For a long time, the Kenyan voter has concentrated his or her energies on who becomes president. This is because under the old Constitution, the presidency wielded a lot of power and even determined which areas of the country received priority in terms of the development agenda.

However, under the 2010 Constitution, government has been decentralised and so have resources and development. Therefore, it now matters who heads local governments in Kenya where they are known as county governments.

In view of these recent developments, Kenyans will be closely following South Africa’s local government elections Wednesday.

There are 47 county governments in Kenya; each headed by a governor. According to the new Constitution, county governments are expected to decentralize the organs of State, their functions and services from the national government.

Brian Weke, the Executive Director of the Institute for Education and Democracy (IED) here, explains: “What is happening in Kenya is that we have strengthened the systems and we now have devolved governments.

“There’s a clear Executive as well as a clear Legislature which works more as the same as the national government, it is a stronger system but not a federal government.”

On Election Day, the ballot paper in Kenya is bulky and voting has been described as tedious. As the country goes to the polls next year, experts are pondering whether to stagger the elections in order to have different elections carried out on different days, just as it is done in South Africa.

“You find that somebody has been given six ballot papers and it is quite challenging and very important. It would make people come out in the first election where people will vote for their local government, or devolved government, leaders,” says Weke.

While county governments generate revenues, the central government is charged with the duty of equitably allocating the funds through a special commission, the Commission for Revenue Allocation.

County governments consist of members of county assemblies elected by registered voters of wards, the equivalent of councillors in South Africa. There is also a Speaker of the assembly and county executive committees similar to executive councils in South Africa.

Weke explains: “The member of the county assembly is charged with the responsibility of making the executive accountable, who is the governor. We are coming from a system where the national cake was not well distributed but now that has changed.”

Competition for positions in the county governments has not been as cut-throat as it is in South Africa because the last election was the first under the new Constitution and many had yet to understand the roles of the different office holders.

Experts believe the amount of influence the Members of County Assemblies have wielded these past five years is likely to change that and maybe attract big names to run for positions in the county governments and probably a more informed citizenry will hold county governments more accountable.