Human Interest


By @kresearcher and Don Pablo

The devolution of governance brought about by the Constitution of Kenya (2010) has witnessed a dramatic first year of implementation. The process has seen a significant shift in the system of government bringing with it new players and new service delivery units that are closer to the people. It has also witnessed turf wars as players adjust to the new rules of engagement.

A year down the line, some assessment is necessary to draw lessons as we move forward. Devolution as we have it was designed to address the excesses of a centralized government through dispersing of power. It envisages greater representation and inclusion in decision-making, equity in resource allocation and utilization and improved service delivery to all parts of the country. Devolution also seeks to have greater accountability and transparency in government.

If well implemented, devolution can ensure each county determines its development agenda and reduce the zero-sum political competition at the national level. It has the potential to solve the social, political and economic problems that have held back this country from fulfilling her immense potential.

Despite the promise it brings, devolution faces various challenges and threats that need to be addressed if the process is to deliver and survive for the long haul. The actions and utterances of key institutions and players threaten the process and have to be checked. There have already been calls by a minority to do away with the process due to the actions of a few. This piece will highlight some of the threats devolution faces as well as the opportunities it presents.

The chance to have government that is close to the people and responds to their needs is something that many Kenyans have been waiting to have since independence. We are witnessing this where County Governments have the mandate and budgets to deliver services relevant to the local population. For instance, Mandera is one of the Counties in Kenya that has perennial problems when it comes to food security. The County recently announced that it had revived 3 irrigation schemes along River Daua and had put in Ksh. 900 million into more irrigation projects to arrest the food problems in the county.This is in addition to the Ksh410 million already allocated to agriculture in the county budget.

Kenyans are now having service delivery units that they can access as opposed to pleading with a Government that is in distant Nairobi. Machakos County has been in the news for all the good reasons since the County government came into place. The investment in rain water harvesting tanks in all 695 primary schools in the county is a welcome move in water provision in the semi-arid county.

Other examples include Counties employing a large numbers of ECD teachers to improve access to Early Childhood Education as well as the purchase of motor bikes for Muranga County Agricultural Extension Officers to ease their movement across the hilly terrain in the County. The important aspect here is government that is close enough to understand the unique needs of people and adequately respond to them.

Access to information is important if the principle of transparency and public participation in government is to be realized. Many counties are making some notable efforts in having running websites which are well updated with timely information. Makueni leads on this front with a website which has everything from a citizen’s budget, to the county plans, GIS data maps and other good pieces of information. Other counties such as Nyandarua , TaitaTaveta and Kisii also have some modestly populated website with quality information for the public.While counties have a long way to go, these steps to open up and increase access to information need to be appreciated as it could lead to a culture of transparency across all levels of government in time.

Use of funds at the County level has also seen adherence to law and accountability that is not as evident at the national level. County Governments adhered to the law when they responded to the Controller of Budgets’ (CoB) recommendations that they revise their budgets before accessing funds. The need to comply with the law explains why more than half the counties did not spend a single dime on development in the first quarter as per the CoB’s report. This was reported out of context by the media with Governors accused of not prioritizing development (more on the media later). The report released by the Auditor General and the subsequent calls for Governors to account for the money spent is also a positive step towards accountable governance.

Despite these positives, devolution has had to face a lot of criticism. The following institutions in one way or another are threatening this process at a crucial stage where it needs nurturing and support from all quarters:

1. Governors: Of all the offices created by the new constitution, Governors arguably play the most important role in ensuring the success of devolution. They have big budgets for service delivery relative to the defunct local government and hold the hopes of millions. Being the inaugural Governors, they have a dual role to play. Not only are they entrusted to respond to the needs of the citizens but they hold the key to how the country will perceive devolution and whether it will survive beyond its initial years. So far, Governors have wasted no chance in shooting themselves in the foot. They greedily agreed to have all functions devolved at once as ordered by the President without considering their capacity to deliver. They’ve also tussled over the right to fly flags – a cheap, unnecessary attempt at exercising power – allegedly engaged in financial impropriety, engaged in petty sideshows and alienated the public with increase in taxes that lacked meaningful public participation. Governors need to take a step back and re-asses their approach to the whole devolution process. Missteps during the first year can be excused but people won’t be patient for long. Vultures are already smelling blood and circling the Governors waiting to feast.

