Ideas & Debate

Governors need to face the poverty and graft problem

Kirinyaga Governor Ann Waiguru, also the chairperson of the Fifth Devolution Conference steering committee, speaks at a media briefing on April 12. She is flanked by Murang’a Senator Irungu  Kang’ata (left) and Devolution PS Nelson  Marwa. PHOTO | MARTIN MUKANGU | NMG
Kirinyaga Governor Ann Waiguru, also the chairperson of the Fifth Devolution Conference steering committee, speaks at a media briefing on April 12. She is flanked by Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata (left) and Devolution PS Nelson Marwa. PHOTO | MARTIN MUKANGU | NMG 

That the media should (sic) ensure a balanced and accurate reporting on the state of implementation of devolution”. 

This was one of the 41 resolutions of the Fourth Devolution conference that preceded last year’s General Election.

It was made by the team of inaugural governors, more than half of whom lost their seats in the August 2017 elections. 

As part of the programme for the Fifth Devolution Conference that began  yesterday, Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru, the vice-chair of the Council of Governors and chair of the Steering Committee for this important conference, will issue a status report on these 41 “action points”.

One hopes that this will include steps towards more transparent and accountable relations between “managers of devolution and the media”.

This year’s conference comes at just the right time for Kenya. We’re coming out of a bruising election, especially at presidential level. 

We’re a month and a half into the “handshake”. President Uhuru Kenyatta has offered an ambitious agenda to accelerate Kenya’s transformation; the “Big Four”. 

Less obviously, one gets the feeling we have a group of 47 governors (old and new) who, having learnt and observed from Devolution I, are determined to make Devolution II a success for Kenyans.

“Big Four” drives the conference agenda, in which key issues, positive enablers (say, roads or ICT) and human and financial resources will be discussed in “break-out” sessions. 

These will be interspersed with plenary sessions around inter-governmental relations, good governance and accountability, human resources for devolution and the big one, resourcing (money). 

Unstated? A smart discourse on regional socio-economic blocs or clusters, so that counties might begin to think more seriously about their own comparative and competitive advantages. 

By example, not every county needs a Level 6 hospital, a Special Economic Zone or a Development Bank/SME Fund.

Mr Kenyatta, his deputy, William Ruto, and opposition leader Raila Odinga are all slated to deliver major addresses and participate in plenary.

I don’t watch TV much, but I will pull out the popcorn for coverage that we can all access in support of a new relationship between devolution and the media.

A quick thought.  Hopefully this isn’t another taxpayer-expensive “talk shop” that concludes with lots of night-time dancing and a communiqué infested by-words like “need”, “should”, “must”, “may” or “can”. 

Kenyans will be looking for “trackable and monitorable commitments” from the various players — national government, county governments, other public agencies, private sector and civil society, for the people. 

Or, as the preamble to our Constitution loudly proclaims, “COMMITTED to nurturing and protecting the well-being of the individual, the family, communities and the nation”.

In normal places, words signal intent for action. Kenya cannot be a secret society of public promises and private actions.

So if this devolution conference will move Kenya forward, here are a couple of quick thoughts that might exercise the minds of those in attendance.

First, poverty and corruption. Two national agencies, the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) and the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC), have recently issued survey reports on the state of work and play in Kenya.

The EACC finds that lots of bribery activity happens in health, public works, education and child care, water, lands, general coordination and finance and planning — that is, three of the Big Four.

Then our most recent baseline from KNBS tell us that six counties account for a third of the extreme, or hardcore, poor in Kenya.

That six counties, including Nairobi, account for a quarter of the food poor. That 10 counties, including Nairobi again, account for a third of our income poor. I live in Nairobi; I want better, then more.

Second, who is the true conference audience? People first, of course. County leadership, that is governors, next. Yes, there’ll be senatorial and county assembly, as well as national government presence, but at bottom, this is an important “peer sharing” moment for governors.

Devolution I provided us with a rough taxonomy of governor performance, ranging as we do with the status of our hospitals, from Level 1 to 5.  Level 5? The governor in control of his or her development agenda.

Level 1, the governor not governing. In between, those governors who think they are in control, or those who know that they aren’t.

At the extreme? The Level 0 Governor who is out of control. The Level 6 Governor, who demonstrably comes across as national leadership material.

Thinking about the conference outcome — a closing communiqué of clear commitments, rather than pleadings, needs or wants — one hopes we will hear about the Level 5/6 leadership solutions we need to fix the “poverty-(jobs)-corruption” questions that Kenya faces.

My popcorn is now cooked and ready.