Devolution heroes and villains

The logic behind a decentralised system of government for Kenya was the opportunity it would provide to jump-start development outside the three cities that had won the historical infrastructure lottery and empower parts of the country that had been disenfranchised. Aamera Jiwaji reports.


The logic behind a decentralised system of government for Kenya was the opportunity it would provide to jump-start development outside the three cities that had won the historical infrastructure lottery and empower parts of the country that had been disenfranchised. Aamera Jiwaji reports.

Kenya’s county governors made a number of ostentatious requests during their first couple of weeks in power. One was their right to fly the Kenyan flag on their vehicles; another was to be addressed as “His Excellency” – privileges that were previously bestowed only on the country’s head of state. These demands set the stage for their first months in power.

But 12 months down the line – even though the National Assembly has not reached a decision on the National Flags, Emblems and Names (amendment) Bill – the puffed-up egos of Kenya’s new band of politicos have been significantly deflated because few have achieved anything of substance in the first year of their term, and a growing number are facing impeachment.

However, two clear winners have separated themselves from the group. Alfred Mutua, governor of Machakos, became the poster child for devolution after he launched ‘MachaWood’ (Machakos Entertainment Centre for Film, Media, Music and the Arts) in October, unveiled 120 police cars and over 500 CCTV cameras to boost security in January, and opened the county’s first leisure park in early February.

He has been called Kenya’s most operational governor, and there is  consensus that he has earned so much political capital that he could do no wrong in the eyes of his electorate, regardless of any procurement laws he may have circumvented. Based on his first year, Mutua seems to have guaranteed his re-election in 2017.

Homa Bay and its governor Cyprian Awiti is the second county to have earned plaudits for its launch of a Ksh47bn ($543m) integrated development plan that will focus on health, employment and food security.

The governor has announced Agricity, a $5.7bn development project in partnership with investors from the Sultanate of Oman, and in March launched an agricultural project worth $4.6m that would include horticultural production, fish farming, dairy farming and value added processing of farm produce. Homa Bay has also signed a $6.8bn project with Good Earth Power and Urban Green Energy to construct houses, roads, a communication network and generate clean power.

Other counties, albeit on a smaller scale, have targeted health and so Nandi and Bomet county have leased ambulances, Uasin Gishu plans to turn Moi Referral Hospital into a country referral hospital, and Garissa launched a $92m health plan.

National energy is a second area that has attracted county attention and Kisumu intends to set up a $207m hydroelectric power plant, while Kajiado and Marsabit are tapping into wind energy. In November, Kajiado received a $196m boost after US public agency, Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) committed to financing the 100-megawatt Kipeto Wind Farm.

Tana River meanwhile continues to champion its hydroelectric and horticulture project, which has attracted interest from the Qataris, and Mombasa has focused on social development including projects in garbage collection, waste management and

Nakuru earned its place in the hall of fame after it became the first county to offer free Wi-Fi when a 10km-radius internet hub was set up in March.

But not a murmur has been heard from Nairobi, a county from which great things were expected based on the governor’s private sector background. Instead, Evans Kidero has been embroiled in fighting corrupt cartels at City Hall, and a personal confrontation with women’s representative Rachel Shebesh that threatened to oust him from office. The bumpy start prevented him from delivering any quick wins in the areas of lighting, garbage collection, water and sewerage systems, which were deemed most important by his electorate.

Pall of impeachment
Many of these county gains, however, seem to be taking place against a backdrop of financial impropriety and ethical misconduct. In late February, the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) said its preliminary assessment of the 47 counties had uncovered massive irregularities in staff hiring and tender awards.

And so while Embu governor Martin Wambora may make history as the first casualty of devolution (the courts have reinstated him until the dispute between the Senate and governors has been determined), he could be the first in a long list of alleged impeachments which threaten to blemish the fruits of devolution for Kenya.

Dr Makodingo Washington, a political consultant, says, “Impeachment and what comes with it is a double-edged sword.” On one hand, the expert on devolution and political strategy explained, it forces unruly governors to be more accountable.

“What an impeachment does is it allows room for a few of the rebellious ones [county assembly representatives] to speak out,” said Dr Washington. This allows for checks and balances between the governor and the county assembly, and helps minimise the “god syndrome” with which many governors settled in office.

On the other, it destabilises governors, eats away at their boldness in decision making and forces them to prioritise county assembly needs ahead of their constituents.

“Country representatives are not interested in development. They’re more interested in their pockets and in keeping their positions in the next elections,” Dr Washington said.

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