2. Senators: The Senate is facing a serious crisis. It was created to protect devolution but wasn’t given much to do in that regard. What we’ve ended up with is a Senate with experienced politicians who have nothing much to do. As is natural, the Senate has eyed roles performed by other institutions in an attempt to establish relevance in the game. After a war of attrition that bore no fruits with the stubborn National Assembly, the Senate has turned its guns towards the Governors. The attempt to create a County Development Board chaired by the Senator is the Senate’s way of getting a say in development projects at the County. As has been argued before, the Senate cannot be in charge of development projects at the County level and expected to offer oversight on itself. The legality of a legislature implementing projects it is expected to offer oversight on is already being challenged in court with the on goingcase against the CDF fund. Ominously, the Controller of Budget applied the same argument when she indicated that she won’t disburse ward development funds to MCA’s as this contradicts the doctrine of separation of powers. Senate needs to re-think this self-defeatist approach that sees pillars of devolution engaged in attrition that weakens the process as a whole. They need to find a better way to establish their relevance.

3. National Assembly: The National Assembly has been the institution most affected by the new order. Having been the main custodian of development and go-to people for all problems their constituents may have had, Members of the National Assembly have not taken kindly to having an alternative source of leadership for the people. They have thus set about to ‘tame Governors’ with all sorts of antics. Most serious of this is the attempt to have the Equalization Fund managed by MP’s. As is the case with CDF, legislators ought to stick to their three functions of legislation, representation and oversight. Implementation of projects is a reserve of the Executive as per the dictum of separation of powers. The National Assembly Members need to perform their roles and wait for the next electoral cycle if they want powers mandated to other Constitutional offices.

4. The Transitional Authority: The Transition Authority is a body created to midwife the process of devolving governance. With such a crucial mandate and the way it has gone about doing its work, the T.A is arguably the institution that has failed devolution most. T.A was to carry out several key activities for a coordinated transition. First, it was to unbundle the functions assigned to each level of government under Schedule Four of Kenya’s constitution. Secondly, T.A was to come up with the cost of delivering the different functions at each level of Government. This would assist in determining how much revenue is devolved and what remains at the national level. The Transitional Authority was also expected to gradually allocate functions to the counties based on their capacity to take up the functions they ask/apply for. Other crucial functions included facilitation in development of County budgets during the first year of devolution and carrying out an audit of existing human resource of the Government and local authorities to advise the deployment of staff at either level of government. Many of these activities have not gone according to plan which explains why there is still a lot of confusion surrounding the devolution process. The transfer of functions was done haphazardly with little attention paid to capacity of counties to perform the functions allocated. The President’s directive to have every function devolved at once didn’t help matters. County Governments were also left to their own devices in coming up with budgets which explains the confusion and reluctance by the CoB in releasing funds to Counties whose budgets didn’t comply with the set legal framework. Delayed release of funds resulted in Counties not spending much on development during the first quarter. On the staff audit, the T.A last month released the ‘Counties Human Resource Report‘, a whole year after devolution started. Only T.A knows how this will be of help when Counties have already hired without much consideration of staff redeployment from the national level. There’s been talk of the Authority deliberately being starved off cash to carry out its mandate and Governors have been openly calling for its dissolution. In general, most of the confusion surrounding devolution is as a result of failure by the Authority to carry out its function, deliberately or otherwise.

5. Media: The media plays a crucial role in informing the people and influencing their decisions. It is a critical component of society that has the potential to build or destroy the society. The media in Kenya have failed in many aspects as highlighted here and they continue to do so where devolution is concerned. The numerous errors and erroneous interpretation of devolution issues by the media goes a long way in threatening devolution by creating mis-informed masses. Majority of Kenyans will learn about devolution from the media and the journalists need to work harder to first understand devolution and then cover it effectively and objectively. So far, the media has thrived on sensationalism portraying the whole devolution process as a tug of war between the national and county governments on one hand and Constitutional office holders on the other. There’s been limited attempt to educate the citizenry on this paradigm shift in governance and what it means for the country. Nor has there been any serious attempt to highlight how devolution is changing the lives of people across the country; people who’ve never known government for 50 years. Instead, we have feature after feature on who is fighting who, who is stealing what (transparency notwithstanding) and hysterical stories of Counties appointing ‘Ambassadors’ and what not. It is telling that one year down the line, no media has an in-house devolution expert or journalists dedicated to covering devolution stories despite this being the most significant political change in the country since independence. If they are not careful, the media will play a role in poisoning the minds of citizens and creating cynicism towards devolution. This will pave the way to do away with the process should a referendum on the same come up.

