In a few weeks, we will mark another anniversary of the creation of county governments. The 47 counties, an amalgamation of local authorities and the provincial administration, follow the model of the eight semi-autonomous regional governments abolished by the post independence leadership. The politics around them are also beginning to resemble that early model.
Without any orientation and/or a formal handing over, the transition process from local authorities to county governments was dogged by challenges. However, I judge that the units have acquitted themselves well.
Sadly there are those who still claim that devolution is a waste of resources and others who mourn — in vain — the loss of power and resources from the centre.
That was actually the idea. The counties were created to take power and resources from the centre to correct skewed service delivery and imbalanced vertical development in the country.
The counties were the answer to the profound inequality in the land, a situation caused by concentrating power and resources in one office. The desire for a change in service delivery featured prominently during the constitutional review process.
For decades, certain parts of the country were fed promises of development during political campaigns but after elections they were punished for not voting the “right way” through deliberate policies of marginalisation. But now, thanks to devolution, hitherto inaccessible areas have motorable roads, dams to alleviate water shortage, and lights installed in once dimly lit streets.
There is tangible evidence of government on the ground and the capital is no longer the only home of opportunity or source of development in the country.
Thanks to devolution, we now have a say in the quality of our life and level of socio-economic development. We can boost our farmers, empower our youth and women, and fix our health centres without depending on the mood of those in the Executive and what they think about our politics. We have the freedom to dictate our fortunes, to shape our destiny.
Although county governments still insist that more resources should be allocated to them, the new system has made notable achievements with the available funds, including the rehabilitation and revival of dead and stalled projects and the initiation of new ones.
The impact of devolution has inspired admiration and envy. The masses appreciate what the county governments have done. For the conservative forces that continue to covet the monopoly of a centrist system that denied many a share of the national cake, the message is clear: There is no looking or going back.
The interest in gubernatorial and county assembly seats across the country is testimony to the importance of devolved units; aspirants are practically crawling out of the woodwork each day.
The system is not perfect. There is intense political wrangling in county assemblies and manipulative politics is slowly taking root. However, this has not dimmed the shine of the system. In truth, nothing can.
Devolution has exposed representative, legislative, and supervisory weaknesses. Political survival in the new dispensation is not easy and this explains the many plots and counter-plots among the leadership in the counties.
As we tick off yet another year of devolution, we need to accept one reality: the question is no longer whether devolution works or not — it does — but how we can make it bigger and better. This is the conversation we must have.
We must explore how to scale up the impact of devolution and bring even more services and bigger projects closer to the people. We need to discuss how to make more resources available to make this happen. We should not let those who are afraid of losing their “eating point” to delay or derail us.
In less than five years of its existence, devolution has shown that it can bring real change to this country, that government works best when it is closer to the people and their needs. We must invest in exploiting this reality and not plot its downfall.
The counties are not a waste of resources. For the first time in decades, Kenyans from across the country can see the impact of public resources in their communities.
Regional governments created in the Lancaster House Constitution were demonised and eventually killed by the lawmakers in the Lower House. It took us 50-plus years to correct that mistake. We should never repeat it.
Mr Rasanga is governor, Siaya county. [email protected]