Devolution was one of the finest products of the novel and progressive Constitution that was promulgated in 2010. Chapter 11 of this Popular Charter heralded a new dawn where hitherto underdeveloped regions finally saw recognition under law and those deemed commercially unviable by the previous regimes had their right to development finally enshrined in law. Kenya is currently in her 7th year of implementation of this new constitutional dispensation and by extension the facet of devolution. Today resources are centripetally distributed from the Centre – from the Executive cascading down unto the grassroots to finally be tasted by the hoi-polloi. Devolution is not a new discovery in Kenya. Indeed, it is a paradigm that was a point of contention pre and post-independence by the two major political parties of the day i.e. KANU that was the proponent of Centralization of power – a bastion of the Luo & Kikuyu vis-à-vis KADU due its hierarchy consisting of the minority tribal affiliations – the Luhya, Kalenjin & Mijikenda, who vouched for a system called ‘Majimbo.’ ‘Majimbo’ – The Kiswahili word for regions or regionalism, has been manifested in no great dissimilitude to devolution as we have it today. This was a counter-measure against the propensity for a stranglehold by the Kikuyu and Luo hegemony with regard to political power. Believe it or not, the proponents of regionalism had their way as the Legislative Council assented to regions based on the 7 Colonial Provinces, paving way for a bicameral legislative system of the Senate and National Assembly. Mzee Jomo Kenyatta was the Prime Minister, ably deputized by Ajuma Jaramogi Oginga Odinga. Come the National unity accord of 1964 that folded KADU into KANU, the concord was used as an excuse to vitiate the existence of the Senate & Regional Governments citing the need for unity of Kenyans under a Central Government as a pivotal component of national cohesion. Consequently, even the purveyors of ideology deemed dissonant to the ‘National Philosophy’ were labelled persona-non-grata in Kenya when Section 2A was concocted in the constitution rendering our Republic a de-jure, one-party state. We lived through the epoch of an Imperial President running a unitary state. In due course, dissenting voices were ipso-facto adjudged as treasonous, seditious, subversive and even mutinous as many intellectuals of the day, politicians, political commentators, university dons, lecturers, authors, playwrights, thespians and journalists found themselves in hot water. The most popular tool available to the Government was the Detention Without Trial Act for dissidents on the grounds of preserving National Security. Tales I have heard & read from Nyayo House Torture Chamber victims are too chilling to be recounted here more so those relating to the diabolical operability of the mechanical implement called the Pliers as it articulated with a vice-like grip on the nether regions of the masculine anatomy by agents of state! The State operated like an unrestrained behemoth paying homage to sentiments given life by the indomitable Late Cabinet Minister John Njoroge Michuki about the impunity of Government overreaching to the extent of knocking out one’s Teeth and then seeking reparations not for but from the aggrieved victim!
Thanks to the Freedom of Expression afforded by the new Constitution, I will today stick my neck out and opine that it is in the backdrop of the resulting frustrations from this failed system of leadership, that the 1982 attempted Coup d’état was occasioned. The State has eternally blamed power-hungry barons and disgruntled military officers for the putsch but I stand with my assessment that the repressive and kleptocratic unitary state was the spark that lit that powder keg. Regional development, service delivery, access to government jobs by & large – state largesse and infrastructural development became a function of the whims of the Central Government. That is the predicament even the author of this very piece was born into in the late ’80s. The agitation for pluralism reached fever pitch in 1991 leading to the repeal of Section 2A culminating in the first Multiparty elections in 1992. The expansion of civil liberties has been a gradual exercise that led to birthing a wholesale constitutional review process. Of paramount importance was legal reforms for Free and Fair elections, Composition of the Electoral Commission and enhanced freedom of association and assembly. Invariably, when the opposition finally grasped Power in 2002 with the NARC coalition spearheaded by Mwai Kibaki, the main campaign promise yearning to be fulfilled was a new constitution within the first 100 days in office! That one certainly came a cropper. Those that came to fruition early on were the Free Primary School Education and the Creation of the Constituency Development Fund. 2.5% of government revenue was earmarked for grassroots development annually. This was informed by the priorities and needs of the local population in due course bringing development closer to the people. Progress became delinked from political affiliation of both party and personalities in power. The revolution was televised as efforts at achieving the NARC government’s pet peeve – the New Constitution took root. Emissaries were sent in the form of Delegates from all over Kenya to make submissions on behalf of their respective regions. The Form and structure that was eventually agreed on after months of bickering and battering was based on the Colonial districts that would forthwith be referred to as Counties. The New Constitution pegged the percentage of national revenue to the devolved units and wrote an algorithm for an equitable share formula for resource distribution based on population, land area & degree of hardship.
