Can we evolve to devolve?


At the end of the nine months of Kenya’s devolution, we must look back and take stock of our achievements and successes, while at the same time learning from the areas we can improve upon.

Undeniably, the promulgation of the Constitution in 2010 and the peaceful elections of 2013 are in themselves major achievements, which Kenya must pat herself on the back for achieving. Additionally, the successful enactment of all the required laws for devolution to be implemented within the required timeframe is also commendable on the part of the authorities and implementing bodies.

There has been success in the transition between the previous provincial, local authority and municipal authorities to county governments. The National Government Coordination Act 2013 and County Governments Act 2012 proved to have considered all challenges and obstructions that could have been overseen. The transition in governance structures was quickly followed by fervent requests from governing bodies and authorities for full transition of functional assignments from the national to county governments. These requests were granted and despite the Transitional Authority’s phased recommendations, the county governments received all their functional assignments without the prerequisite capacity audits.

With each passing month there appears to be persistent lobbying for amendments to the constitutional governance structures with the main push and pull between the County Executive Committees and County Assemblies, between the Senate and National Assembly, between Governors and Senators and National government and County governments. Keeping in mind that the devolved system has not even celebrated a year since inception and a first budget cycle yet to be completed, are we being too rash in attempting to change systems we have grown into yet?

The question is, are we willing to evolve in order to devolve? Are we willing to evolve from divisive political views and governance supremacy? Is Kenya able to peacefully share the cake or have we only come to the realization now that we set ourselves up to fail with an overly ambitious constitutional governance structure?

During the run up to the promulgation of the new constitution, and thereafter, there was a sense of pride in the new bicameral and devolved system of government Kenya was going to usher in. Comparisons between the South African system, as well as American and Canadian systems were rife and the expectation that Kenya was going to rapidly exhibit first world levels of democracy and development. Although the question we may want to seriously consider is a more internal one. Are we as Kenyans with our traditions, indigenous beliefs and pretentious political structures able to evolve to become compatible with a first world system of governance?

The constitutional mandate for a phased transfer of functions after comprehensive human capacity and infrastructure audits was abandoned for a more rapid approach. This means that all functions expected of county governments in the Fourth Schedule are in force, and the resources required for delivery of the functions has also been facilitated. Essentially, the national government has supported and provided the county governments with the resources and technical capacity to perform their functions.

The expectation is that county governments would be now delivering services as per their capacity and mandate. What we have experienced instead is tensions between county executives and county assemblies that are so protracted and disruptive, numerous counties are yet to pass their county finance bills and begin spending their allotted resources and effect development at the local level. This leads to the quagmire that Kenya’s national and county governments have found themselves in regarding service delivery to the people.

For a constitution that received a majority vote at referendum, the larger percentage of Kenyans are not conversant with the working mechanisms of the governance structures. This is an issue that is true of both the leadership andthe citizenry. Inherently there is a lot of goodwill from Kenyans to successfully implement the Constitution and generally achieve greater levels of development.We need to ask ourselves whether we as Kenyans are prepared to let go of our self-interest and embrace a utilitarian frame of mind and focus on the common good.

Let us evolve towards the greater good, where the greater number of people benefits from good actions measures success. Let us evolve into the governance structures we so whole-heartedly embraced during the promulgation of our Constitution and embody its ultimate goal, which was a better and more equitable Kenya for all.

(Mwende Mwendwa is a policy analyst, Macroeconomics Division at KIPPRA. Views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of KIPRRA)

One Reply to “Can we evolve to devolve?”

  1. This is a very critical analysis of what each Kenyan needs to think about. The demand for service delivery and actualization of the promise of devolution can only be done through letting go of self interest. This shall then ensure that equity and equality shall be achieved at the lowest village unit.

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