Counties must assure residents of dignified life

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What you need to know:

  • Devolution identified Kenya as a country of structurally unequal people whose needs and geographical disposition directly affected their quality of life.
  • Devolution allowed for nuance in how leadership is exercised, making it participatory and prioritising the most vulnerable of people.
  • The pandemic panic and its dependence on a central system are why devolution needs to be strengthened now more than ever.

Kenya is a country where only a handful of people can access affordable quality services and opportunities – from health, education, social protection, justice and so on. The rest of the country’s majority poor are in a constant push and pull, between trying to bridge the unequal resource allocation gaps to accessing services that limit their attainment of decent livelihoods.

These gaps are systemically decades-long, which is why devolution was made a constitutional right in the 2010 constitution.

Not only was devolution supposed to promote the democratic and accountable exercise of power, recognise rights of communities to manage their own affairs and further their development but also to promote the social and economic development and the provision of proximate, easily accessible services. Devolution identified Kenya as a country of structurally unequal people whose needs and geographical disposition directly affected their quality of life.

For example, what is urgent and pressing in Kiambu County is probably not what is urgent and pressing in Vihiga or Samburu counties.

Devolution allowed for nuance in how leadership is exercised, making it participatory and prioritising the most vulnerable of people. With all these, in theory, devolution in practice is still greatly challenged by lack of political will to foresee its full implementation. 

The majority of county heads have been laid back in ensuring counties are sufficiently capable of creating a dignified living and thriving environment for people. A good example is how a global pandemic got counties in a frenzy as health facilities weren’t ready to deal with coronavirus.

The pandemic panic and its dependence on a central system are why devolution needs to be strengthened now more than ever. Another important thing to note is the influx of people moving upcountry from city counties like Nairobi and what this eventually means for counties. With Covid-19’s spiralling economic losses, more and more people can no longer afford to live in cities. They’ve had to uproot themselves back to counties where it would cost them less to survive.

As leaders discuss their plans for counties, they ought to engage in a conversation of what it means to have livable and thriving counties not just in terms of health service delivery, which is a priority, but also in terms of quality life. A working framework of what a functioning county that offers the opportunity for growth and prosperity to its people looks like should be somewhere in the pipeline. This is because a need for a shared approach starting from national and county governments to the ward level puts devolution at the core of how Kenya survives the pandemic.

The writer is a policy analyst. [email protected]