Devolving power to county governments in an effort to redistribute wealth and resources

Devolution represents the most significant reform to Kenya’s political institutions since independence in 1963, although it has been a constant construct of national political dialogue over the past half-century. British resistance to devolution, mainly to protect settler interests and those of allied tribes, gave way to provincial devolution post-independence, but failed to provide the necessary political engagement and empowerment demanded by the Kenyan people. Granted under Chapter 11 (Articles 174-200) of the 2010 Constitution, devolved government in Kenya has provided substantive means to de-centralise political power and economic opportunity (see Counties chapter).

Trust Rebuilt

The devolution process is the culmination of years of planning and incremental changes. The centralisation of political and economic activity in Nairobi has meant little national redistribution of wealth during the past 50 years. Kenya’s capital continues to generate around 60% of Kenya’s GDP, and accounts for a disproportionate percentage of expenditure, consumption and investment. In Kenya’s current agricultural-led economy, an estimated 45% live in poverty, 75% of the population live in rural areas and the informal economy accounts for the majority of employment. With devolution an equitable distribution of resources is now possible, and local governments have been provided incentives and mechanisms to address shortfalls in services, infrastructure and investment. Established in the late 1990s, the Constitution of Kenya Review Commission (CKRC) was charged with drafting constitutional reforms to address these issues. Derailed by deep political conflicts in the early 2000s, constitutional reform was expedited post-2007, and the CKRC’s findings were the foundation of devolutionary measures codified in the 2010 Constitutional referendum.

The main objectives of devolved government are to promote the participation of people in democratic process, to address their issues, ensure the equitable allocation of national and local resources, further social and economic development at the local level by relocating services closer to the people, and to enhance transparency and accountability of state organs. Breaking up the centralisation of state power is a core tenet of devolution under Article 174 of the constitution. Enacted in 2012, devolution replaced the previous eight provinces with 47 counties recognised as the second level of governance after the national government. Each county has a county assembly and county executive, elected from their respective wards.

Responsibilities

The first county elections took place in 2013. County assemblies now accommodate elected representation at the ward level and are more inclusive, especially of women, than any previous elected bodies. This opportunity for public participation in public affairs is unprecedented in the Kenyan political framework. These new local governments are now in charge of some functions – such as the provision of health care, pre-primary education and maintenance of local roads – which were previously the responsibility of the national government. They also have the responsibility to maintain local administration in its public service, appoint executives, and to levy taxes and charges. The national government is mandated to ensure that county governments have adequate support to enable them to perform their functions.

Funding is assigned based on respective counties’ level of poverty, population and landmass, with the most economically depressed counties receiving priority. However, counties may only utilise this funding if they publish, maintain and adhere to county integrated development plans that outline development goals and strategies for the local economy, infrastructure and services. These are integral to ensuring a level of fiscal responsibility by county governments, audited by the National Treasury and the Kenya National Audit Office. County governments are able to design, promote, action and manage development plans within their territories. They are pushing ahead with development plans, offering free land to investors in some cases and forging bilateral international investor agreements.

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Cover of The Report: Kenya 2014

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This article is from the Country Profile chapter of The Report: Kenya 2014. Explore other chapters from this report.