In all honesty, sounding the death knell on Centralized Corruption by State was one of the prerogatives of implementing devolution in Kenya. Today as we canter 7 years into this devolution reality in the Counties; curbing Corruption, Tribalism, Nepotism and pilferage of public resources becomes critically crucial. With several sitting Governors and other County Officials under the microscope of our investigative agencies for putting their hands into the figurative Cookie jar, the verdict on corruption in the counties is a damning one. The spectre of public prosecution hangs ever so close for many of them. That notwithstanding, Devolution has been a game-changer that has taken decision-making down to the ordinary ‘mwananchi’.
Speaking at the 5th Devolution Conference in Kakamega in May 2018, the 2nd Prime Minister (Emeritus) of the Republic of Kenya; Rt. Hon. Raila A. Odinga, as an elder statesman pointed out that conflicts of interests were harming the percolation of national resource down to the people all the while county officials lined their pockets. He added that County Speakers, Majority Leaders, MCAs, County Executives and procurement officials had positioned themselves with the express intention of milking kickbacks from public works projects in the end becoming Contractors to the County and abdicating their oversight responsibilities. Another instance of malfeasance brought to light was the practice of Governors bribing MCAs to approve Cabinet appointees, inordinate expenditure on unnecessary benchmarking trips and to kill motions of no-confidence that would lead to impeachment. He pointed out the Governors were virtually being held hostage by avaricious, selfish and capricious ward representatives. ‘Baba’ as he has affably been christened by throngs of his adoring supporters, averred that the only way to eschew the victimization of innocent county officials is by conducting a lifestyle audit on all and sundry then publicize the findings. Moreover, fighting corruption has never and will never be a partisan affair as this monster is an existential threat to the rank and file of our nationhood. In closing submissions, he proposed a three-tier government entailing Counties, Regional and the National Government with a well-detailed revenue sharing formula in order to have viable economic units as was envisioned in the antecedently mutilated Bomas Draft of the Constitution in 2005. Even in the foregoing of that same conference, moral corruption was on display as a Deputy Governor from Central Kenya; a married man no less, was literally caught with his pants down with a woman who is most certainly not his significant other! I will leave that adjunct to the stammered remonstrations of innocence to our local tabloids at the time.
Today the letter and spirit of devolution seems to only be an academic exercise as impropriety is the only thing to report from more than half of the counties. Apparently, the number of County Governors who are above reproach with regards to wastage of county funds is countable with the fingers on one palm. Culpability is on various degrees, with those having lost a few million shillings being slightly righteous to bogeymen who are absolutely unable to account for several billion in county revenue. Let the muteness of their tongues not fool you when questions on financial probity arise as the real deafening roar of opulence is in their private residences and village abodes. Lavish castles are now coming up at a premium on the homes of these newly-minted Feudal Lords of Corruption as some of their erstwhile unspoken of mistresses and concubines now live in mansions, some almost palaces at the expense of the sweat of the brow of the plebeians of the county.
