Devolution: A litany of betrayal amid self-interests

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The concerted, at times desperate, war by the Jubilee Coalition Government against entrenchment of Devolution as envisioned in the latest Constitutional order is not new.  History proves it is a complete replica of the script of the war that Kenya African National Union (KANU) waged on regional governance immediately after independence in 1963.

 

KANU adopted the Independence Constitution not because it was in agreement with it but to avoid protracted negotiations par with the rival Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU) and the minority British settlers so as to secure self-rule. The strategy, which was optimally achieved within four years of Independence, was to dismantle and tailor-make the Constitution to suit party and individual interests once was in power.

By 1967, the Senate had been abolished, regional governments were done away with, the courts lost their independence and authority, the requisite requirement to amend the Constitution was removed paving way to numerous amendments that took power away from institutions to the presidency.  The two major architects of these strategies were Tom Mboya, a nationalist leader who spearheaded negotiations for Kenya’s independence and a key figure in the formation of KANU, and Mwai Kibaki, a KANU stalwart who later became Kenya’s third President. Mboya was assassinated in 1969. He was the first to attack the independence Constitution in London at the Royal Commonwealth Society in April 1963. He said the Constitution Kenya had adopted was cumbersome, expensive, bloated and created parallels in government and that it gave a lot of leeway to Judiciary.  This statement set in motion amendments that dismantled and dismembered the independence Constitution. To achieve this, the KANU Executive used its members, particularly the leadership, in the Senate and the House of Representatives.  The Senate whose major function was to take care of the interests of regional governments was targeted.  The leadership of the House of Representatives was used to undermine the authority of the Senate. The former passed crucial Bills without taking them to the Senate for verification and consensus in the exact fashion as is happening today in the National Assembly. Together with the Executive, which revolved around President Jomo Kenyatta and his inner circle including Mwai Kibaki and James Gichuru and the KANU senators, the House of Representatives effectively staged a state
capture. This is how key civil servants and security officers obtained unparalleled power.  President Kenyatta disparaged and labeled the opposition as anti-government
and enemies of development. With this, state capture and the plunder of the state resources and impunity gained new heights. Well-placed individuals could do anything and walk away with it because the Executive shielded them. This was the birth of extremely powerful provincial commissioners, permanent secretaries and police bosses.

This scenario has been replicated by Jubilee Coalition Government. First, the new Constitution 2010 was adopted in a similar fashion as the independence Constitution.  Those in power did not like it but they had to adopt it and address the issues they did not like later. All they needed to do was retain the status quo in the power equation.  The Jubilee Coalition-led Senate particularly through the Leader of Majority, Kindiki Kithure and chair of the Senate’s committee on Devolution, Kipchumba Murkomen and Coalition members have been deployed to undermine Devolution despite the fact that constitutionally, it is the one supposed to protect and advance the powers and interests of county governments.

On the other hand Speaker, Justin Muturi and Leader of Majority Aden Duale are the arch points of Jubilee Government in the National Assembly and have, just like in the House of Representatives in 1963-1967, been passing bills without regard to the Senate. They have passed the Revenue Allocation Bill 2013 and 13 other Bills that governors are vehemently opposed to, in total disregard of the Senate.  The National Assembly, with help from key civil servants, is playing the same role in destroying devolution that the House of Representatives played in destroying regional governments. It has, for instance, trashed the Constitution and devolved funds through the back door – Constituency Development, Uwezo and youth funds other than through county governments even though the Constitution recognizes only two levels of government; national and county governments.  They have also ensured that the national state departments retain all their core budgets despite the fact that their functions have been devolved. Currently the national government state departments and parastatals are holding onto more Sh120 billion, money that was supposed to follow their functions, which were devolved to the counties. They devolve the functions but retain the money.  They have refused to reconstruct the entire national governance system to bring
it into compliance with devolution. There are, still, national ministries, state corporations and parastatals the same way they were before the General Election yet the
only function they are left with is to coordinate the national policy in consultation with county governments to ensure standardization through inspection.

However, unlike at independence when the masses were still overly gullible and excited with prospects of self-rule, it is not going to be easy for the Jubilee Government to have its way. The expanded space in freedom of expression and association and the power of information sharing brought by rapidly advancing technology and the global trend that has enthusiastically shifted towards empowered local governance systems will all conspire to defeat proponents of recentralization.

Last April, Isiolo County celebrated what governor Godana Doyo called Isiolo @ 1. It was a juxtaposition of the Kenya @ 50 celebrations. The governor could not hide his excitement and that of the people of Isiolo County. “Isiolo @ 1 has many meaning for us. One, the new Constitution has come with many windfalls. The first one is devolution.  We are now managers of our own affairs, we are self governing. There is expansion of political space and for the first time ever, we feel liberated,” the governor said, Isiolo being one of those counties that suffered many legacies of marginalization.  All counties in what used to be called the Northern Frontier, the coastal region and other semi-arid regions including Migori and others that have historically been excluded have, for the first time, tasted independence 50 years on. This exclusion stems from Mboya and Kibaki’s economic policy entrenched by the 1965 Session Paper No. 10.

Today, the Wajir people are celebrating their first 25Km tarmac road. They also now have first medical facilities in their localities despite having had one of the highest mortality rates in the country. Devolution is about human and economic freedoms. It is what it means when the people of Isiolo County say they are celebrating their first year of independence as others do 50 years. Those, however, who have been siphoning, plundering the economy and enjoying impunity at Nairobi with abundance are now feeling threatened and are fighting with desperation.

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