Governors have lost ‘devolution script’ by a long shot


As the meeting between kingpins of the two levels of government took place at the Sagana State Lodge, I could not help but recall the story of Diogenes of Sinope – a Greek philosopher considered the father of cynicism.

The man abhorred material wealth, power and fame. Diogenes, who lived in a large ceramic jar on the streets, once walked around – in broad daylight – with a lamp looking for an honest man in Athens.

He believed the majority of Athenians and by extension Greeks were rascals and scoundrels. One day, Alexander the Great found Diogenes looking attentively at a pile of human bones; the man volunteered; “I am searching for the bones of your father but cannot distinguish them from those of slaves.”

The portrait of Kenya’s current lot of Governors easily evokes the Diogenes’ type of cynicism now rife among millions of Kenyans across the country. Besides losing the “devolution script” by a long shot, the current pick of Governors has largely betrayed our collective desire to bring power and governance closer to our villages. Right from the outset after they were installed in office, Governors told us to call them “Excellencies”.

We did. But they were not satisfied. They demanded that their wives be referred to as “First Ladies”. And they pushed to fly flags as the Head of State does. Within just a few days, it was clear that it was a matter of time – Governors would lose the plot. As the rest of us struggled against tremendous odds to put bread on the table, many a Governor spent millions to indulge in luxuries, including announcing their presence with deafening sirens on their escort vehicles. We can forgive all that.

What we cannot forgive is how many of the Governors have taken to deluding themselves that they are untouchables. Although several have been caught with their fingers in the cookie jar, some have adamantly refused to honour summons from the institutions we have set up to protect the proceeds of our collective sweat – Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC), the Senate or even County Assemblies. Others have joined fellow power-men in hushing court cases or frustrating our justice delivery system.

As our coterie of Governors lose themselves in a mega Vanity Fair, they would do well to acquaint themselves with what has been happening to Governors in Nigeria. Unlike our county bosses, Nigerian Governors are protected by constitutional immunity. So, many have stolen billions with abandon. They also encouraged their children to help them in the stealing even as hunger, poverty and misery ravaged millions of Nigerians. Today, a number of the Nigeria’s Governors have been impeached. Some tried to flee Nigeria but were nabbed and jailed in foreign lands.

The lesson? When power and privilege finally come to an end, the “noises” Kenyans have been making against graft will start to make sense. Marketplace banter has it that some governors have equated themselves to devolution. Yet, we all know devolution is a process. However, these county kahunas view devolved governance as if devolution will wither and die the moment they leave office. Our Governors want everything to happen now! That explains why the unending chorus demanding additional funds is merely for blackmailing chant that has nothing to do with the good of the people who elected the Governors to office. The newest stanza in their chant seeks the handing over of billions of shillings for road construction and maintenance. But should counties be mere entities of consumption? If I may ask, how much have the Governors mobilised from internal sources since they took office? How many among them have pondered how some Local Authorities in Kenya in the 70s and early 80s posted budget surpluses? What is now clear is that Governors and Members of County Assemblies have perfected the art of begging and have created inexplicable mysticism about what counties are supposed to do and achieve.

Kenya was 50 when devolution kicked in. By that time, we had already walked miles along our chosen national development path. We had made policies and enacted laws to guide how we would engage with other countries. Although some did not work very well, that some Governors went ahead and organised expensive foreign trips to “benchmark” development most times on worthless endeavours, is an insult to the electorate and the National Government.
As Governors continue to plead with foreign moneymen, hosting one foreign delegation after another, one is inclined to ask whether they have converted themselves into middlemen in an unbridled auctioning spree. Why do they believe that Kenyans cannot raise enough money to invest in counties? No, we did not make a mistake when we devolved governance in 2010. But we hoped that Governors would be pillars of judicious and far-sighted governance. We hoped they would become drivers of a revolution.

But as we go to elections next year, we do so with dashed hopes, unhappy with our bunch of unpolished self-imposed princes wont to demand respect from hungry subjects. We should not just whisper, rather, we should proclaim, loud and clear, that many have betrayed us and that what is given can be taken away.

(Kuria is the MP for Gatundu South)

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