Devolved Government: How do we interact with it?

Devolution is not a new term in Kenyan; it has always been here, since independence. The history of our nation affirms this fact. But how well do we know devolution? Do we understand the Kenyan devolution as compared to those of other nations? What structures are there in this concept of governance? Can we explain devolution’s roles and functions? Can we relate with its historical development to date?

It behoves us, citizens of good will to attempt to answer the above questions. In an effort to share answers, I prefer two sessions, one where we shall define its meaning, trace its historical growth and share the fruits of the Counties, albeit with a bias to the six coastal counties. We shall then proceed in the second segment to define its structures, challenges thus far and the avenues of interaction with our county Governments.

Lately, the story of devolution has expressed itself to me in a very positive way. I beg to share, from the chronicles of Nelly and Christopher.

The two, like I shared in an earlier article, work for a local Civil Society Organization in Mombasa. Their organization had a sensitization program formulated to cover devolution and land, factors considered as major conflict drivers in the area. They explained that towards sustainable peace, the two must be appreciated by the coastal population.

Their programs were designed to reach the youth, women, persons with disability and the general population in both local and urban settings.

In the preparation for their work, we shared about the development status of the County Governments in the region. They started from Taita Taveta, also termed as the land of vast beauty. Its beauty from their perspective was not just defined in relation to being a tourist destination but also how the locals relate. – Quite an amiable society.

In those deliberations, they talked of the introduction of DATU equalization Fund. The County Government of Taita Taveta through their annual budgets has set aside the fund for the public in groups. The successes around this Fund are told by men, women, youths and other special groups who prudently used or are currently using it to change their lives. They have managed to build their talents, improve their businesses, education and conduct activities that have elevated their lives for the better.

Courtesy of Devolution, all old men in Taita Taveta County, just like children below the age of five in Lamu, and women in all the counties, at the point of delivery, access free health care in public health centres/hospitals.

The duo shared the stories of how almost all counties have improved standards of education. Kwale for instance do not just improve the infrastructure of nursery schools and village polytechnics, they offer bursaries to outstanding students to further their education abroad.

Agriculture has immensely been positively influenced. Kilifi and Kwale, have purchased tractors to offer services to their residents at subsidized rates. The same applies to farm/agricultural input like seedlings and fertilizers.

Lamu on the other end tells a story of street lights along the shores of the ocean, cabro roads just like Mombasa where residents have been saved the agony of walking in mud whenever it rains. Lamu shares another unique feature in speed boats for ambulances. They help in emergency cases. The families of women hurting in labour pains can dial their numbers for ease of transportation. While in most counties the ambulance services are free, majority of them are attained at low cost.

What does Devolution Mean?

In the advent of the new Constitution, a new system of Government was born. Founded on the objects of promotion of democratic and accountable exercise of power; fostering national unity by recognising diversity; giving powers of self-governance to the people and enhancing the participation of the people in the exercise of the powers of the State and in making decisions affecting them; recognising the right of communities to manage their own affairs and to further their development;

You see, the Constitution of Kenya envisages the governments at the national and county levels as distinct and inter-dependent and shall conduct their mutual relations on the basis of consultation and cooperation. The authors of the document obligated national State organs to ensure reasonable access to its services in all parts of the Republic, so far as it is appropriate to do so having regard to the nature of the service.

Simplified, devolution takes power and resources to people at the counties for self governance.

Historical Background

Prior to 2010 Constitutional referendum, one of the most divisive items of discussion was the Concept of Devolution that Kenya would implement. One reason behind this fact is the nature of Kenyan political arena. The majority take a stand depending on who is driving the Agenda. Under this context, Kenyans can refuse to read, listen or engage because their community had taken a stand, which they feel so strongly, they ought to protect.

For one reason or the other, the Coastal Region, way from the point of Independence has stood firm on this matter. In fact, whenever you begin a discussion about devolution in Kenya, one name, Ronald Gideon Ngala is revealed. He advocated for a devolved system of governance against the mighty tide of Kanu’s Jomo Kenyatta, the founding President, his deputy Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and Secretary-General Tom Mboya. His track record on advocating for the system is clear. His message, to date resonates with men and women at the coast.

If you ever heard of “No independence without Majimbo”, the voice was Ngala’s. He worked closely with Martin Shikuku, Masinde Muliro, Peter Okondo and William Murgor. Funny enough, the system then was pushed by unlikely allies in the name of colonial administrators. In some quarters, the reason was ostensibly to divide and rule.

By pushing for Majimbo, the colonialists argued that the British Westminister parliamentary model, which they wanted Kenya to adopt, gave too much power to the majority. They wanted the transfer of significant powers to regions, largely at the defunct provincial level. The primary reason was to eliminate the Provincial Administration, and in its place, place a government that echoed the whims of the locals.

At that point, the Kaddu idea won but Kenyatta and his team did not give up the fight. When he eventually took over power as the first Prime Minister and later as President in 1963, the Senate repealed the Majimbo clause in the Constitution in 1964. Kenyatta’s influence and team killed the spirit of devolution.

The result was concentration of power in the presidency that eventually led to the political struggle that many have referred to as the Second Liberation. Several lives were lost to return this great Nation to multiparty democracy.

In 2001, Cabinet Ministers Shariff Nassir and William Ole Ntimama called for the return to Majimbo, “to ensure equitable distribution of resources” after Moi’s exit from power. Ntimama said Majimbo could be the answer to what he termed as “majoritarian avalanche.”

Moi, in his autobiography, The Making of An African Statesman, by British author Andrew Morton, described Majimbo as “a system of checks and balances designed to safeguard the integrity of small tribes which were in danger of being over whelmed by larger tribes.” Look here, when you see Governor Joho, Munya and Ruto stand against the system, hail devolution.

Against that background, Prof Ghai’s Constitution of Kenya Review Commission established detailed proposals for devolution, beginning with its objectives, and covering powers and institutions of devolved units, and their relationship with the national government, including funding for devolved activities. Several matters of detail were left to be dealt with in legislation. But it did propose structures, right down to village level, which were discussed by delegates at the Bomas of Kenya.

2010 saw the promulgation of the constitution and as such, the ushering of the new system of devolved government. In 2013, there were elections, and here we are, with the reality that we can change our destiny.

In my next article, we shall share on the structures of devolved government, the functions of the system and how to seek services from the County government.


This article appears in our weekly digital magazine, The Deuteronomy Vol 7, Issue 2 of October 14th, 2016

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