High-end vehicles in Nairobi

High-end vehicles in Nairobi. Some governors have spent millions of shillings on luxury vehicles and large motorcades. 

| File | Nation Media Group

Devolution: Some governors have become “mini presidents” displaying opulence and power

If devolution had hoped to create a servant governor working with the people in the villages and helping them decide on the most feasible projects, then, on that basis alone, it has scored poorly.

Some governors have become “mini presidents” displaying opulence through multi-million shilling seats and fuel guzzlers that push other motorists off the roads, and dictating everything happens in the counties.

But Council of Governors chairperson Anne Waiguru quickly objects to this picture, saying some important positive trends have been recorded.

“In terms of success stories across the country, key services, especially health, early childhood development and education, agriculture and rural roads have improved since devolution was introduced in 2013. Most rural towns have also been revamped,” says Ms Waiguru, who is also the governor of Kirinyaga.

Barely a year into office in 2013, the pioneer governors stoked controversy with their quest to fly the national flag on their vehicles. Then Kakamega Senator Boni Khalwale sponsored a Bill that sought to prohibit them from flying the national flag and using the title “Your Excellency.”

After former President Uhuru Kenyatta signed into law the National Flag, Emblems and Names (Amendment) Act 2014, the governors were prohibited from flying the flag on their cars. They, however, continue to use the title “Your Excellency”, a designation, usually preserved for the President.

Former East Africa Law Society president James Mwamu says the governors had to be stopped from flying the national flag “since it is the property of the National Government and reflects the national identity”.

As if that was not enough, Baringo Governor Benjamin Cheboi deployed an “aide-de-camp” from the Administration Police, setting tongues wagging. Having an ADC is a privilege reserved for a sitting President.

 Prof Gitile Naituli of Multimedia University argues that the governors felt like they were mini presidents.

“The governors felt so important that through the Council of Governors, they sought to clothe themselves with extra constitutional powers and authority. In one of the very first meetings with President Uhuru Kenyatta after 2013 elections, they demanded to be issued with diplomatic passports,” Prof Naituli says.

He also recalls that during the push for constitutional amendment, governors were pushing to be granted immunity from prosecution similar to the President.

“This was clearly a dangerous political hallucination. It needed to be clarified that CoG is not a lobby group or trade union to push for the welfare of governors or to shield them from accountability. It is a constitutional body to ensure policy coherence,” he adds.

Former Elgeyo Marakwet Governor Alex Tolgos agrees that some of his colleagues actually wanted to operate like presidents.

“Basically there was a lot of misunderstandings and people were fighting governors with claims we were behaving like small gods,” Mr Tolgos says.

Murang’a Governor Irungu Kang’ata argues that not all governors have displayed opulence.

“It depends on the leadership styles of each leader. Some want to display power others do not want that. Everyone has his style,” he says. He also agrees that some county chiefs have displayed nepotism in their counties where they wield immense powers.

But he is quick to state that the governors’ faults do not override the success of devolution, boasting of numerous achievements in his first year in office, including the pre-primary learners feeding programme and Kang’atacare for vulnerable households.

“Not all governors prefer opulence to service delivery,” he says.

Some county chiefs continue to be treated like mini-presidents, demanding that red carpets be rolled out for them during official functions and spend millions of international trips.

Kisumu Governor Anyang’ Nyong’o agrees that not all county chiefs have lived up to the expectations of their electorate.

“Idiosyncrasies are really symptoms of governance that are very unique from case to case. Speaking for myself ... I don’t have an exaggerated convoy whenever I travel,” he says, adding that display of opulence is discouraged in his administration.

Machakos Deputy Governor Francis Mwangangi says Kenyans have indeed witnessed some excesses among governors.

“Some of the things are unnecessary because leadership is there to work closely with wananchi to solve their problems,” he says.

Governance analyst Dismas Mokua and rights activist Chris Owala say that while some governors have been effective in the deployment of county resources, others have used their offices for personal gain.

“... a good number of governors have placed a huge premium on displays of opulence and power ... This is why it is not unusual to have governors with obscene numbers of personal staff and motorcades,” says Mr Mokua.

Some Governors have also been accused of using nepotism and favouritism in human capital management.

Mr Owala says Kenya has progressed under devolution but “the country remains hindered by the persistence of political impunity throughout the public administration sector”.