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Development Projects and (Re) Election of County Government Leaders in Kenya

COMMENTARY ARTICLE

By Isaac Odhiambo Abuya

Homa Bay, Kenya


For the first time in Kenya’s political history, development projects will play a critical role in the re-election bids of the incumbent governors and members of the county assemblies (MCAs) in 2017, and in subsequent county elections. In no other epoch in the history of Kenya have development projects taken center stage in the politics of this country. Following the promulgation of the new constitution and the establishment of county governments, expectations of Kenyans have been raised, with millions seeing development projects delivered by county government as their only saviour from the stinking trenches of historically skewed development, and the rot in public service.

Consequently, Kenyans everywhere more than ever before, expect their county governments to design and implement high impact development projects that have the capacity to make a real difference in their lives, since development projects have become the principal means through which public services are being delivered in the counties. As a result, county governments must design and implement projects that not only make a difference in the lives of their county residents, but must execute development projects and interventions that deliver public value.

Whereas in the ‘80s and ‘90s development projects were perceived as favours from political godfathers, the spirit of devolution has so excitingly infected the nation to the extent that Kenyans now see development projects as a right. The dark days of developmental tokenism and political favours are fading away pretty fast, and county leaders who still operate under the historical hangovers of development tokenism and favours are writing their political epitaphs. Kenyans irrespective of their levels of education, have become increasing aware that development projects are not favours brought to them by some benevolent county leaders, but are their constitutional rights.

The decentralization of development financing to county governments has also changed the traditional discourse around development projects as ‘ things’ brought by benevolent leaders to the people, but as cardinal responsibility of any sane county government. Interestingly, citizens in the forty seven counties are getting more critically aware of how much their devolved governments spend on recurrent and on development. While the majority of Kenyans are sympathetic to the growing wage bill, they have become more concerned about the allocations given to development projects. Development projects have thus come to occupy a critical place in the psyche of county residents all over the country. I suppose this is one of the reasons why the Office of the Controller of Budget (OCOB) provides quarterly reports on how county governments spend on both recurrent and development expenditures, with the hope that citizens will use these reports to hold their county governments accountable.

The salience and prominence of development projects in the political psyche of county governments is visible in the forums organized by county governments. For instance, at each devolution conference, counties compete in showcasing their development projects through the use of high technology including the use of digital maps, videos, and other ‘digital’ means to inform and educate the public about the development projects they have implemented. The political marketing of development in these forums are replicated at the county levels. A number of county governments have deployed the use of high technology in strategic locations within the counties, to showcase their development projects. At community events, including funerals, county leaders extol the projects that they have ‘brought’ to their county citizens. The politicization of development projects has taken a new dimension in Kenya’s political economy, especially in Kenya’s forty seven counties.

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About the Author


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Isaac Ohiambo Abuya

Homa Bay County, Kenya

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Isaac Odhiambo Abuya has over 10 years’ experience in designing, planning and implementing high impact development projects in Kenya. Before joining Kenya’s county government of Homa Bay in 2013 as the county’s Chief of Staff responsible for coordinating the executive office of the Governor and the county government’s development policies, Isaac served as World Vision Kenya’s Project Director, and was responsible for designing and implementation of a high impact social determinants of health project for vulnerable communities, families and children in Kenya.

Isaac also coordinated the first multi-county USAID/ PEPFAR HIV and AIDS prevention and care project that targeted over 1 million youth in Kenya and Tanzania with behavioral change and care interventions. He provided high level project leadership in the roll out of voluntary medical male circumcision interventions in non-circumcising communities in Kenya, and served as one of the principal consultants to USAID’s effort in promoting voluntary medical male circumcision programming in the Royal Kingdom of Swaziland. He has provided technical support to a number of county governments and non-governmental organizations in Kenya on performance-based management and contracting and currently serves as the national chairman of the Performance Management Association of Kenya.

Isaac Abuya holds a Bachelor of Education degree from Egerton University, Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology from Kenyatta University, Master of Arts degree in Project Planning and Management from the University of Nairobi, and is waiting to graduate with a PhD in Project Planning and Management from the University of Nairobi, with a specialization in Project Design, Planning and Implementation. He is pursuing a second PhD in Public Administration and Public Policy at Kisii University.

Mr. Abuya can be contacted at [email protected]