6. The Citizen: As stated earlier, devolution anticipates greater representation and inclusion in decision-making. Citizens have an important role to play in the system. This includes participation in legislation as well as in development of County Development Plans. Participation ensures the response of the government is relevant to your particular needs. Without meaningful public participation, there’s bound to be a disparity between the needs of the people and solutions provided, hence resistance. A case in point is the Finance Acts passed in many counties that saw protests by citizens. While the County Governments have failed in providing for meaningful public participation, the citizens can’t escape blame as public participation fora have frequently seen poor attendance especially in urban areas. The citizens have an important role to play in the new system and they have to be active in governance and holding the government to account. It is futile to call for government to be brought closer to the people then ignore the process of governance once it has been devolved.

The devolution process is still in its nascent stages and needs to be handled carefully and judged further down the line. The upcoming Devolution Conference in April will provide a forum where all relevant stakeholders will sit down and take stock of the process while ironing out whatever differences they have. When all is said and done, devolution holds great promise for this country and requires the input of all in society if is to be implemented successfully.

Categories: Civics, Guest Posts, Human Interest | Tags: , , | 7 Comments

Year 6000

By Tayiana Chao

For a long time, in my mind I had toyed with the idea of a parallel universe, a notion that was often times fuelled by numerous science-fiction films, comic books and novels. I found it a tad bit comforting to think of an alternate world. A world that offered more remedies than it did maladies. A world devoid of psychological limitations and creative boundaries. Where people would have the ability to not just imagine but to create, to not just dream but initiate.

But the human mind happens to be a ceaseless wanderer and consequently one that will never find rest.  Bringing me to the conclusion that, if there does exist a perfect world, then it’s highly likely that someone in that perfect world is thinking of an even more perfect world.  A conclusion that would have brought this article to a rather untimely end, had the internet not been invented.

A couple of years back; the world as we know it today would have seemed like nothing but a baseless fantasy. It was almost comically inconceivable to think of a world where distance was not a problem and geographical boundaries were nonexistent. A world where messages would be sent from wherever to whoever in a matter of seconds. Where information was really at your fingertips because your fingertips would always be at the top of your phone. Where people were free to be themselves and most times free not to be themselves. A world where you could make thousands of friends and never meet them. A world so free, it would boast of infinite possibilities.

Possibilities of all kinds; some sensible, some exceptional, some ordinary others completely unheard of. Possibilities that make up today. Where we have people leading revolutions from behind their computer screens. Others running million dollar companies from the comfort of their homes. Countries spying on each other and fighting cyber wars much to the dismay of the rest of the world. Memories being shared in seconds and secrets spreading in an even faster time.  News forums and blogs bustling with life and everyone itching to comment, compliment and criticize anything they can find.

They say that with great power comes great responsibility and sometimes it feels like we’re still getting used to the idea of a virtual world and the liberty that comes with it. A liberty that is occasionally misused or used with malicious intent. Where one person can build, another can easily destroy.  Where there is an avenue to speak truth there’s an equal opportunity to deceive.  

But I guess that’s the most interesting thing about humanity’s advancements, they take so long to happen and such a short time to catch on. One day you wake up and the next thing you know they’re flying cars and spaceships everywhere, holograms popping out of every possible gadget you can think of. And all the advertisements are telling you, that you need to buy new “thingamajigs” because the ones you have are outdated. 

Now you’re probably wondering why on earth this article is titled Year 6000, I should have at least made an effort to call it something smart like, “The internet and the pacifying of human grandeur”  or “ The conceptualization of time and …something something something ” but quite simply, it has everything to do with the year 6000. Because unlike trying to envision an alternate world and wondering whether it actually does exist, I’m pretty sure the year 6000 will someday reach, I just won’t be there to see it. But that doesn’t mean I can’t think about it.

