoming an agency of national stability,” he says.
He further argues that devolution is central to Kenya's renaissance and so if a surgical incursion has to be made into chapter 11, it must be informed by science, economic rationality and patriotism.
Firstly, let's delve into the ancestry of the 47 counties, and secondly, let's examine whether devolution has fulfilled its promises.
Naituli says there are several evident shortcomings within the existing devolved structures. However, he poses a crucial question: can these challenges be effectively addressed by the creation of additional counties?
In addressing these inquiries, the leadership and management lecturer emphasises that the 47 counties originated from a political agreement among politicians during the Naivasha Political Settlement Conference meeting before 2010.
They were born out of compromise and not because of any scientific or economic rationality, ignoring the original and the most economically sensible idea to have the former eight administrative provinces converted into counties.
“The Naivasha amendments were fuelled by ethological sensations, grievance politics, and illusions of distributive economics. The politicians connived to increase the counties alongside the 1991 district boundaries,” says Naituli.
The academic dismissed calls for more counties, saying the mistake made in Naivasha cannot be cured by increasing the number of counties.
On the contrary, he says the country should go back to the former eight administrative units and start retracing its steps from there but should an increase be necessary, then it should not exceed 14 counties in total.
He tells those advocating for the creation of 11 additional counties that the notion of a clan needing its own county to address marginalisation is not only regressive and misguided but also foolish.
He further explains, "Marginalisation or unequal development is remedied through resource allocation, effective resource management, and robust systems of checks and balances, not by redrawing boundaries."
Kisii Senator Richard Onyonka has also proposed an alternative solution, saying instead of regions like Kuria demanding the formation of a new county, they could be allocated two additional constituencies.
“Getting two extra constituencies will cascade more resources to the people than creating a county government for Kuria,” said Onyonka.
Some leaders in Mt Elgon have also asked for an additional constituency for Kopsiro and Cheptais sub-counties, with Kaptama and Kapsokwony regions covering the other electoral area.
Analysts say if marginalisation is used as the yardstick for creating counties, then the country shall end up converting the 290 parliamentary constituencies into devolved units and the grievances will still persist.
In June, Prime CS Musalia Mudavadi urged counties to be more robust in identifying untapped areas of revenue collection to not only enhance their tax base but also make them better-functioning entities.
“We look forward to a situation where one day the Kisii governor, for instance, will be the one lending money to the national government,” said Mudavadi.
Dagoreti North MP Beatrice Elachi, a former Nairobi County Assembly Speaker, is among those who have said by now the counties should be able to survive without the national government's support.