Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Draft Constitution: How devolution works

The draft constitution will easily sail through the referendum.

To project the results of a Kenyan election, you do not need an opinion poll; all it takes, unfortunately, is some simple ethnic arithmetic.

Because the large mass of the Luo, Luhya, Kamba and Mt Kenya communities have not come out to oppose the draft – and they comfortably make up more than 50 per cent of the voting public – the proposed constitution is as good as the law, whatever your pastor may have told you in church last Sunday.

With that settled, it is perhaps a good thing to examine what Kenya will look like the day after the 'Yes' campaign triumphs.

One of the most fundamental shifts in the new constitutional order will be the introduction of a structured form of devolution. There will be 47 counties that will receive a substantial amount of funding from the central government. The new units will get a minimum of 15% of the national revenue, meaning each county will benefit from anything from Sh1.5 billion to about Sh3 billion per year.

This will doubtless improve the way Kenyans are governed. Citizens will no longer be required to make journeys of up to 700 kilometres to access simple government services, as one now has to do in vast provinces like Rift Valley. In addition to bringing services closer to the people, devolution will be a major step forward in the effort to deal with the sense of ethnic exclusion that fans conflict at every election.

Voters will elect a county governor who will appoint a county executive committee. The committee will essentially be the executive arm of the county and will be in charge of implementing policies passed by the elected county assembly.

Despite all these benefits, there is another side to devolution. It can make people more inward looking, more provincial and less open to embracing the idea of multiculturalism. Appointments to key county posts are almost certainly likely to go to members of the ethnic community dominant in the particular county. This has been the experience in Uganda, which has an advanced form of devolution. In one case, a district in Northern Uganda needed to employ a district medical superintendent. It turned out that there was no qualified medical doctor from the district. But district officials found a veterinary doctor, whom they promptly appointed. Another district, Mbarara, in Western Uganda, needed to appoint a disabled person to a district service commission. They could not immediately find one so they appointed a guy who wears spectacles, arguing that he was sufficiently disabled.

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