In the year 6000, the inhabitants of planet earth will not study the ways of the Greeks and Romans. They will not tell tales of Greek gods or stories of ancient Roman wars .They will not sample Egyptian hieroglyph texts or quote Latin sayings. They will not marvel at renaissance art or gaze at baroque architecture. They will not have to dig up fossils and examine skulls in order to determine our brain capacity.  They simply will have the entire history of our civilization conveniently located at a central place, a virtual one.

Because for as long as the internet exists and as long as we go around leaving traces of who we were, who we are and who we aspire to be, we will in more ways than we think remain immortal. I wonder what they will see in us, as they study our thoughts our tweets, emails, comments, photos, music the list is endless. Will they laugh at our folly or marvel at our genius. Will they think we were a brave civilization that carefully wielded its digital power, or a careless one that did not exploit its potential to the fullest?

And if you look at the internet as a museum of sorts, a magnificent palace lined with endless corridors of beautiful memories and thoughts, then you would realize that every tweet, every status, every email, every comment you ever made will outlive you. And these very comments will speak for us even after we are gone and be a testimony to who we were, who we are and who we eventually became.  But for now, we go on living our lives as usual; unaware of the vital role we play as collectors, curators and custodians of a museum, in the year 6000.

Tayiana Chao blogs about Art and History at

Categories: Guest Posts, Human Interest | Tags: , , , , , | 8 Comments

Drug Control in the Era of Devolution

By Mohamed Boru

Kenya’s shift to a devolved system of government has seen a re-distribution of functions that the government is supposed to perform. Where such functions were once a preserve of the national government in Nairobi, the new dispensation has brought about devolution of functions between the national and county governments depending on who is best placed to perform them. One such function that has been devolved is the control of drugs. (Schedule 4 of the constitution gives a breakdown of the functions to be performed by the two levels of government).

Devolution of such a function gives the County Assembly the mandate to pass laws that give effect to this function. This means that each of the 47 County Assemblies can come up with drug control legislation unique to their County despite existence of national laws that were enacted for the same function.

The Constitution of Kenya (2010) provides that in instances where a function is divided between the two levels of government, national legislation takes precedence over county legislation in case of conflict between the two sets of laws. But where a function is the preserve of the county government (such as control of drugs), county laws will supersede existing national legislation that governed such functions. Such a drastic shift is bound to have interesting consequences in attempts to control drug use in the country.

If for instance a county feels that a certain drug or substance is of detriment to the residents of the county, it can pass laws that will control the distribution and use of such a substance or drug. This was the case when Garissa County announced plans to regulate the sale and use of miraa within the county despite no such restrictions on the substance under national laws.

It gets more interesting where a particular substance is popular with residents of the county but has been banned for one reason or another under existing national legislation. In such a circumstance, the county in question can pass legislation that will allow for use of such substances regardless of the illegal status conferred to the substance by national legislation.

In counties where drug abuse has become a menace, the county can enact laws that explore alternative models of drug control to the existing model of criminalizing drug use that has done little to control drug use. Mombasa County – a haven of drug abuse – can decide to explore models that have proved successful in controlling drug abuse and its negative effects in other jurisdictions. Portugal’s model would be a good precedent where the country addresses drug abuse as a public health problem as opposed to a criminal-justice one. Here, drug users are subjected to a hearing and instead of being sent to jail, they are sent to a rehabilitation center. Such a restitutive approach aims to return the ‘offender’ to their original state in contrast to the retributive approach that seeks to punish the user. This model has proved quite successful with the number of drug addicts in Portugal reduced by half as well as reduction in spread of STD’s and death by drug overdose.

What we are likely to have in future is a scenario such as what is currently being witnessed in the USA where residents of the states of Colorado and Washington recently passed ballot initiatives that made it legal to cultivate, sell and consume a limited amount of cannabis for those aged above 21. The two states stand out for defying federal (national) laws that criminalize pot use and hands out stiff punishments to ‘offenders’. The federal government while initially opposed to these provisions has shown a shift with US Attorney General Eric Holder indicating that the federal government won’t be pursuing pot users in these two states.

