BY ALFRED MUTUA
On August 22, 1978, the day our first president Mzee Jomo Kenyatta died, Kenya was one of the most promising countries in the developing world.
We were at par with countries like South Korea and ahead of others such as Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Hong Kong. Some of these countries were sending their experts to Kenya on field studies on how development is achieved.
Today, these Tiger economies are inching towards the first world – with some manufacturing aircraft and with low levels of poverty.
Did you know that 50 years after independence, some constituencies in Kenya such as Kitui South, do not have an inch of tarmacked road and that children in some areas have never seen water flowing from a tap?
Kenya has achieved much since independence, but it is clear we are not where we ought to be.
For 50 years, we have experimented on a particular way of doing things and, to all of us; we know we could have done better. This is the reason the authors of our Constitution decided that Kenya needs to embrace a new political and development formula – that of devolution.
Devolution is not about power but about wealth creation, fighting poverty and real acceleration of development at the grassroots.
This last week, I was among the 47 governors who walked out of a conference session in Naivasha. The walk-out was not about seeking power, flags, offices or titles. It was about money to counties for the benefit of our poor people.
Control of money
Devolution without money is a joke. The perception that there is a conspiracy to withhold money and the control of money meant for counties by the national government is what angered all governors. We found out instructions had been given that we were not to be in control of money to counties. Control, would, as it has been for 50 years, remain at the Treasury.
While I was campaigning, I was shocked by the level of poverty of my people of Machakos. Our mothers have no water, our youth are eating miraa and have all but given up hope and our fathers are wondering whether God has forgotten them.
My desperate and poor people want to see me rolling my sleeves and getting down to business and working. This is not the time for talking but for action.
I have done nothing because money to operationalise my activities has not yet arrived. Having worked in central government for nearly nine years, I know how government bureaucracy works: whoever controls the flow and timing of the release of money, controls your activities.
During the meetings in Naivasha, I watched and listened as all governors, from all counties, regardless of political parties, repeat the same points: Counties are independent governments and not departments of the national government and that there should be mutual respect and consultation between the national and county governments.
What angered governors most was to find out that the national government had gone ahead and budgeted for counties, as if counties are departments of the national government. This is exactly what has been happening in Kenya for 50 years.
Governors asked: how can a bureaucrat seated in Nairobi, know more of what the county of Turkana, Nakuru, Kilifi or Makueni really needs more that its constitutionally elected governor? How can they purport to itemise a budget, giving all counties similar line items?
Personally, I don’t care much about flags, salutations or the size of my office. What bothers me is the millions of unemployed young men and women in Kenya who are losing hope. The mothers who die daily giving birth and the abject poverty that seems to be growing.
Every single day money is delayed means I cannot initiate an economic activity that would generate wealth and help my people. A day or two of bureaucratic red tape may not be a long time to an officer in an air-conditioned office in Nairobi but it is a painful lifetime to a dying mother or starving child in my villages.
The poor people of Kenya do not have time to wait. Parliament approved the allocation of funds to counties. The Treasury and the Transition Authority officials knew that elections were to be held on March 4, 2013, and that counties would start operating immediately. What, then, governors’ ask, are they waiting for?
Forty million Kenyans are counting on devolution to work. The governors are pushing for the rights of these Kenyans, majority of whom are poor.
Dr Alfred Mutua is the governor, Machakos County email@example.com