Life is getting better; local government in Kenya is growing roots

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On a recent field trip, I decided to have discussions with programme beneficiaries with an open mind. I had a framework for the programme review that I was conducting. However, I knew that I would only learn and communicate something new if I had a stance of expectation. A certainty that there was something my audience knew that I did not know and that I needed. And boy, was I rewarded.

The big picture of devolution in Kenya does not tell the whole story. I recommend that all devolution actors collect results at the citizen level. Life is getting better for many Kenyans in areas that matter most to them.

This is how one resident of Ol Kalau, Nyandarua County talks of change as a result of conducting a social audit. A social audit is essentially factual record, by a resident, of the state of services.

“Our Early Childhood Development (ECD) audit indicated that centers were in old classrooms in primary schools. Students from poor families, who may not have eaten at home, cover long distances to ECD centers.

Parents paid for ECD caretakers. After the audit, I now pay kshs 300 rather than kshs 1250 for my child at an ECD center. Over 400 new teachers are now available for the County. The audit was in June and the teachers came in in July”. 

In Nyandarua, residents only had a few days to train and conduct social audits. The programme grantee that conducted this audit regretted that it was hurriedly implemented and training, of residents, inadequate. The results, on the other hand, are far from sub optimal.

The resident also conducted a social audit of the local hospital. He was asked to provide his CV, by the County Executive Committee (CEC) member for Health, before receiving permission to go ahead with this audit. Even then, he failed to receive the ‘go-ahead’ from either the CEC Health or Director of the level 5 hospital (JM Memorial Hospital). A level five hospital is the highest level of health facility within a County’s management. After a three hour wait, the resident proceeded directly to the hospital and used his personal contacts to conduct the audit. He found missing window panes, where pneumonia patients are admitted, and no lab facilities. The resident reported his findings to the Chair of the Health Committee in the County Assembly.

The window panes have since been replaced and a lab that will have Xray equipment is near completion. It is not clear if this expenditure had been budgeted for. What is clear is that the audit triggered quick procurement around the findings of the audit. The Chair of the Health Committee is now in frequent communication with this resident.

These accounts are one of very many, across the country, where there are results for citizens initiated by the County government or instigated by residents using social audits, petitions and local radio.


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