I may not want to act sub judice on matters already before our courts of law but I feel it will be a dereliction of the duty of care to my brothers and sisters if I failed to at least mention some who have been caught up in this vice of corruption. First on the list is President Uhuru Kenyatta’s former ‘blue-eyed’ girl who a few years back came under intense fire over the NYS Scandal that saw Kenya lose a few billion shillings to scheming connivers, some of who were accorded the ignominious pleasure of forming shell-companies after winning tenders in contravention of procurement norms, ultimately not supplying jackshit after receiving hefty payments. The femme fatale of a Cabinet Secretary, in village gossip also accused by her detractors of ‘kizungu mingi’, sharp dressing and traipsing around in motions reserved for the catwalk ostensibly to curry favour with the Executive of the day, in due course was forced to resign after the neon lights of state approbation dimmed on her, citing precursory ‘doctor’s orders’ for lighter duties and minimal stress in her statement of valediction. In the ‘infinite wisdom’ of the people of Kirinyaga County, they elected this lady as their County Chief Executive in antipathy to logic. A few weeks ago, she came under scrutiny for gross mismanagement of her county coffers. Again her only salvation became the shield of political expedience with that drama still showing in a television near you.
Now showing in HD is the saga that has been the regime of 2nd term Governor, Zachary Okoth Obado. This man’s rap sheet stretches from Vanga on the Indian Ocean Coastal frontier between Kenya & Tanzania to Praia do Mussulo (Mussulo Beach) in downtown Luanda, Angola on the Atlantic Coast. This is the pioneer among his peers to be charged with a capital offence. From incontrovertible evidence adduced alluding to the double murder of his University Student mistress & their unborn child to now dragging his entire family into County procurement and tendering impropriety, the smoking gun could as well be a gassing fumarole with regards to the onslaught of charges against the county Chief Executive of Migori. To call this man’s tenure in office an unmitigated disaster is hitting the nail on the head.
Next on the chopping block is Governor Cyprian Achilaus Awiti. This hefty specimen of our species is archetypal of the whimsical nature of people better suited at being politicians than providing actual public stewardship. Awiti has been on record going as far as feigning blindness when queries of financial misadventure pop up and he’s summoned before the Senate but always miraculously regains 20/20 visual acuity during Ohangla nights often stealing the show at ‘Disco Matanga’ dances paradoxically held in the dead of night!
Together in the cauldron of inquest are Governor Ojaamong of Busia and Governor Moses Lenolkulal of Samburu who have actually been kept in remand prison for varying periods of time for injudiciously joining the gravy train of looting public coffers for personal gain. Among other charges, Kasaine Lenolkulal awarded high-value tenders for Fuel supply to an entity called Oryx Service Station, a company for which Lily Lenolkulal and he are directors. Ojaamong and company conspired to defraud the County Government of Busia of 8 million shillings in a foggy trip to Germany for benchmarking, engaging in extra-budgetary expenditure. Word on the grapevine from reliable sources is that were it not for the Covid-19 scourge that has ravaged the global economy, a high-ranking and ostensibly development-conscious Governor from Western Kenya was supposed to be next on the hot seat to explain how he acquired about 200 Million to build a hotel in Kisumu! The finer details are still diaphanous at the time of going to press but stay tuned as where there is smoke there is certainly a subterranean fire.
