Wednesday, August 14, 2013

They deserve contempt. No more.

If you think devolution in Kenya is going swimmingly, cease reading and find the Oprah Winfrey Facebook page instead. The antics of the 47 men in charge of county governments over the past month are shameful. It is not just that the Commission on Revenue Allocation and the Controller of Budget that say; millions of grassroots' Kenyans say so too.

Take Machakos, for example. While the governor has some of the most ambitious plans around - and these plans are rather well-thought out - some of his fundamental assumptions are flawed, to say the least. Governor Mutua intends to build a new city in Machakos; and he intends to offer investors who meet a certain threshold free land if they set up industrial units in his county. Tragically, Mr Mutua has failed to grasp with the cactus that is land administration in Kenya, particularly the fractious relations between the landed and un-landed of Machakos county that go back to the land-buying cons of the 1970s. The land the governor has identified as viable for his free-land-for-investment proposal has been the subject of disputation for three decades. He can promise his investors all he wants, but until the people of machakos come out ahead in the land deal, his plans are fucked.

Kiambu's William Kabogo was so incensed that his county assembly slashed his plans for the Governor's mansion, he refused to approve the budget. Yet, even after those characters came to a compromise, Kiambu is yet to demonstrate, by way of its budgetary allocations, that it knows what it is doing. This is reflected in the remaining 45 county budgets, never mind the ones that have very ambitious deficits to finance.

Devolution was supposed to be the magic bullet that would bring development to the grassroots. No one thought to describe what "development" was. There are those governors who are shocked that the National Government will still build highways and high-tension power lines. Hydropower dams? Nairobi's in charge. railways and harbours? Nairobi keeps those too.

Whether Dr Evans Kidero or ex-commandant Kinuthia Mbugua want to admit it, theirs are jumped-up local authorities, and no more. They are not, and cannot be, the equivalent of the National Government, even collectively, never mind what "experts" and the Senate think. Their priorities, therefore, are to halt the rot that had set in as a result of the management of mayors, council chairmen and councillors and reverse it, where they are able. They are responsible for the the things that make urban life miserable: traffic, sanitation, primary healthcare, public health, water and sewerage, markets, street lighting, and such like. Before they can demand jurisdiction over doctors, nurses or teachers, governors must demonstrate that they can make the lives of the residents of their counties comfortable. Until they do, and if they insist that flying the national flag is vital to their "authority" or that they must have diplomatic passports and armed guards, we must treat them with contempt. That is all they deserve.

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