Learner’s Submission: Decentralized Governance in Kenya


“Decentralization” is an ambiguous and broadly used concept, and the definition varies across countries In this article decentralization is defined as “devolution” of power and competence to independent governments below the central government level, which are given responsibilities (typically within certain levels and ceilings) for determining the level and quality of services to be provided, the manner in which those services will be provided, and the source and the size of funds to finance the delivery of those services.

Decentralization is seen as a gradual process. It takes different forms, including political decentralization (transfer of decision-making power to lower-level, politically elected bodies) and fiscal decentralization (assignment of functions and transfers of power within financing). It might take place within a specific sector or be integrated (multi-sectoral) as transfers of power to multi-purpose authorities, and between actors within each country. Decentralization by devolution is the declared policy of decentralization and this is clearly also emphasized in the newly adopted Constitution in Kenya. From a historical perspective, decentralization has been introduced for various reasons: to answer the problems experienced with centralized/concentrated systems of service provision, to get political support, to achieve improved efficiency in resource allocation, to bring decisions closer the citizens, to improve governance and accountability, to improve equity and rural development, to improve the development and strengthen poverty reduction. But the design of decentralized systems, and many contextual factors, impact on the possibilities of achieving these objectives.

In Kenya, the basic area for discussions are called “local authorities” (LAs) local governments (LGs), defined as the levels of government below the central government, which are accountable to local populations through some kind of an electoral process.

Kenya Country Governance Profile – Fact Sheet


Issue Facts
Population 28.7 Million (1999)
Size of the territory (surface Km2) 580,400 Km2
Governance system Multi-party (strongly dominated by two parties)
Layers of government 2 layers Central government and LAsParallel system of provincial and district administrations
Number of local governments with legislative power 175
Average size of the upper layer of LG 163,923

Local Governments (LGs), in Kenya have very limited service delivery mandates unlike in other neighboring countries like Tanzania and Uganda where major service provision responsibilities are devolved to LGs.

Extent of Devolution of Key Sector Responsibilities to LGs in Kenya

Sector Extent of Devolution of responsibilities to Local Governments
Health No major role by local government –mainly taken by Ministry of Health
Education Minor role, seven of the major LG are designated as education authorities, the remaining LG’s play no major role in provision of Education services
Water Largely centralized with Ministry of environment and natural resources, National Water conservation and pipeline corporation. However in some LG’s operate water boards
Roads No major role for Local Government, centralized with creation of Roads Boards, only few LG’s have recently been appointed as roads sub agent
Agriculture No major role for Local Government

Kenya has since the mid-1990s initiated an incremental reform of LGs that, foremost, has focused on improving the fiscal aspects of LGs without, to date, substantial legal reforms. However, as part of the New Constitutional Review, much wider and very radical proposals related to decentralization reform has been debated and crafted into the new constitution which was adopted recently. The draft Constitution was endorsed and It proposes a radical devolution of powers to a LG system based on three tiers: regional, district and location. With the adoption of the new Constitution, it has signaled the start of a comprehensive decentralization programme based on devolution. In anticipation, the Ministry of Local Government is currently in the process of drafting various LG laws and amendments.

In Kenya, the current legal framework of LGs is widely recognized as in need of reform. The existing parallel system for local-level service delivery gives no clear mandate to LGs for the provision of key services. Instead, the various sectors and the deconcentrated administrations are given the main responsibility. Studies, confirmed by the field visits, have indicated that this not only leads to duplication and poor local governance, as citizens cannot hold government accountable at the local level for local level service delivery, but it also entails a waste of public resources and an ineffective provision of services.

The Adopted Constitution proposes a radical reform in support of devolution to LGs. Although the new Constitution has been criticised for being too complex, as it suggests the introduction of a three tier LG system, where only the second tier (the districts) have well defined mandates for service delivery. The implementation of the proposed transition towards a devolved system will certainly be very challenging – and possibly painful.  Previous structures for deconcentrated service delivery will have to be abolished; staff employed by sector ministries will have to be transferred to local governments, if they are to undertake their new functions. Modalities for sufficient (discretionary) funding need to be developed. The transfer scheme, LATF, has generated substantial experiences that can form the basis for further reforms.

The most critical aspects will probably be:

Clear assignment of specific responsibilities to the different new LGs, in line with the broad guidance of the new Constitution and considering factors like linkages between the size of the government units and the type of services to be provided, links between the services, economies of scale, possibilities for citizens’ participation and accountability, political representation, closeness, etc; Reform of key sectors along the lines stipulated in the new Constitution, with the active and constructive involvement of sector ministries;  Development of a system for balancing the new transferred functions, with properly assigned revenues to LGs, .Development of a decentralized system for management of personnel that guarantees meaningful local accountability of staff, while at the same time safeguarding the interests of personnel in terms of career development prospects and job security.” – Bareto Tieng’o – Tanga, Tanzania

One Response to Learner’s Submission: Decentralized Governance in Kenya

  1. Mchael Vincent Mhagama says:

    great effort

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