The Star (Nairobi)

Kenya: Are These Teething Problems or Devolution Gone Haywire?

analysis

Traders, hawkers and bodaboda operators have taken to the streets of Mombasa, Kakamega, Meru, Nairobi, Machakos, Thika, Nakuru and elsewhere to demonstrate against high taxes by their county governments.

These high taxes make one ask whether devolution was intended to benefit ordinary people or enrich a new elite of county leaders? And is it possible to implement devolution with taxes people cannot afford?

If taxes are approved by county assemblies, must they be charged and paid whether people can afford them or not? Is there no room for change in passed financial bills? If there is no room for change, for whom are these taxes being collected?

During the referendum debate, people and especially big communities like the Kikuyu, Luo and Kalenjin argued for devolution because they needed counties to house their ethnic kingdoms and governors as their ethnic kings. In other words, big communities wanted majimbos, not non-ethnic or inter-ethnic counties.

The Bible says, when Samuel grew old, Israeli elders went to him and asked for a king telling him, "Now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations. Samuel advised against rule by a king: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses... he will take your daughters to be his perfumers, cooks and bakes. He will take the best of your fields, vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants."

They did not listen and demanded a king until Samuel anointed Saul king for them. Like Israelis, many Kenyan communities wanted devolution because it would give them ethnic kings if their son or daughter did not win elections to be king of the country.

In clamouring for kings, Kenyans forgot governors, like King Saul would tax their businesses, animals, chickens, churches, land, houses, funerals and whatever they sell heavily to give themselves fat salaries, castles, huge and many vehicles to drive him around.

Do people know who devolution is for? Unlike in some other countries, devolution in Kenya was not conceived to develop the country or bring resources and governance closer to the people as many leaders claim.

Conceived to remedy domination of some ethnic elites by others and molded in the heat of ethnic post-election violence, devolution was formulated by ethnic elites and Kofi Annan's team to absorb ethnic elites whom national government could not accommodate after elections.

Devolution would give elite fish that could not be accommodated in the bigger national pond, smaller ponds to rule and ravage. This is why, instead of devolving governance and national resources, all we see devolved is corruption, greed, oppression and merciless taxes.

Like in Nigeria, our counties are not for developing masses but elites. Observing demonstrations, it looks like devolution has turned against people, but it was never meant for them.

To understand ownership of devolution by ethnic elites, remember it is driven by negative ethnicity, their collective ideology of choice, however denied. Consequently, there are very few multi-ethnic counties where Kenyans of different ethnicities can share residence and work.

Though devolution was meant to expand space and opportunities for all Kenyans, today a Luo cannot get professional or political employment in Nyeri county and vice versa, and nor can a Kikuyu professional from Murang'a county be employed to work in Kiambu county and vice versa.

Yet one dare not criticise what seems like the obvious purpose of devolution - killing Kenya. When one fights to give same colours of the nation to the counties or build Kenya as Noah's ark that will accommodate all counties as children of the same mother, one is viewed as an enemy or traitor of communities that view counties as their exclusive abodes.

To co-exist as Kenyans, all counties must cede sovereignty to Kenya. No Kenyan should be a foreigner in his own country and Kenya cannot be a nation of 47 sovereignties.

Per se, high taxes are not oppressive if people can afford them. Nor are they anti-development if the growth they engender is shared by all through equitable distribution of public services like social support, free education, free medical care or subsidised public transport.

In Scandinavian countries where people enjoy highest human development, taxes are very high but they are never stolen or given interest free to bureaucrats, political leaders, real estate developers or bankers.

But have our governors and MCAs the ability to develop counties with the high taxes as Scandinavians do? No, they don't. They are hyenas on the rampage completely unconcerned about people or development.

Is what we are seeing teething problems of nascent counties or rogue devolution gone haywire? Emasculated chapter six of the constitution did not give us MPs, Senators, governors or MCAs that can develop counties with devolution.

Fortunately, many people now admit that every clause of the constitution was not thought out well, read and understood before passage of the constitution and would frame devolution differently if there was another referendum.

But ethnic mindset of current voters can only vote for change if it is sanctioned by ethnic kings to whom voters are enslaved and who have themselves no incentive to enhance reform.

Emancipation from negative ethnicity and intellectual poverty must precede any reformulation of devolution that has turned against people and weaknesses in the constitution to ensure delivery of desired services and development from both national and county governments.

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