A decade of devolution; a test of democracy

Tuesday, August 15th, 2023 03:15 | By
Council of Governors Chairperson Anne waiguru at a past function.
Council of Governors Chairperson Anne waiguru at a past function. PHOTO/Anne Waiguru (@AnneWaiguru)/Twitter

The 10th Devolution Conference bringing together governors from 47 counties begins today in Eldoret, Uasin Gishu County, marking a milestone in Kenya’s history.

Ten years of the devolved system of governance has contributed to significant political, economic and social development across the country, touching the lives of millions of citizens.

Devolution was one of the main pillars of the Constitution of Kenya, 2010, resulting in the establishment of two-tier national and county governments.

The framers of the Constitution recognised devolution as the fulcrum upon which the distribution of power and resources from the centre would guide the nation’s future.

After the reintroduction of multi-party democracy preceding the 1992 General Election, the birth of devolution ten years later ushered in the new era of the first governors sworn into office after the 2013 election.

Today’s landmark devolution conference has great significance in the current national political dispensation, as it coincides with the formal start of the 2022 post-election talks between Kenya Kwanza Alliance and Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition.

The talks follow intense pressure from the public, the clergy and the international community following mass protests, violence, police brutality, death and destruction.

Already, the two factions have named technical teams to iron out the contentious issues for the agenda tabled by their leaders and legislators engaged in the post-crisis negotiations. As governors gather for their caucus, Kenyans will be taking stock of the achievements and hurdles impeding the realisation of the full potential of devolved governance. The most harmful barriers have been corruption and mismanagement.

Devolution and democracy are today featuring prominently in the evolution of the nation’s governance narrative, providing a crucial moment of reflection as Kenyans endure turbulent political upheaval amid a grinding economic crisis.

Wananchi will be closely watching these two historic milestones with a mixture of apprehension, guarded hope and lingering traces of pessimism, given the wide gulf between the two-dominant warring political factions.

Hostile statements, especially from hawks in the ruling coalition, entrenched in a winner-takes-it-all mentality of exclusivity pervading Kenya’s present post-election political culture, does not bode well for democracy.

Elections in Kenya – the presidential election to be precise – appear to have created a monolithic political machinery deploying covert and overt methods to capture power while making every effort to hamstring their opponents’ current and future power.

In the toxic national political environment engulfing the nation, devolution offers hope for the consolidation of democracy, human rights and socio-economic development that defies ethnic or regional bias defining Kenyan politics today.

Devolved governance has in ten years seen some counties in previously marginalised regions achieve development levels they could never have imagined ten years ago after 50 years of independence.

As governors begin their deliberations, they should remember the core function of devolution. That it is the statutory delegation of powers from the central government of a sovereign state to govern at a subnational level – regional or local level.

The Executive has a constitutional obligation to recognise devolution as a form of administrative decentralisation whose main objective is to promote democratic and accountable exercise of power.

Leaders across the political divide must uphold democracy and the Constitution which established devolution to foster national unity by recognising diversity, not exclusivity.

— The writer comments on constitutional and national affairs/                             [email protected]

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