The new governors sworn into office this week have their work cut out.
They have to deal with the challenges they inherited from their predecessors, while building on opportunities to make devolution work for the people.
The expectation of a majority of Kenyans, when they voted for a devolved system of government in the referendum that ushered in the August 2010 Constitution, was that the leaders of the 47 counties would identify with their needs and aspirations that were not being fulfilled by the national government.
The first crop of governors that was elected with pomp and fanfare in March 2013 has had its share of successes and failures.
In the August 8 elections, 25 of them were kicked out of office, and even those who survived were shaken by the widespread public disapproval of their performance.
The second lot of governors, both new and old, are conscious of the wrath of the people, who see a widening gap between their expectations and public service delivery.
These leaders have a golden opportunity to turn the counties into engines of economic prosperity, stimulating growth and promoting equity in the distribution of resources.
Counties need “solutions governors”, not the “crisis governors” who spent the past four years wasting public funds.
Several factors undermined the performance.
One was the rather petty preoccupation of most governors with the trappings of power.
They turned their counties into fiefdoms and forgot that they were elected to serve their people.
They spent time, resources and energy fighting with the national government on power sharing.
The new governors need to differentiate themselves from their predecessors by being humble servants of the people.
They need to manage counties like business enterprises, which must deliver value to the people and be the catalyst for economic and social transformation. Another issue is how extensively the first group failed in governance and accountability—but continued fighting as if they were above the law. The people need leaders who respect the law.
Some of the governors who survived the election onslaught have to worry about the corruption and abuse of office cases hanging over their heads like the Sword of Damocles.
This also applies to the new ones, who have pending cases of graft from their previous tenures in public office.
In March, the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission reported that it was prosecuting 281 cases of graft and economic crimes.
Those implicated included governors, county officials and members of county assemblies.
Sharing of resources between the national and county governments also remains a source of conflict.
The law is clear, and the Commission on Revenue Allocation developed a formula defining how much the counties are entitled to, but some governors spent their time pushing for more resources from the taxpayers even when they were unable to spend what they were allocated by the National Treasury.
Some of them lived large on public spending (frequent foreign trips) that did not contribute to the well-being of their people.
The new county managers have to demonstrate commitment to using funds for defined recurrent and development programmes.
The success of devolution will also depend on the character and behaviour of governors.
A few of them have started on the wrong foot by threatening the poor citizens they deem not to have voted for them and bullying county staff whose only crime was to have worked for the previous governors.
It is the responsibility of the Council of Governors and other public service institutions, to enforce discipline and sanity, particularly among governors on a revenge mission.
All must respect the democratic right of the people, who cannot be punished based on the choices they made in the secret ballot.
The governors can, in the next five years, make or break the promise of devolution.
It will be a pity for them to leave another legacy of wasted opportunities.
Mr Warutere is a director of Mashariki Communications Ltd; [email protected]