Devolution dividend depends on how you chose your governor

What you need to know:

  • Access to basic services and facilities in the countryside and in counties that did not have good infrastructure is slowly improving, writes KARUTI KANYINGA.

We have implemented devolution for about two years now but two different groups of people see things differently.

The Nairobi middle class in the comfort of their offices berate devolution for what they consider to be waste, violent leadership wrangles in the counties, and corruption among Members of County Assemblies.

On the other hand, the ordinary person in the countryside sees things differently. People are comparing now and before. Let us consider the following few examples.

In 1979, heavy floods washed away the only bridge in one location in Meru. The floods created a deep gulley in what used to be the main village road leading to the local market centres.

Without the road, the local economy collapsed. Villagers could not transport their produce to local market centres. Their incomes declined.

Last year, the area MCA promised to do the road. He mobilised county resources and gravelled the road. It is now a smooth road.

Afraid of being outcompeted, the area Member of Parliament used Constituency Development Funds (CDF) to improve another road in the area. The villagers were now spoilt for rural roads.

Towards the end of last year, the local economy started booming again. One could see boda boda (motorcycle riders) ferrying vegetables and other produce out of the village everyday.

There are similar examples elsewhere.

In Machakos there is a peasant who has always depended on relief food from the government.

But in 2014, he planted his small piece of land with free quality seeds and fertiliser donated by the county government.

He was not alone.

There were many in the village like him who got free seeds from the county government.

These farmers acknowledged that the only time they ever got free seeds for planting was during the colonial period.

In northern Kenya where there was no spread of basic services, people are experiencing real change.

County governments are doing roads, building abattoirs, and providing other services that lacked in their county.

The ordinary people are vigilant on how the county governments are spending what the people now see as their resources.

In one county in Central Kenya a contractor built eight kilometres of a murram road but did a shoddy work on the remaining four kilometres.

Residents complained to their MCA. He did not take any action because the contractor had compromised him.

The villagers marched to the governor’s office protesting the poor construction.

They asked the contractor to “take his road away” or redo the remaining four kilometres. The contractor obliged and did the road properly.

Devolution is slowly improving access to basic services and facilities in the countryside and in counties that did not have good infrastructure.

The Nairobi middle class that is berating devolution misses a number of facts including why devolution was embedded in the Constitution.

Devolution was introduced to address perceptions of marginalisation and to help address imbalances in regional and ethnic development.

It was introduced to provide equitable access to basic services. It was meant to bring down barriers to opportunities for all.


Devolution did not come as an accident. Regional inequalities, which also imply ethnic inequalities, had contributed to cycles of electoral violence in the past.

Some regions and ethnic groups have been poorer than others just because of how successive governments distributed development resources.

The Kenya Integrated Household Budget Survey brought to the fore some of these disparities way back in 2007.

The report showed that, for instance, 93 per cent adult women in northern Kenya had not been to school.

Ninety seven per cent adult women in Central Kenya had been to school.

Only 19 per cent of eligible girls in northern Kenya enrolled in schools.

On the other hand, 87 per cent of eligible girls in Central Kenya enrolled. The main reason for this disparity was the number of schools and distance to these schools.

Inequalities have been sharp in access to health services. The Economic Survey Report for 2013 by the Kenya Institute of Public Policy Analysis (KIPPRA) shows how unequal Kenya has been.

In 2009, the ratio of doctors to the population in Kisii county was one doctor to 378,000 patients; one doctor to 278,000 patients in Baringo; and one doctor to 273,000 patients in Tranz Nzoia.

There were better off counties in terms of ratios. There was one doctor to 4,000 patients in Uasin Gishu; one doctor to 5,000 patients in Nyeri; one doctor to 38,000 patients in Meru, and one doctor to 15,000 patients in Kiambu, Kisumu, and Kericho.

Figures on inequalities by region and, therefore, by ethnic groups are even more shocking when you compare life expectancy by counties.

You are likely to live longer if you are born and stay in some counties compared to others. You can live up to 65 years if you were born and stay in Bomet and Kericho.

You live for only about 40 years if you are born and domiciled in Kisumu, Homa Bay and Siaya. The life expectancy in these counties is about 40 years.

Devolution was meant to correct some of these disparities. Development projects through funds from the equitable share of national revenue are meant to address these disparities.

County governments are required to develop infrastructure in their own counties so that the county residents have better access to services.


How county governments have performed in this respect reveals huge disparities.

In one survey carried out in the last half of 2014 by the National Democratic Institute, residents were asked to state whether their county government was managing county resources well.

Under 20 per cent of the people in Kisumu, Trans Nzoia, and Kilifi did not think so.

They thought their resources were not managed well. Under 30 per cent of residents in Siaya and Kitui also thought their resources were not well managed.

On the other hand, over 80 per cent of residents in Bomet and Machakos; and over 70 per cent in Wajir and West Pokot were agreeable that their resources were well spent.

This pattern of thinking did not change when the residents were asked to state whether their county government was on track.

Over 80 per cent in Machakos, Murang’a and Bomet said they thought so. Many in Siaya, Kisumu, Kilifi and Tana River did not think their county government was on track.

A subsequent survey carried out towards the end of 2014 among 10 counties showed Kisumu and Kitui as poor performers in these issues.

The latest report by the World Bank on public expenditure spending also shows Kisumu and Kitui as among the counties that spent less on development; they spent more on wages.

Although the reasons for this form of spending vary from county to county, it is noteworthy the survey findings on rating of this counties in terms of development reflect generally what is shown in the public expenditure review.

How leaders are chosen matters. The surveys appear to reveal that how people elected their governors and MCAs affects the county government’s performance.

In Siaya and Kisumu the party nominations preceding the elections in March 2013 were chaotic. Petitions were filed in court to challenge some of the results.

The main method of appointment was through anointment rather than election. Some governors and MCAs were anointed into office. They were not popular among the people. The poor performance in some of these counties reflects this reality.

There are governors who are generally clueless about what to do in their county. There are MCAs whose main interest is to pocket as much money as they can; they are eating their own people. They are not accountable because they were not properly elected. Their counties will not get the devolution dividends.

Prof Karuti Kanyinga teaches at the Institute for Development Studies (IDS), University of Nairobi, [email protected]


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