The legalization of previously banned substances is also bound to have other implications such as revenue generation for the particular counties as the substances would now be taxed. Such a paradigm shift might also spawn the emergence of ‘drug tourism’ where residents of different counties travel to a particular county to partake in substances that would otherwise have them arrested in their home counties. Netherlands has been doing this for decades with Amsterdam famed for its liberal stance on drug use.

Moving forward, it will be interesting to see how the overzealous Chairman of the drug control authority NACADA deals with the devolution of drug control what with Counties likely to challenge his high-handed attempts at controlling drug use in the country.

Categories: Human Interest | Tags: , , , , | 15 Comments

How Construction of the Mombasa-Malaba Railway will Transform Kenya

By Don Pablo

On Thursday this week, Kenya will recreate the steps that led to the formation of the country by commissioning the construction of the railway to Uganda. That it has taken us more than a century to add to what the British built in the 19th century is a shameful story for another day.  Now is the time to rejoice at a crucial and long overdue move by the state.

The commissioning that will take place in Mombasa will be a walk down memory lane as attempts to open up East Africa’s hinterland are given a big push by the authorities in the region. The railway once complete will run from Mombasa to Malaba, into Uganda and beyond to Rwanda. South Sudan is said to be eager to have the railroad extended to Juba as well.

Construction of the railway has been a necessity for a country that relies heavily on road transport to haul bulky goods. Shockingly, Kenya uses trucks to transport up to 95 % of goods from the port in Mombasa. This reliance on an inefficient form of transportation has seen Kenyans pay heavily for our lack of options with the cost of transport and logistics accounting for 45% of the cost of goods in Kenya. The situation is bad enough without our neighbours relying on the same creaking infrastructure to transport their goods.

The advantages of rail over road are quite significant. This goes to explain the zeal shown by the President in having the rail infrastructure in place ASAP. For instance, one train carries approximately 216 TEUs (Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units); those big containers carried by trucks along our highways. It would take 108 trucks carrying 2 TEUs each to move the same number of ‘containers’. The heavy use of road transport explains why up to 60 trucks leave Mombasa for the interior of the country every hour!


The train carries in one trip what would take 108 trucks to transport (c/o Tom Shermer)

This comparison of tonnage transported doesn’t even take into consideration the speed factor where the trains would move goods and passengers almost four times faster than the trucks. Incidentally, you’d be shocked to learn that Kenya is considered ‘landlocked’ due to the period it takes to move freight inland. It takes up to 7 days for a truck to move from Mombasa to Kisumu, a journey that the train would cover in a maximum of 17 hours.

The trucks that dot our highways are dangerous for road users and have been known to brazenly defy traffic rules. The crazy number of deaths on our roads can be partly attributed to their dangerous antics such as ‘freewheeling’ when driving downhill, driving in the middle of the road, and lack of tail lights. The trucks are also heavy and cause damage to the roads. The section between Uthiru and Limuru is a good example of the roads ‘sinking’ under the weight of the heavy machines. In terms of pollution, it’s quite obvious that 108 trucks would cause much more pollution than a single train.

The difference between these two forms of transportation in terms of cost efficiency, pollution and could not be any clearer.

Simply using a train to move goods would reduce the cost of transport by up to 60% according to government statistics. This would have a significant effect on the overall cost of living in the country and boost our economy. Crucially, Kenya will also reduce her import bill since we’ll require less fuel for transportation. Easy and cheaper means of transportation might also lead to industrialization along the rail corridor as industrialists take advantage of the infrastructure.

The benefits of the railway will also include appreciation of property value along the corridor. Sultan Hamud is particularly tipped to grow into a big town being a future railway depot. This would help in decongestion of major cities as satellite towns develop along the railway corridor.

The railway will be built in two phases with the first phase between Mombasa and Nairobi being completed in 2016. The construction phase will also come with benefits. At least 60 jobs will be created for every kilometre of track laid, a total of 30,000 jobs during the Mombasa-Nairobi phase.

The Sino-African workers won’t face as severe a threat from wildlife at Tsavo as their Anglo-Indian counterparts though, largely due to decimation of animals through poaching. Nor would they have to deal with locals attacking and stealing rail materials from them. The danger they will face will come in the form of competition as Tanzania tries to steal the shine from us.

