Devolution is a possible solution to Kenya’s social, economic and political challenges. Discuss with examples.
The new constitution brought about immense changes in governance in Kenya. Before 2010 when governance was centralized, rigidity and delays in project implementation meant political lobbying of the national government was how an area got developed. This made sure that some areas were totally forgotten and remained without basic infrastructure such as roads and other amenities like hospitals. Development was also not people centered and in most cases people received project that they really did not need.
For example, the Eldoret airport was not the project that the people were in dire need of at that time.
With the promulgation of the new constitution of 2010, Kenyans adopted a new form of governance where the central government had to delegate some of it powers to the 47 new units of governance.
After the 2013 general elections the counties became functional with governors with as the head of the executive and members of county assembly in the legislature.
The national government delegated quit a number of its functions from maintenance of feeder roads, healthcare, early childhood education and collection of local revenue.
The idea behind the concept of devolution is to devolve development and let it be driven by the local leaders and for the local needs. This informed the political party formations by some governors such as Bomet governor, Isaac Ruto, Maendeleo Mashinani Party and Mendeleo Chap Chap Party by Machakos governor Alfred Mutua.
Initially most counties experienced ”teething problems” which affected service delivery.
However most counties have been able to overcome these problems and they have achieved positive social, political and economic changes.
Politics as defined by David Easton is the authoritative allocation of resources. Resources allocation is a matter that has been contentious in Kenya with some regions receiving a bigger share than the others. Devolution has however paved way for equitable resource allocation of resources allocation. Kenya’s Commission on Revenue Allocation (CRA) is charged with the responsibility to recommend to the National Assembly the basis for equitable sharing of revenues raised nationally.
By 2013, it was agreed that 84.5 percent of the revenues was allocated to the national government while 15 percent was to be allocated to the county governments. The remaining 0.5 percent was designated as an Equalization Fund. This fund is used to finance development programmes that aim to reduce regional disparities among counties. The commissions major task has been trying to determine how much of the 15 percent each of the 47 counties gets and how to distribute this 15 percent in a fair and equitable manner. The formula the commission applies takes into account population (45%), poverty index (18%), land area (8%), basic equal share (26%), fiscal responsibility (2%) and newly introduced parameter Development factor (1%). However, there has been a push by leaders especially those from the former Central Kenya province for more weight to be put on the population and it is expected that this will be considered after the 2019 census. Counties that were once deemed harsh to live in are now getting their fair share and are able to enjoy the fruits of devolution.
One of the objects and principles of devolved government is to promote democratic and accountable exercise of power. This means that the county governments need to ensure that they are responsive to local needs. They are meant to give the people power to govern themselves through public participation. Devolution has enhanced democracy in a number of ways. First, devolution brings the government closer to the people and thus they have better knowledge of local needs. County governments are therefore at a better placed to respond to local needs. Devolution also narrows social diversity and variation in preferences which reduces the opportunities for conflicts. Secondly, by establishing different levels of government devolution provides a mechanism for protecting democracy through vertical checks and balances. Thirdly, devolution involves distribution of authority and responsibility of fiscal management and public delivery which ensures that the minorities have a stake and thus helps in conflict management. For example, centralization has been one of the factors associated with the 2007/2008 post election violence but since devolution the likelihood of conflict is low since all the people have a stake and a say in their governance.
County governments have the responsibility to foster national unity by recognizing diversity. Section 65 of the County Government Act requires 30 percent of employees to be non locals. Although the Ethnic and Diversity Audit in May 2015 show that 30 counties were non-compliant with counties such as Nyamira and Bomet employing 97.9 of locals, there’s still some commendable achievement with the 17 compliant counties which include Embu, Narok and Nakuru.
