Kenya: Devolution Continues to Inspire Hope, but Challenges Abound

March 4, 2020 marked exactly seven years since the start of devolution in Kenya. The governance system has not only facilitated decentralization of political power from the national government to the 47 devolved units but also enhanced citizens’ access to basic services. Thus far, several counties have registered laudable successes in the field of health, agriculture, and transport among other devolved functions. However, several challenges including corruption continue to lessen the efficacy of these devolved units and the realization of devolution’s full potential.

Notable Achievements

Since 2013, county governments have made positive strides in addressing their counties’ perennial social and economic problems which were previously neglected by the central government in Nairobi. Makueni County, for example, has built an operational mango and milk processing plants earning the county government extra revenue through value-added processing. Also, the County has designed and funded a local universal health coverage scheme which has enabled increased access to affordable healthcare services to the residents. More so, the County, through its innovative public participation model (village forums) as the basic unit of engagement, has heightened citizens’ participation in the governance and development process.

Besides development successes, devolution has enhanced citizen’s oversight of leaders in the counties. Most of the current leaders, especially governors, senators, and members of county assemblies (MCAs), frequently face intense public scrutiny, including protests in demand of services. To this effect, several county-based organisations and mobilization groups championing for good and accountable governance have emerged in the counties subjecting leaders to constant pressure to deliver. These indicate that with proper implementation, devolution will speed up uniform development across the country and thus contribute to national unity. 

Key Challenges

Corruption, a perennial problem that plagued the central government before decentralization, is gradually eating away the fruits of devolution at the county level. Several governors and county government officials have failed to account for the discrepancies in there counties’ financial records and unsupported expenditures contained in several Auditor General’s annual reports. In Samburu and Nairobi counties, for example, governors and other senior officials are currently facing graft cases for allegedly doing business with their government. Earlier this year, Kiambu’s former Governor, Ferdinand Waititu, was impeached over corruption and misappropriation of public funds. These malpractices rob the counties of already meager financial resources that could have otherwise gone to development projects and delivery of crucial social services.

Secondly, devolution has introduced new levels of marginalization in some counties, with dominant ethnic groups benefitting disproportionally from the county government at the expense of minority groups. Kuria in Migori County, the Saboat in Bungoma County, and the Kipsigis in Narok County, for instance, have repeatedly expressed dissatisfaction with resource allocations, thanks to majoritarian politics in these counties. In other counties such as Garissa, Mandera, and Embu, clans have emerged as the basis of marginalization.

Thirdly, leadership inefficiencies and unending power struggles have hampered service delivery in the counties. At the core of these struggles often lies the control of county budgets, in particular funds set aside for development. While the constitution envisaged county assemblies as watchdogs and custodians of public funds at the counties, the MCAs have always insisted on being part of the development implementation process. Consequently, crucial processes such as budget-making and vetting of key appointees are regularly delayed, coercing the executives to yield into MCAs financial demands. For instance, in Taita Taveta County, the passage of the 2019 budget was delayed in the county assembly for more than five months due to disagreement over the proposed allocations to ward development funds -supposedly to be administered by MCAs. Also, some county assemblies including Nairobi and Kisumu have had intra-assembly haggles involving speakers, majority leaders, and other members, bringing to a halt the operation of the Assembly and the county.

Streamlining Devolution

Kenya’s 2010 constitution places the responsibility to protect devolution and county governments on the Senate and county assemblies. Through legislative oversight, these institutions should ensure that there is accountability on the use of public resources, especially on the part of the county executives. Investigations into allegations of financial misappropriation often undertaken by departmental committees in the county assemblies and the Senate should result in conclusive reports for action by other anti-corruption state agencies. Also, the Senate should legislate a revenue-sharing formula between the assemblies and the county executives, and consequently, grant the county assemblies financial autonomy. This would go a long way in lessening recurrent feuds and impasse between governors and county assemblies over the division of revenue.

Lastly, county governments must prioritize development projects that address their communities’ needs. Conducting public surveys at the grass-root level and holding public participation sessions in all parts of the county while preparing the budgets will enable the county leadership to allocate resources in more impactful and much-needed projects.

Elvis Salano, Research Assistant, at the HORN Institute 

Photo: Former President Mwai Kibaki (Center) displays a signed constitution document by Attorney General, Amos Wako (Right) on August 27, 2010 during the promulgation ceremony for Kenya’s new constitution in Nairobi, Kenya (Photo Credit: Tony Karumba)

Comments are disabled.