For years, development in Kenya was evident if you could see a tarmac road in your village or closest center, schools, electricity and most important was a health facility nearby.
For politicians, political rallies and promises to realize development were punctuated with the phrase “Tungoje kwanza Nairobi walete pesa.”
As our democracy evolved, citizens demanded development at grass-root level, determined by the people where it reflected their needs and reduced the red tape of being processed by the central government.
These concerns were heard, and Kenyans forged consensus on a way forward: devolution.
Devolution has seen Kenya’s health sector evolve and now Kenyan’s in the counties do not have to go for long distances seeking for health services. The devolved system which kicked off in 2013, with an aim of decentralizing power and increasing access to services across the country, has seen the opening of marginalized areas of our country, improved health, infrastructure and education in counties.
The positive impact of devolution is seen in one woman in Lamu county who in 2018 developed obstructed labor, a life-threatening complication that could kill the unborn child. Initially, such a complication could be treated only at the Coast General Hospital, i.e. 240 kilometres away. The other option would have been the Lamu County Hospital. But getting there would have meant a long boat ride on the Indian Ocean, and there was no guarantee that the hospital would have the necessary equipment, or staff, to handle her case.
Thanks to devolution, she became the first-time mother to undergo a caesarean operation at the nearby Faza Hospital, the first time the procedure was conducted in the county since independence, more than 50 years ago.
The hospital, which is in Lamu East, had for decades, only offered basic medical services and treated mild ailments, a situation the county government says it has greatly improved through funds brought by the devolution of health services.
Previously, critically ill patients had to be referred to Lamu County Hospital on Lamu island, miles away across the Indian Ocean. Infant mortality and stillbirths were high, since families that could not afford the five-hour speedboat ride were left to their own devices.
Kenya’s health sector is harvesting the fruits of devolution, which has significantly improved distance decay.
Kenyans from far flung areas do not have to travel to major centers to seek medical treatment. Devolution was birthed from the distance decay concept, which had power and services centralized. Devolution has boosted marginalized areas, which are beginning to maximize their potential. Significant growth has been noted since its inception in 2013, which has seen great improvements in; health, infrastructure and education sectors in the various Counties.
Notably, there have been greater developments brought about by devolution in infrastructure, education and health. Marginalized counties have now been able to open to the outside counties and are now able to enjoy the fruits of devolution. In counties like Isiolo and Mandera, through the devolved systems, they have been able to create airports that have made it easier for the movement of goods and people. Mandera County recently launched its first tarmacked road since independence thanks to devolution! Improved roads have enhanced and eased the transportation of farm products from to marketplaces.
The devolved system has proved to be productive, effective and efficient in-service delivery.
The distribution of resources has improved, and citizens have become more educated, informed about their rights and entitlement.
Even with the several positive impacts of devolution in Kenya, several problems inhibit its implementation fully among them experiencing a rough transition process, human resource gaps, lack of resources and capacity for efficient service delivery and revenue allocation among others.
Kenyans are currently enjoying the opportunities and benefits that have arisen from devolution and are keen to retain the status quo and have certain aspects improved. Financial misappropriation has become a serious epidemic with the Ksh.1 Million wheelbarrows, Ksh.9 Million hospital main gate and other becoming the face of financial misappropriation brought about by devolution. BBI has offered significant recommendations that will curb financial misappropriation that is threatening the fruits of devolution. With the BBI, Counties will have to budget more development money to respond to specific needs in the wards rather than granting a lump sum to counties or constituencies.