Devolution has brought a lot of improvements in the health care system. The county governments have been able to transform the once quiet neglected health facilities into institutions that can deal with various forms of ailments. For instance in MAY 2015, a 23 years old woman in Lamu developed obstructed labour, which is a life threatening complication. In the past such a complication could only be treated at the Coast General Hospital which is 240 kilometers away or Lamu county hospital which meant a long boat ride on the Indian Ocean. However, the mother underwent a cesarean operation at a nearby Faza Hospital, the first time the procedure was conducted in the county since independence more than 50 years ago. Before devolution this hospital could only offer basic medical services and treated mild ailments but now it and many other hospitals across counties have been upgraded and are now able to offer wider range of services.
Many of the counties have been able to make commendable steps including, brain surgery in Kitui County Referral Hospital and heart surgery at Kericho District Hospital, which were in the past only preserved for the national referral hospitals.
County governments have also step up new hospitals and improved infrastructure in others. For example, the county governments of Kiambu set up a new fully equipped reproductive unit at Thika Level 5 Hospital while the county government of Muranga set up Kenneth Matimba Eye and Dental Hospital at Kenol town. Makueni is the latest to join the list after it opened The Makueni Mother and Child Hospital in January 2019.
Counties have also embraced universal health care cover initiative. The county government of Kajiado, for instance, has adopted ‘Mbuzi Moja Afya Bora’ policy whereby a household gives one goat to the county government and they get NHIF health cover for a period of one year. This stems from the Universal Heal Care pillar of the Big Four Agenda spearheaded by President Uhuru Kenyatta.
The county governments have also paid attention to civic education on health matters. Machakos County for example has started ‘AFYA YETU JUKUMU LETU’ initiative where they have trained 2500 community health volunteers and has 250 community health units across the county. This will help increase health advocacy in the county.
Through a partnership with the national government the counties have secured and installed high-tech medical equipment making it possible for people to access treatment such as dialysis and chemotherapy at county referral hospitals easing pressure at the national referral hospitals.
With devolution of health care however, counties are yet to properly deal with human resource problems like remuneration, promotion and training. They therefore need to find ways to deal with issues of medical practitioners’ unrest that has bedeviled almost all counties.
The other social impact of devolution is the important and evident effects on education. First, devolution has revamped Early Childhood Education Centres (ECDs). Since their management was handed over to the county governments in 2013 radical changes have been witnessed in the Kenya’s education system and standards. Putting emphasis on the foundation a child get in education tends to affect how such a child engages with education later in life. Many county governments have emphasized early childhood education by putting up new structures, putting in place a program to employ ECD teachers and having a feeding program in the ECD centres. As such devolution has increased the number of children who get exposed to education, which directly affects the no of children who stay in school through to primary, secondary and higher education levels. This reduces the number of dropouts along the education system because a large number are based on a failure to cope with curriculum requirements at higher, classes due to poor reading and writing foundation. This greatly reduces drug use, early pregnancies and crime rates.
Secondly, it has expanded the political space and 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 an important factor for leadership. This has the effect that unlike previously where school dropouts could end up in leadership positions, local voters are now voting their educated sons to manage development. Governor of Kiambu Waititu had to prove to the court that his degree is legal while others like Ali Joho of Mombasa and Mbuvi Sonko of Nairobi faced a fierce battle in the court of public opinion which questioned their literacy levels during 2017 general elections.
Another effect of devolution on education is the reestablishment of county technical institutions. This is important especially because the wave of constituent colleges had wiped out all credible technical colleges that provided distinct skills and training services. The technical skills are important for manufacturing and value addition to succeed. With these skills the youths can their own create opportunities. For example, the county government of Muranga has a program where it sponsors young people to join technical polytechnics to gain skills on areas like computer, welding, carpentry, hair dressing, cloth making and catering. This has helped many youths become self reliant as the move to urban centers to set up their own business like hair salons, massage parlors as others join the Jua Kali industry.
County governments have also established a bursary fund to facilitate the needy access education.
Counties have also been keen on developing sports and entertainment sector. For example, the county governments of Machakos renovated Kenyatta Stadium which has greatly promoted football and rugby. Since 2015 it has hosted a number of international tournaments. There are also county football leagues which help in nurturing young talents. The county government of Kiambu has planned to put up an amphitheatre in Kiambu town to help musicians and actors grow their talents.
