BY BEATRICE ELACHI
The new Constitution ushered in immense far reaching changes in the governance landscape of Kenya. Before 2010 when governance was centralized, rigidity and delays in project implementation meant political lobbying of national government was how an area got developed.
Development was therefore not people cantered and in most cases people received projects that they really did not need.
The 2010 Constitution brought in 47 County Governments. The idea behind this concept was to devolve development and let it be driven by local leadership, for local needs.
An immediate effect of devolution has been its effect on education.
First, devolution has expanded the political space and directly devolved political power. The political and professional careers of thousands who were preparing to retire or change careers have become relevant again. This has made education a factor of leadership, as voters compare aspirants at local level, who they tend to know better than those running for national office; based on local expectations.
This means that unlike previous administrations where primary school drop-outs could end up in leadership positions by virtue of community loyalty to the national government, local voters have tended to elect only their educated sons to manage local development.
Devolution has also revamped Early Childhood Centres (ECD) by handing its management over to county governments. This has radically changed Kenya’s education system and standards by putting emphasis on the foundation a child gets in education, which tends to affect how such a child engages with education in later life. Devolution has also increased the number of children who get exposed to education, which has directly affected the number of children who stay in school through primary, secondary and university level.
ECD has also radically reduced the number of drop-outs along the whole education system because a large percentage of school dropouts are based on a failure by students to cope with curriculum requirements at higher classes, due to a poor reading and writing foundation.
The third effect of devolution on education is the re-establishment of county technical institutions. This is very important because the wave of ‘constituent colleges’ had earlier wiped out all credible technical colleges that provided this distinct skills-training service, which is a lifeline to the nation.
The other effect of devolution is the rapid development of rural economies. Previously sleepy towns and villages have been spruced up or rebuilt from scratch while others have been relocated to house the new county government infrastructure. There has also been a rise in the hospitality and real estate industry, and an increase in the need for professionals at county level. This has increased employment opportunities and created multiple opportunities for private investments, which have all renewed hope and renewed the sense of self determination across the country.
However access to health services must remain the key deliverable of devolution. Health care services have been expanded simultaneously across the counties as each county focused on expanding its local capacities. The result has been a reduction in child mortality rates, and increase in access to specialized treatment, and expansion of centres with specialized healthcare equipment.
Unfortunately the level of unpreparedness to the power of devolution can only be equated to the level of preparedness Kenya was at, when it attained independence. The uncertainty of what devolution was meant to cure has been wrapped up in misinformation and skewed expectations, to the point devolution’s benefits are being overshadowed by its failures.
Devolution has not escaped from the vagrancies of human vices. Governors are spending lavishly to build their political fame and intimidate their foes and competitors. Corruption has also been devolved as gates, wheelbarrows and curtains are bought at the price of a mansion, car and commercial bus respectively. Devolution has unfortunately increased the level of impunity practiced across the country and reduced the effect of the rule of law on especially political leaders.
Devolution has also exposed the underbelly of African governments as regards obnoxious spending on non priority items, at the expense of development. Members of County Assemblies are touring the world in ‘benchmarking’ visits which make absolutely no sense. The same MCAs are also allocating themselves allowances arbitrarily; some even claiming sitting allowances even when they are out of the country!
However we cannot throw the baby out with the bath water.
As President Uhuru Kenyatta said at the Sagana Governors Summit, we have made tremendous progress as a nation due devolution; but we can do more and go further in lifting the lives of Kenyans, if the county governments allow themselves to become more transparent, and accept to partner rather than fight with the national government.
Kenyans still have faith in devolution despite the setbacks in its implementation. There exists immense will in the Kenyan people to see devolution work. As we prepare for the first general elections with county governments in existence, Kenyans must strive to put into office leaders who can take this concept to the next level as regards actual life-style changes in ordinary Kenyan lives, at local level.
(Elachi is a nominated Senator)