By Viscount Francis K’Owuor
September 10th 2017
The ongoing clamor by various communities in Kenya either to retain the presidency or be a key stakeholder in the presidency is evidence enough that we as a nation have failed to live up the spirit or abide by the principles of the Constitution of Kenya (2010), especially, in so far as Devolution is concerned. This is because one of the key concerns that informed the constitutional reforms process was that the presidency had become an intractable monolith. Communities and individuals had to pay homage to the president to get access to the common wealth. There was a blatant disregard for social justice, equality and rule of law.
So to check the excesses of the executive Kenyans appointed unto themselves devolution among other things to defuse power, authority and resources. Initially, there was a consensus that even within the executive itself a position of the prime minister was to be created to further defuse power. But this was pragmatically shelved by our political elites who eyed the presidency and therefore did not want it to be weakened. The power struggles especially between William Ruto and Raila Odinga (all members of ODM then) played a major role in frustrating the creation of the prime minister position. Later when Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto took the reigns of power under Jubilee, leaders in ODM began to appreciate that the prime minister position was key in political re-engineering.
With the forfeiture of the position of the prime minister, Devolution remained as the only overriding political force to shift political interests and attention from the National government to the county governments.
The objects of devolution as spelt out in article 174 of the constitution include the following ;(a) to promote democratic and accountable exercise of power; (b) to foster national unity by recognizing diversity; (c) to give powers of self-governance to the people and enhance the participation of the people in the exercise of the powers of the State and in making decisions affecting them; (d) to recognize the right of communities to manage their own affairs and to further their development; (e) to protect and promote the interests and rights of minorities and marginalized communities; (f) to promote social and economic development and the provision of proximate, easily accessible services throughout Kenya; (g) to ensure equitable sharing of national and local resources throughout Kenya; (h) to facilitate the decentralization of State organs, their functions and services, from the capital of Kenya; and (I) to enhance checks and balances and the separation of powers.
Unfortunately, Jubilee government has been transferring more responsibilities and fewer resources to the counties. As a result county governments have been incapacitated to initiate transformative programs and projects that could have helped shift attention away from the presidency. On the other hand, the national government is still enjoying custody of billions of shillings, which are often directed into private accounts by corrupt state officers.
The Afya house and National Youth Service scandals involving billions of shillings pointed out just what is wrong about concentrating power and resources at the center. If Devolution were strengthened much of the funds embezzled by those national government ministries would have gone to the counties for the same intended purposes. With the transfer of health services to the counties one wonders what the billions of shillings were still doing at Afya house.
Additionally, the National Youth Service is one institution that should be transferred to the counties for various reasons. One, counties are better placed to nurture the talents of the youth. Secondly, devolving NYS will make it more accessible to young people at the counties who badly need trainings to actualize them. Under the principle of subsidiarity the national government should not carry out functions which counties are able to carry. Furthermore, that will check nepotism, marginalization and discrimination currently rife in recruitment at the NYS.
Two things are key in strengthening Devolution; increasing the amount of resources going to the counties as well establishing strong and independent institutions to play oversight roles. Corruption and bad governance should not be allowed to take root in the counties.
When enough power and resources will be felt at the county level Kenyans’ predilections towards national politics will substantially subside.
The writer is Human Rights Activist and a Political Scientist based in Kisumu Kenya.