Through trade regulation, counties have been able to control drug abuse. For example, the county government of Kiambu headed by governor Waititu has launched a crackdown on illicit alcohol in the county. The county has enacted KIAMBU COUNTY ALCOHOLIC DRINKS CONTROL ACT, 2018.
Devolution has led to the rapid development of rural areas economies. Previously sleepy towns and villages have been spruced up or rebuild from scratch while others have been relocated to house the new county government infrastructure. For example, in the county of Kiambu the administrative town used to be Thika but since devolution Kiambu Town now houses the headquarters for the county which has awakened the economic activities here. Moreover, towns such as Meru that have had a chance to host events like the devolution conference in 2016 with approximately 6000 delegates receives a lot of economic gain especially in the hospitality industry.
Also the flow of civil servants working for these counties has created new demand for sectors like real estate sector and the hotel and entertainment sectors. This has created a thriving local economy as money changes hands between these different sectors. There is also an increased need for professionals at the county level which has increased employment opportunities.
The county government has also created demand for various goods and services. Through offering tenders it creates multiple opportunities for private investments bringing renewed hope and self determination across the country. People, especially youths, women and the physically challenged are motivated to set up new companies with the aim of providing goods and services to the county governments. The county governments however, have to increase efficiency when paying for fulfilled tenders since many investors are complaining that counties are a lagging and even failing to make payments.
County governments have invested a lot in agriculture as a way of growing their local economies. For instance, Muranga county governments has been the been the best in this efforts so far and has spearheaded a number of projects among them;
Under the umbrella of Muranga County Creameries, it has procured and installed 35 milk coolers for each ward in milk producing regions. This has ensured that the price of milk per liter increases to a constant minimum of 35 shillings. The county has also strategically positioned 500 insemination sheds across the county to ensure efficient Artificial Insemination (AI) service for improvement and maintenance of high breed of cows.
Muranga County is the leading producer of Avocado, especially the Hass variety in Kenya. It has also facilitated Avocado farmers with hybrid Hass variety seedlings in order to meet the increasing demand in the European market. Governor Mwangi Wa Iria has sourced buyers for the farmers in cooperatives and set up buying centers for them. This has seen the price rise from 1 shilling to an average of 10 shillings per Avocado. The county estimated the annual production at 30 million fruits at an average of 10 shillings the farmers will earn 3 billion annually.
Makueni is also keen on agriculture as a tool of economic empowerment. It has launched the construction of Kalamba Fruit Processing Plant to process it mangoes. Other projects it supports include bee keeping, silkworm rearing and the revival of cotton farming.
Kakamega County has set up four smart farms with Khwisero Smart Farm being the fourth after Bukura, Matungu and Mbande. They are expected to immensely improve animal breed and milk production as the county readies for its first ever milk plant in Malava sub-county.
Counties have made number of strides in developing infrastructure. They have been able to open up rural areas through carpeting of feeder roads and upgrading the roads making it possible for farmers to move their produce to the market with ease. For example Machakos County has built a number of roads among them the Kithimani to Makutano ma Mwala highway one of the fastest built highways in Africa.
Devolution has also helped in opening up marginalized areas in Kenya. Most counties especially in arid and semi arid areas have been able to open up to the outside counties. Through devolution counties such as Mandera and Isiolo have been able to build airports that have made the movement of goods and people easier. Mandera County has launched its first ever tarmac road since independence.
There is immense proof to show that counties are bringing about real social political and economic change in the societies unlike many of the policies drafted in the country in the past. Thus it is important that the national government continues to support the counties both with allocations and grants. Emphasizes should be put on the county administration to ensure that there is accountability to the tax payers money. Counties do not have much experience with this form of governance but with time they will be able to figure out how to effectively raise revenue and put it to good use. Also there is need to increase the civic education on how devolution should work to increase public participation and enable citizens to hold their leaders accountable.
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