The least said about the plight of the next two governors, the better. This is because both are the quintessence of how democracy fails in a jurisdiction where the populace lacks wisdom and the power of discernment to even decipher the difference between a hole in the terra-firma and the crack of their own very derrière! Both are creatures of populism as their speeches more often than not are seldom laced with ideology, creative paradigm, meaningful agenda and sentiment but are top-heavy on cheap rhetoric that panders to the primordial brain while atrophying the conscientious centres of the cerebral cortex! The easiest thing in the world is to blame some nebulous entity called ‘the system’ for popular disenfranchisement, poverty, personal failure and existential struggles without any need for self-interrogation nay introspection. None have proven themselves savants in this dark art more than Gov. Mike Mbuvi Sonko & Ferdinand Clifford ‘Babayao’ Waititu. They both got elected by an overwhelming mandate but have ended up immuring themselves in absolute infamy with regards to graft. To call either Waititu or Gideon Kioko an abomination will create unnecessary embarrassment even to the fraternity historically saddled with this vile moniker. From racketeering, nepotism, land grabbing, day-light thuggery – whatever happened with raw sewerage at Jacaranda grounds, Embakasi East before an Opposition rally in late 2017, breakdown in not just policy formulation but also comprehension and implementation, hawking political patronage to cronies among other forms of malfeasance; these two troglodytes have not coated themselves in any measurable glory. The former is now existing in the political purgatory while the latter has been hounded out of office via impeachment with his suitably subservient Deputy taking over the reins of County Management. Nairobi has now been thrust in the capable hands of Maj. Gen. Mohammed Badi commandeering an outfit called the Nairobi Metropolitan Services after incompetence evidenced by a comedy of blunders blamed on among other factors gubernatorial inebriation with not just unbridled political power but also the frothy beverages from Ruaraka, adjunct to his glaring failure to name a substantive Deputy Governor more than half a term after the previous one resigned in a huff had created a leadership vacuum for the County hosting our Commercial and Political Capital. I know apologists abound for both these scalawags and rabble-rousers but their names will go down the annals of eternal infamy and become the totem-pole for the polity to never again choose a leader out of a vendetta to hit back at their predecessor in antipathy to long-standing guidelines on commonsense that leave you to judge a leader on the yardstick of values upheld, ideology espoused and the integrity the newbie will bring to the institution to safeguard its glory and honour. However, old habits die hard.
Covid-19 pandemic alleviation funds have been disbursed and some of it misappropriated but that will be the subject of a future post after investigations have been taken to a logical conclusion. This Covid-19 period has also witnessed musical chairs of sorts in some County Referral Hospitals, that is the reprehensible translocation of beds from Private to Public hospitals with a view to cipher the impression of having sufficient ICU beds and as such giving the illusion of better preparedness of some counties to deal with a projected surge in infection and consequent hospitalizations in its wake. I would talk about the lightning to strike down the errant doing press-ups if I was well versed in its training regimen but I must warn that such callous and repugnant transgressions in the face of an existential quagmire will not be held blameless in the sight of the Almighty. Legal gymnastics are the curse of our Judicial system with injunctions and adjournments dished out willy-nilly but in God’s case there will be no appeal!
You may have realized that in contravention of laid down protocols; I have strategically left out the designation, ‘His / Her Excellency’ when alluding to these mischievous sitting Governors. It is not a misnomer but my sincere expression of disgust.
After that unpalatable summon on corruption in our counties, many will no doubt ask me what recourse is available as pertains to ending corruption in our devolved units. My retort, “What is good for the goose is good for the gander.” What can help resolve the atrocities wrought upon the Republic by Corruption can also work in the microcosm of the nation – the Counties. We have Chapter 6 on Leadership and Integrity in the Current Constitution also getting a new gloss of paint that is Chapter 9 of the Building Bridges Initiative document that has been recommended for our perusal and either future approval or shelving. I invite all who haven’t read the document or wish to refresh themselves on it, you are free to imbibe of the posts I made earlier in the year in this particular Blog.
The Current Speaker of the Senate in a recent TV Interview, defended himself against the accusations of authorizing the procurement of wheelbarrows for an unholy sum of 100,000/- per Unit during his time as Governor of Bungoma, claiming that he was not involved in any way in that purchase. In his blood-curdling remarks, he pointed an accusatory finger at this being the brainchild of the procurement team and Chief Financial Officer. It exposed a serious lacuna in County procurement Laws that such colossal amounts of funds would depart County coffers without a paper trail requiring the Signature of approval from the Chief Executive, The Governor. This loophole needs to be plugged as a matter of urgency.
Be that as it may, devolution has been a blessing to all the regions of our great nation. Nevertheless, our mechanisms to effect oversight and enforce financial probity such as the Senate, County Assemblies, The Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission, Auditor General, Controller of Budget, the Directorate of Criminal Investigation, the Director of Public Prosecution and indeed the Judiciary must endeavour to work in concert with each other to ensure that those plundering funds meant for the empowerment of the masses and engaging in abuse of office are not only held accountable but also speedily prosecuted.