Devolution is the centre piece of Kenya’s 2010 constitution, and it constitutes a transformative, large-scale administrative and fiscal re-engineering of post-colonial Kenya.
The decentralisation of power and resources from national to sub national governance institutions occurs at three distinct levels – political, administrative, and fiscal. This will create a two-tiered government, the national and new 47 subnational counties. This is a radical departure from the often bureaucratic, remote, and suffocating centralised state, into a lean, responsive and efficient state.
Devolution has been heralded as the panacea for a majority of the ills bedevilling Kenya, including the MRC grievances.
One of the provisions of devolution is that it allows communities to manage their own resources through elections of subnational leaders who unlike the national leadership will be in a close proximity to the people. Devolution also establishes proportional representation of minorities in county assemblies and the county executive.
On paper, the objectives of devolution as laid out in the 2010 Constitution should address most of the MRC’s grievances. And many of those who engaged with the group have persuaded them to pursue their grievances through devolution instead of secession. But the groups refrain is “Tumechoka na Ahadi”, “We are tired of empty promises” from the national government.
Their suspicion of the was given credence when the president appointed 47 County Commissioners, and the Coast County Commissioner was once again someone who is not from the coastal region. The appointment of the commissioner was contested in court, and the court ruled the appointment was unconstitutional.
The group argue this development confirms their fear; after the election any incoming government, which will obviously be largely composed of people from upcountry will not be committed to the constitutional wholly, the appointment of a non-coastal commissioner, even if the appointment was constitutional reveals the central government/non-coastal people are committed to load over them in perpetuity.
The passage of the new constitution was heralded as a new beginning for Kenya, a break from an unresponsive state, and the start of a new era where people would firmly be in charge of their affairs through elections of responsive local officials. Three years later, very few Kenyans retain the same level of expectation, and with good reasons. What the constitution could deliver was oversold; this led to high expectations that have not been met.
Entrusting the implementation of the constitution to the parliament was also another cardinal oversight. Members of Parliament have either delayed the passage of new bills, or clawed back on some of the progressive aspects of the bills that they deem is not in their interests.
Although not discussed candidly, devolution could actually exacerbate some of the existing ethnic cleavages in some regions if not carefully managed. If the full benefits of devolution are to be realised, it is imperative that there is a carefully crafted transition from the centralised governance structure to the decentralised one.