The past five years have delivered a lot of joy to several parts of the country due to devolution. There are regions that now can boast of ECDE schools, increased primary and secondary school enrolment, health centers, safe delivery of babies, pave roads, bridges over rivers, access to government services etc.
Devolution has relatively worked, despite the many naysayers. There is no doubt that looting of public funds has happened in the counties. But didn’t we expect this malady, considering that many of the people who were elected and seconded to serve these peripheries once worked at the centre, where theft of state resources was/is so common.
However, if one travels through many of the counties, there is discernible change. Government facilities have been spruced up. Previously sleepy villages have woken up with all kinds of cafes, hotels and B&B ventures up and running.
Even the Nairobi-based elite, no longer certain about the ‘futuristic promises’ of the capital city, have built mansions and set up different kinds of small and medium-size enterprises ushago. It is not maendeleo in the conventional sense, but it is mwelekeo of some sorts. Disappointments abound but one senses that things could improve.
And it is this improvement that the current governors must invest in. For the governors doing their last round of duty, this is the moment for legacy projects.
This is the time to make sure that those health centres are working by enabling the locals to be partners in managing them. They have the opportunity to ensure that schools have resources to guarantee 100 per cent transition rate from one grade to the next, from nursery school to primary, secondary, college. It is time to pave and maintain rural access roads.
The governors have the opportunity to create and sustain local economic programmes that will guarantee that their counties don’t have to perpetually depend on the central government and NGOs to survive hard economic times.
For the fresher governors, they must work smarter and better than their predecessors. Don’t repeat their mistakes. However thieving the past governors were, they must have implemented some projects.
Develop them. Create networks with locals who work elsewhere in the country or abroad to set up bursary schemes for poor children, start revolving funds to aid the health sector in your region and establish think tanks to support your development efforts.
Effectively exploited, such networks could significantly unlock the local economic potential. After all, even the national government relies a lot on remittances from Kenyans working abroad for some of its forex needs. Just look at what Filipino and Indian immigrants have done to their countries’ economies.
Governors need to ensure that they begin to live within their means. Millions of Kenyans manage their domestic economies on meagre daily, weekly or monthly wages.
They don’t incur expenses that would enslave them economically. Stop buying tens of ambulances for fairly healthy people. Keep away from retailers of those heavy roadwork equipment that you’ll hardly use.
Merchants of all kinds of goods and services will crowd the waiting lounges of your offices. But remember that a majority of your citizens are dirt poor. Serve them first.
They probably just need basics. Kudos to Anyang’ Nyong’o for swearing to eradicate pit latrines in Kisumu County!
That ubiquitous signboard, ‘This is an open defecation free zone’ needs to be eliminated from any part of Kenya. Governor Ngilu and those ruling over supposed water-deficient regions, give your people water, first, the rest should follow once they quench their thirst.
As for Joho, Mombasa, I used to be taught in primary school geography that Mombasa is the main port of entry to Kenya, literally and culturally. So, please make it a delightful place to visit. Clean the city and beaches. Decongest some parts of the city to allow 24 hours of leisure and pleasure.
County governments can start the journey to economic prosperity and self-reliance by first knowing how many people live in those counties; how much taxes they can really collect practically; what goods are ‘necessary-to-have’ as opposed to ‘nice-to-have’, what type and quantity of skills locally needed are available within the county, what’s the economic relationship between the county and its neighbours, how much non-loan external funding can it raise to support local projects etc.
The writer teaches literature at the University of Nairobi. [email protected]