What Exactly are you Voting For?

Michael Onsando
14 February ,2017

A fortnight ago we talked about apathy – and what it means to be asked to vote. Especially in Kenya now, as doctors are being jailed for asking for better health. And, as Gathara eloquently puts it, that is the least of our problems. Still, the IEBC are holding fast to the fact that, come August 8th , we are going to have a general election.

Assuming that we do have an election (and, some say, that’s a pretty heavy assumption) then what?

Here’s what – you’ll wake up on August 8th and, if you’ve decided to participate, you’ll go to your polling station and queue. They’ll give you a paper and, on that paper, will be candidates vying for 6 positions – President, Governor, Senator, Woman Representative, Member of Parliament and Member of the County Assembly (MCA). But what do these positions mean? What are the people in these roles responsible for? This essay tries to break that down.

Member of County Assembly (MCA)

This is the elective position closest to you.

An MCA is the elected official for a ward and sits on the County Assembly. There are 1450 wards in the country, distributed throughout the 47 counties. Embakasi East Constituency, for example, has 5 wards – Upper Savanna, Lower Savanna, Embakasi South, Utawala and Mihango. It is, however, part of Nairobi County. So the 5 MCAs from Embakasi East Constituency sit in the Nairobi County Assembly, along with 80 other elected MCAs from all other wards in Nairobi.

Embakasi East covers an area of 64 square kilometers and has a population of 163,858 (2009)[1]. On average each MCA handles a population of about 30,000 people. Some wards go as low as 9000 and others as high as 50,000.

In the County Assembly, an MCA participates in the making of laws, and approval of budgets, plans and policies on the county level. In order to do this it is important that an MCA is conversant with the people in their ward – and what their pain points are.

They also oversee County Executive Committee – who we will get to later.


The governor ensures that your life keeps on moving. They are in charge of the executive arm of the County Government.

With the implementation of the constitution, some power was left with the national government and some was given to the county government. A detailed breakdown of just how that works is available here, or here, or if you really want to get technical, in Schedule 4 of the constitution. It is upon the governor to appoint, and lead, the county executive committee (with the approval of the County Assembly. The county executive committee is in charge of the practical matters of running a county – involving the devolved functions in the Fourth Schedule.

The committee is made up of no more than ten people[2].

Member of Parliament

In many ways, a Member of Parliament is an MCA with more responsibilities. While an MCA is in charge of a ward, a member of parliament is in charge of a constituency. While an MCA ensures that their ward is properly represented in the county debate, an MP ensures that their constituency is properly represented in the national debate.

Article 95(4) of the constitution says that the National Assembly:

  1. Determines the allocation of national revenue between the levels of government, as provided in Part 4 of the chapter twelve.
  2. Appropriates funds for expenditure by the national government and other national state organs.
  3. Exercises oversight over national revenue and its expenditure.

Subsection (5) further highlights their role in oversight of the president.


Senators handle the legislative work for counties. They ensure that the county is considered in the national debate as regards law and policy. They have power over things that affect the constitutional powers of counties, or their finances or elections to county offices. They also have a role in oversight of the executive.

They sit in the Senate which, together with the National Assembly, makes Parliament. A more detailed breakdown of the role of senators can be found here.

Woman Representative

There are 47 elected women representatives – one in every county. The reasoning behind this is, due to the patriarchal nature of power in the country, there is unequal representation of women in the government. The quota system creates room for this representation.

Women representatives are primarily elected to promote the interests of women and the girl child within their counties, and nationally. They are also part of the National Assembly, and they ensure that women are adequately represented in the national lawmaking process.


According to Article 131 of the constitution the president is: the Head of State and Government, Commander in Chief of the Kenya Defence Forces, chairperson of the National Security Council, and a symbol of national unity.

That’s a lot to put on a business card.

Kenya started off with a pretty powerful presidency. After the first president used his land allocation power to basically make himself and those around him wealthy, there was need to have a conversation about this. This is not the only way the powers of the president have been reduced, there are many more. A more nuanced take on this is available here.

In this way the work of the presidency has become more to manage the people that work for the state, than the authoritarian model of leadership we have become accustomed to.

Those are the six positions that are currently being contested for by anyone who is asking for your vote right now. Listen to what they are saying, think about your life and what needs you have. Do they have a plan to fix any of your problems? Do you think they have the ability to properly represent you (and your needs) within the office that they are vying for? 

Much thanks to Joash Onsando for helping me think through this article.

[1] Infotrack East Africa, 13th Feb 2017 – http://www.infotrackea.co.ke/services/leadership/constituencyinfo.php?cinf=wards&t=285

[2] Constitution of Kenya 2010, Article 179(3)

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