One year of decentralisation and turf wars in Kenya

Ken Opalo has a great post on decentralisation in Kenya. He writes:

Kenya’s new government structure has 47 capitals handling billions of shillings each year. If all else fails, the system will at least create strong politically autonomous regional elites with sufficient power to check Nairobi. And that is a fantastic thing. Already a few governors (including Nairobi, Machakos and Bomet) have broken ranks with their sponsoring parties, evidence that the interests of the national parties and County governments will not always be aligned. And if the last two fiscal years are any indication, the political pressure on the national government to overshoot the 15% minimum requirement will continue to hold. Those perceived to be enemies of devolution will be punished at the polls.


The new system also has another plus: Kenya now has 47 training centres for the job of chief executive. Governors who do well – like the Governor of Machakos – will become very strong contenders for State House in the not so distant future (Also more work for me to study inter-governmental political careers!!)

Kenya’s decentralisation is a work in progress. There have also been plenty of squabbles between the County Governors and senators (one per county, elected to a Senate in Nairobi) and ministers and senior officials of the central government. Now as the county governors head to Mombasa for a review of their one year in power, it will be interesting to see what comes out. There are fears of disputes with the central government over taxation; there has been scrutiny over the administrative expenses by Members of Parliament (elected from respective constituences, each smaller than a county), citizens and even the IMF. Decentralisation is a highly political process and it should not be surprising to see the different power centres sparring with each other. 

Yet, decentralisation presents an exciting opportunity. In the three counties I have visited – Garissa, Bungoma and Turkana – I have met county government officials that have big plans for their counties. On education for instance, although counties have only been given the responsibility for pre-schools, they have talked about how it is their responsibility to shepherd all schools and NGOs working on education in their county. Highly encouraging to hear this, of course! Just a small anecdote, but it keeps me very hopeful.

Counties in Kenya are diverse and a reasonable amount of autonomy in development planning and service delivery is key to meeting the aspirations of its people. Many counties suffer from an ‘out of mind, out of sight’ problem as far as key decisionmakers in the capital, Nairobi, are concerned. Genuinely decentralised governance then, is the way forward!


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