You have heard of the numerous Senators and Members of the National Assembly intent on becoming Governors. As Kenya prepares for next year’s poll, I do not know of any Governor who would like to become a Senator. Nor have I heard of one who wants to go to the National Assembly. The story has been told, however, of one Senator who would like to become a Member of the County Assembly next year.
It all speaks to the clout at the County. Conversely, it is the tale of the massive transformational potential in Devolution. The regular County story is about strife, power struggle and theft. We hear about wasteful and unnecessary “benchmarking” outings and fistfights. This is part of the gravy train and malaise narrative.
MCAs are known to blackmail Governors with impeachment. Governors must accordingly feed MCAs’ greedy appetites for free things. The saga of impeachment attempts in Makueni, Embu and Murang’a Counties remains fresh. Nairobi, Kwale, Nyeri, Kisumu, Nandi, Kericho, Bomet, Nyandarua, Bungoma, Meru and Kiambu also flare up every so often. And there are numerous other cases. We cannot rule out malice on the part of those either looking for quick cash from the county kitty, or those wishing to replace the Governor.
Gravitating towards the elections, there will be need to bear these realities in mind. Ugly scenes of the kind we have recently witnessed in County Assemblies in Nairobi and Kisumu are likely to be on the rise as election fever overtakes self-control. The county kitty is the target of all manner of marauders. Within this marauding, the truth is lost. It is difficult to tell which Governor could be stealing from the public and which one is the target of sheer malice.
The Senate has been an ambivalent player in this drama. To its credit, it has saved the careers of a number of Governors from the claws of greedy self-seekers in County Assemblies. Governor Martin Wambora of Embu was, however, twice impeached. The Courts saved his skin as many times. And we have lately witnessed unpleasant public engagement between Runyenjes MP, Cecily Mbarire and Embu Senator, Lenny Ivuti. The two were previously political allies, joined at the hip against Governor Wambora. They have now turned the guns at one another, prompted by the tantalizing smell of the Governor’s seat.
Here in Kakamega where I am writing from, there are endless wars between Governor Wycliffe Oparanya and Senator Bonny Khalwale. The Governor is the Senator’s regular punching bag. The Senator’s favourite theatre is the free funeral. This is an all-expenses-paid forum. I have witnessed some of this drama. The smiling Senator gambols in self-importantly. He disrupts the funeral service because he has “other important things to attend to.” Of course nobody else in this sad assembly has “other important things to attend to.”
The restless politician perfunctorily utters two sentences of condolence to the bereaved family. It is pure Orwellian duck-speak. The words come from the throat. He then sinks into what has brought him. He now speaks from the heart. It is an orgy of unsubstantiated vitriol against the Governor. Soon there is mike snatching, fisticuffs and an ugly free for all. His hooligans chaperon him to safety. In all this, the truth is lost. Whether there is merit to what he was saying or not, we will never know. In any event, the choice of occasion and manner of execution were both manifestly wrong.
Expect more drama at County level, both between hardcore adversaries and hitherto political friends. They are bound to go for one another in unprecedented fashion, now that we are on the home stretch. Expect even people believed to be thieves to fight to become Governors. The attraction for the one thought to be a thief is possibly the opportunity to steal. The counties have received an annual budget allocation of between 20 and 22 percent of the national revenue, since the coming of devolution. This would attract any high level thief who knows how to abuse power and skilled in cooking the books.
The wars, drama and ugly competition should however not mask the great transformation that is taking place across the country, courtesy of Devolution. Various independent authorities at the heart of Devolution need to give us authentic audits. Back here in Kakamega, it is easy to see the difference even at a basic cognitive level. There are roads, roads and more roads everywhere. Places that were previously impregnable are now easily accessible, courtesy of the County government’s focus on roads. Small towns like Mumias, Butere and others now boast of tarmac streets! We have even seen the occasional streetlight along village roads in our little Emanyulia. And we see massive improvement in healthcare and in educational facilities. Regardless of the Oparanya and Khalwale wars, Devolution is working here in Kakamega.
The story is the same across most the country. Perhaps the last word should come from the Revenue Allocation Authority. Are they happy with the State of Devolution? Are they happy about where their money has gone? I have had occasion to listen to CRA Chair, Micah Cheserem on this subject. Even as CRA Commissioners prepare to exit in December – without anyone going in the streets – they are satisfied that Devolution is transforming communities across the country. This is despite the challenges.
Moving forward, citizens must be careful whom they elect Governor. They should know that there are people whose sole attraction to this office is money and power, both of which they intend to abuse. We need to especially beware of those associated with financial scandals in other places and now crave to be our Governors. We must also audit the Senators and tell apart the good leaders among them from those salivating for the county kitty.