Raymond Mwangi on Devolution Challenges and Gains
By Raymond Mwangi
Since 2010, Kenya has been undergoing a process of devolution thanks to the new constitution. The highest law of land envisioned a government in which lower level functions are enacted by 47 country governments. Devolution was one of the hallmarks of the transition from a previously centralized political system, which was largely blamed for vast inequality, exclusion and deep divisions in Kenyan society.
The March 2013 elections were significant because they definitively sealed the death of Kenya’s post-independence Constitution and paved the way for the full operationalization of many sections of the new Charter.
Much as county governments have full prerogatives that allow them to manage and develop their own affairs while fostering, social, economic and political development, Kenya devolution system still maintains a unitary political concept because of functions between the National and County government. The Fourth schedule and Article 192 of Kenya’s constitution gives the president the power to suspend a county government under certain circumstances.
Devolution has several merits as well as many challenges to be tackles. Here we will be looking at both positive and negative impacts of devolution in Kenya.
The benefits for a devolution system in Kenya are plentiful. The major impact has been the opening of once marginalized areas of our country. Most counties that had been deemed harsh to live in are now able to enjoy the fruits of devolution. In counties like Isiolo and Mandera, through the devolved systems, they have been able to create airports that have made it easier for the movement of goods and people.
Counties have made great strides in opening of the rural areas through carpeting of the feeder roads and upgrading these roads making it possible for the farmers to move their produce with ease to the market. Counties have also established market places therefore improving on the agricultural sectors.
The in-flow of various civil servants working for these counties has created a new demand for sectors such as the real estate and the hotel and the entertainment sectors. This has created a thriving local economy.
In health care systems, the county governments have been able to transform the once quite neglected health facilities into institutions that can deal with various forms of ailments. Through partnerships with the national government, the counties have been able to install medical equipment that has made it possible for people to undergo treatment such as dialysis and chemotherapy at county referrals hospitals easing pressure from the national referrals hospitals such as Kenyatta Hospital and the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital.
The devolution process has allowed for a rational allocation of resources based off relative and dependent criteria, thus allowing for more effective distribution and consumption. Lastly, there is a greater ability to budget and assign expenses when using a devolution process such as the one being used in Kenya.
In other words, there are many compelling reasons for Kenya to have gone on this road of devolution. The above-mentioned reasons are the most primary and have allowed for a generally more fair and efficient socioeconomic system within Kenya using the governmental apparatus.
That said, there are also several challenges posed by Kenya’s devolution. While this list of problems is not comprehensive, it should help give some insight into the problems Kenya is currently undergoing as a part of its devolution.
To begin with, the lack of understanding of key issues around devolution is generating a great deal of mistrust between stakeholders with some, especially the minority coalition in both houses of parliament, believing that the national government is seeking to frustrate devolution.
Revenue allocation is also proving to be a divisive issue. By law, counties are entitled to least 15% of the total National Revenue collected. Despite many counties currently enjoying adequate funding, there is still a feeling that budgetary allocations need to be increased, and that the central government is reluctant to do this. Many county governors have since launched a spirited campaign to that effect and have interpreted the perceived national government reluctance as a ploy to frustrate the effectiveness of devolved units.
The devolution of health services has not come easy for the healthcare workers who have expressed extreme dissatisfaction on how the health sector in the county governments is managed. This has led to frequent strikes at county level and national level and many of them openly suggesting that the health sector should be returned to the national government.
Another challenge is the criteria for evaluating success. Since there is now a new method of allocating resources within Kenya, there must be an additional set of standards (and a body for measuring those standards) within Kenya to test if this method is working correctly. This can be costly and consume much time.
Likewise, since devolution inherently requires a more specific level of research and measurement, the Kenyan government must move beyond broad models in analyzing their devolution and instead view things from a specific, localized perspective. This can mean major changes in governmental and economic structures, along with the associated difficulties.
Although the debate on the future of devolution in Kenya is still clouded by differing political positions devoid of facts, it should be noted that compared to other similar countries, Kenya’s devolution system has, in many ways, developed quite positively and Kenyans must strive to put into office leaders who can take this concept to the next level about actual life-style changes in ordinary Kenyan lives, at local level.