Realities Of Devolution

Victoria Muindi by Victoria Muindi

The allure for devolution, and the advantages brought by devolution, fails to question the factors that ensure devolution as a form of governance is effective and successful. Defined as the decentralization of power in a country from a centralized governing system, to one where power is assigned to a subnational–local or regional administration, the desire for a decentralized government assumes that decentralization is in itself an endogenous solution to societal ills. This turns a blind eye to the disadvantages of devolution which are:

  1. That devolution could reduce the ability a national government has to re-distribute resources to a less developed region or county; and
  2. That devolution would enforce and empower local elites to use local resources as a political took, consolidating their hold on power through patronage, with little or zero checks from the central government.

Decentralization cannot therefore be an endogenous solution to a country's societal ills. Societal ills specific to Kenya are: political instability, conflict, inequalities, rent seeking (increasing ones share of wealth without creating any new sources of wealth), economic stagnation, corruption, and the inefficient use of public resources. Despite an acknowledgment of their existence, the emergent need to find a solution was highlighted during the 2007-2008 Post Election Violence which resulted in 1,133 casualties, at least 350,000 internally displaced person's (IDPs), approximately 2,000 refugees, a significant number of sexual violence victims, and the destruction of 117,707 private and public properties. As a response, and with external pressure from foreign countries a governing system of devolution was proposed, and has since been implemented in Kenya.

The mandate for the decentralization of power in Kenya has been laid out in the 2010 Kenyan Constitution, where power in two arms of government, the legislature and executive, is decentralized to forty seven (47) political and administrative counties, as provided for in Article 6. The expected effect of decentralizing power to 47 counties was that the distribution of authority would make it difficult for official actors to collude and engage in corrupt practices known to have a detrimental effect in fragile and plural societies.

However, outside from this general allure of devolution, we must ask what factors will ensure that the decentralization of power is effective and successful in correcting Kenya's societal ills. Good governance is guided by, and determined by the framework of checks and balances developed to support it. Both vertical and horizontal checks on balances are important. In a democratic government reflecting the ideas of Abraham Lincoln – a government of the people, by the people, for the people – a framework of checks and balances emanating from communities across Kenya is a necessity.

The success of devolution in Kenya lies in the ability and success communities have in holding their county governments accountable for the provision of good governance. To do this, an understanding of what good governance looks like and the steps that need to be taken to keep county governments accountable is needed. Communities must understand that it is their actions of questioning their leaders, and checking to ensure that resources are appropriately made use of, that will yield the kind of positive results expected from devolution. The reality of devolution and the success of devolution therefore lies in the hands of every human being fortunate to live in Kenya.

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