Ambassador Robert F. Godec Remarks at the Second Devolution Conference

Excellency, President of the Republic of Kenya, The Honorable Uhuru Kenyatta; Cabinet Secretary for Devolution and Planning Anne Waiguru; County Governors; Representatives of civil society,academia, and the private sector; Mabibi na mabwana: Hamjambo!  Habari za asubuhi?

Thank you for the opportunity to join you at this Second Devolution Conference.  And thank you Governor Ranguma for the hospitality that you and the citizens of Kisumu have shown all of us. I will  speak today on behalf of the Government of the United States, but also for all of the members of the Donor Partner Group.  As international partners, we welcome the opportunity to work with the Kenyan government, county governments, civil society, academia, the private sector, and Kenyan citizens on implementation of your excellent 2010 Constitution and particularly on the devolution of power and authority to the 47 county governments.

I start here: two years in, devolution is succeeding.  Authority and money have been transferred from the national government to county governments.  Counties are delivering services.  Infrastructure is being built.  And people have greater contact with their elected leaders than ever before. Devolution has begun to build a Kenya where better social and economic opportunities are more widely available.  A few examples of success:

  • Bomet, Isiolo, Meru, and many others are building new roads.
  • West Pokot launched its first Medical Training College.
  • Wajir constructed a new urban sanitation system.
  • Turkana is successfully promoting small-scale business development.
  • Siaya and Homa Bay are promoting private-sector investment potential.
  • Mombasa used a public-private partnership and an MOU with the Inspector General of Police to expand the fleet of police cars in the county.
  • And there are many more examples as well.

These changes mean a better life for Kenyan citizens.  So, on behalf of the United States and other partners, hongera, congratulations, for the progress so far! Now even as we celebrate successes, we must renew our focus on what’s next.  Indeed, we must redouble our effort for much remains to be done.  Over the past two years, we have found the best formula for moving forward: patience plus partnership equals progress.  First, on patience: devolution must be built over time.

Citizens’ expectations of devolution remain very high, which is good.  But devolution is complex. It requires a rethinking of government.  In Kenya, devolution is still new.  And, the learning curve is steep.

In the United States, we know this all too well from our own experience with devolved government.  In 1788, a Founding Father of the United States and champion of our Constitution, Alexander Hamilton, said:  “This balance between the National and State governments ought to be dwelt on with peculiar attention, as it is of the utmost importance.”  Indeed, just as our Constitution sets out a separation of powers among the executive, the legislative, and the judicial branches, it also establishes a balance between national and state power.  The same is true of Kenya’s new Constitution.

Now, there are some Americans who believe in a strong central government and others who prefer stronger state governments.  We have argued for close to 240 years over the questions of power, especially when it comes to laws and budgets.  These debates are challenging, to be sure – but they are essential.  An ongoing conversation about the proper role of government is critically important.

As you have this conversation, don’t just engage other politicians.  Engage the citizens. Ask them for their views.  Tell them how they can participate.  Talk with them in person and through the media.  Let them know where their money, the taxes they pay, is going, and why.  Give them realistic timeframes for your development plans.  And they will support you. In all of this, devolution will help, because it brings the conversation closer to the citizens that all governments must serve.

Which leads me to my second point.  For devolution to succeed, partnership is essential.  Reinventing Kenya’s government through devolution remains a huge task, but collaboration, partnership, can make it easier.  Going forward, transparent partnership will help tackle the key ongoing challenges:

  • Partner to improve service delivery.  The people of your counties want it all – better health care, schools, infrastructure and jobs.  Devolution can achieve this if county governments, the national government, civil society, the private sector, and international partners all work together.  We must share best practices to make the most efficient, best use of limited resources.
  • Partner to harmonize county legislation with national legislation.  County Assemblies and the National Assembly should communicate closely in this process.
  • Partner on budgets.  Budgets must be managed in a spirit of cooperation between national and county governments, and between the executive and legislative branches.
  • Partner to systematically track results — both on capacity building and service delivery.  All of us must work together to identify gaps, and align government and donor resources around shared goals.

In all of these efforts, civil society can be one of your strongest partners.  As President Obama said earlier this month:  “Civil society is the conscience of our countries.  It is a catalyst of change…Strong nations embrace and support and empower active citizens.”  Civil society provides critical services in tandem with government, and they ensure everyone in society has a voice.  In short, civil society can be a powerful ally for both the national and county governments, helping to deliver services and find innovative solutions to shared problems. As we look to the future, I know there is much work still to do on devolution.  As you devolve power and build your nation, the United States and all of the international partners will work with you.  We have already accomplished much together these past two years.  Just a few examples:

  • We’ve supported counties to create their Integrated Development Plans and Strategic Investment Plans, matching local needs to available resources.
  • Education Boards from the 47 counties have clarified their roles and responsibilities through workshops supported by the Ministry and USAID’s AHADI program.
  • County treasuries have begun to manage funds for health centers with support from partners like Denmark, in close consultation with the national Ministry of Health and others.
  • UNDP is partnering with the Kenya School of Government, Ministry of Devolution and Planning, and Council of Governors to develop training curricula on County Planning, Human Resource Management, and more.
  • The World Bank and the European Union have offered training and technical support to enhance public financial management and citizen engagement.

Today, I know we will map out plans for another two years of strong partnership.  We are here to share our experiences – but most importantly, to help assess what works best for Kenya.  For Kenyans are, and must be, in the lead on devolution. Before I close, I would like to turn briefly to another critical matter in Kenya today, security. First, on behalf of the government and people of the United States, I again extend my deepest condolences to the many Kenyans who lost friends, colleagues, or family in the brutal terrorist attack at Garissa University College.  We join Kenyans across this country in mourning their deaths and in condemning in the strongest terms the massacre by al Shabaab.

As President Obama said in his message following the attack, Americans know the extraordinary resilience of the Kenyan people.  The future of Kenya will not be determined by violence and terror. It will be determined by the dreams of Kenya’s young people for a better, more peaceful and more prosperous future. At this difficult hour, the American people and government stand with you hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder.  Together, we will end the scourge of terrorism.  It will not be easy or quick, but we can succeed.  To do so, we need to strengthen security services, but ensure they always act with respect for human rights and the rule of law.  We need to reach out and engage with all communities and all religions to build bridges, strengthen partnerships, and address grievances.  We must reject utterly the effort by the violent extremists to foment religious war.  What we need now is unity, partnership, hard work, creativity, and resolve.  We must join together.  If we do so, we will win the fight against terrorism.

In conclusion, as I have said so often, Kenya is a great country.  Kenyans are a great people. Whether it is meeting the challenge of strengthening security or building devolution, I know you can…you will… succeed. Day by day, step by step, you are forging a stronger, more secure, more prosperous, and more democratic Kenya.  As you do, know this too: the United States stands with you.  For more than 51 years, we have been partners.  And, as partners, we have accomplished so much.  As we all look forward to the visit of President Obama to Kenya in July, as he returns to the home of his father, I promise you this: our partnership, our friendship is unwavering.  For it is built onthe strongest foundation of all: shared values, shared hopes, shared dreams.

Together, we will accomplish far more than either of us could alone.  Together, we will build a better, brighter future for both Kenyans and Americans.

Pamoja tusonge mbele!

Asanteni Sana!