As was the case in the early 20th century, the railway will transform life in Kenya and beyond. With the lines clearly drawn in the battle to be East Africa’s preferred transport route, it is good to see that our country is alert to the danger and willing to out-do our southern neighbor. It’s also encouraging to see the country seek alternatives to the 21st century lunatic express, the chaotic Mombasa-Kisumu highway. Sit back and watch the future of East Africa take shape.

(Statistics courtesy of Kenya Railways)

Categories: Human Interest, Travel | Tags: , , , , | 7 Comments

De-link us please

Some things get you so worked up you feel like pulling off your hair. That you can’t do anything to rectify such a problem only adds to your frustration. With no other resort, a pen and paper offers you a futile if cathartic avenue of addressing the problem. Here’s to hoping that with a wider audience, maybe the issue might be picked up by relevant authorities or bring together a critical mass to a common cause which might offer a solution. Or maybe the constitution, that panacea of seemingly all our problems, might just provide a way out of this nightmare.

The problem I’m alluding to is the unnecessary traffic in South C and Nairobi West caused by the diversion of traffic from an international highway into a residential area. Link road, a ‘road’ barely 20m in length is causing untold suffering to residents of the aforementioned estates by causing perpetual traffic throughout the day. This is the road that joins South C with Mombasa road just before the flyover. (See map attached)

Link Road Traffic.

The road marked in red shows the route used by traffic diverted from Mombasa road while the ‘blue’ roads shows the resultant tailback in South C.

While appreciating that planners of Nairobi had the best intentions in providing a gateway to Mombasa road from South C, the short sightedness in having such an inlet is truly baffling. The problem starts whenever there is a tailback of traffic on Mombasa road which is almost always the case. To escape this traffic, impatient drivers end up driving through South C and Nairobi West, rejoining the Highway at the Bunyala road roundabout via Aerodrome road. The result of this is endless traffic within the estate at whatever time of day.

The situation is so dire that some residents find traffic right outside their gates, forcing them to wait up to 15 minutes just to reverse their cars out of the driveway. The same impatient drivers will not give way and are willing to overlap or do anything that will hasten their journey. You therefore end up having personal and company cars, route 33 & 110 matatus, Rwaken & Karuri minibuses, trailers, oil tankers and every other sort of vehicle in the estate, polluting the air and congesting the estate. To avoid all this, you have to leave the house by 6am or be prepared to take half an hour just to get out of South C.

Temporary respite came recently in the form of road rehabilitation of the Link road meaning the road had to be closed to all traffic. The resultant transformation of the traffic situation in South C and Nairobi West, temporary as it may be was remarkable to say the least. This turn of events offered a glimpse of how much easier life would be for the residents of these estates if this nightmare of a road had not been in existence. The seamless entry and exit into your home was reminiscent of the situation in South B, a neighborhood adjacent to the highway on the opposite side but whose traffic situation couldn’t be any more different. South B is lucky enough not to have a direct inlet from the traffic headed to the city center from Mombasa road avoiding such unnecessary traffic.

I find no justification in having this road as it does little to ease the traffic on Mombasa road but seeing as a whole road cannot be closed, something of a middle ground must be reached to alleviate this suffering. The constitution establishes county assemblies where such local issues can be addressed and solutions provided. After the election, whoever is elected as the South C ward representative and his/her Nairobi West counterpart should make it their number one priority to address this problem. A proposed solution would be the conversion of the Link road into a one way outlet that joins South C to Mombasa road. This will maintain the relevance of the road while restricting the traffic diversion into the estate. As for accessing South C from Mombasa road, I am certain a majority of South C residents will happily use the Bellevue entrance if it meant no endless traffic jam in the estate.

Once this is done, the county reps can then focus on our other major problem of drainage and security. The establishment of factories within the estate such as Supa Loaf should also be looked into but I’ll rant about that in a separate blog post. Until then, we will have to contend with leaving the house while it’s still dark or get stuck in traffic  within the estate with ‘me first’ drivers who will happily run you off the road if it means getting to their destination ‘on time’.

Categories: Civics, Human Interest, Rants | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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