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The Transition to Devolved Government in Kenya – the story unfolds

by Jan Bezuidenhout



Between June 2011 and February 2012 the author did a forecast of the role and effectiveness of devolved government in Kenya. Four scenarios were compiled for the period 2012-2032. See the complete forecast for additional background and research methodology used. Three of the most crucial aspects, which can reasonably be assessed for the time period from March 2012 until now in May 2013, will be quoted from the forecast and used as headings to guide this reflection on how the story is actually unfolding.

“…the success of the Constitution and of devolved government hinges on which individual will be the next head of state….The influence that the head of state yields in Kenya, especially over the central government public service, is considerable and can make or break a successful transition and devolved government in future, as the current public service and their vested interests might be a major obstacle to such a transition if not handled appropriately”

Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto (the latter actually campaigned against the new constitution during the referendum in 2010) were viewed as centralists as opposed to Raila Odinga. Mutaha Kangu, who was the chairperson of the task force on devolved government, stated that the independence constitution, that also had some characteristics of decentralisation, were only given lip service in the 1960’s and were then taken apart bit by bit to centre power around the head of state. He warned that a similar situation may develop now.

It could be that Uhuru Kenyatta is only paying lip service to the new constitution, but at heart he really wants to centre power on himself. The appointment of 47 District Commissioners (remnants from the provincial administration) by the national government, even before the elections, seemed to have encroached on the power of County Governors. Those government functions that remain under the sphere of national government could have been represented by the various sector departments within the counties and not by a single figurehead who gets appointed under a title such as “District Commissioner”.

The above impression is gathered from reading Kenyan news articles. It might be that they are over jealously safeguarding devolution, but one could conclude, that the election of Uhuru Kenyatta, instead of Raila Odinga, decreased the chances of an effective devolved government.

“The issues of technical skills capacity in the public service of country governments, cities and municipality should be a major concern when one looks at the under-expenditure by Local Authorities and the increase in the amount of monies that will, in future, be available to implement. Winnie Mitullah (Institute of Development Studies, University of Nairobi) believes that the skills for populating the county public service within Kenya are available, but that the Local Authorities and even the central government do not currently attract them.”



It is not possible to make any assessment of the counties’ ability to plan and spend their budgets yet, but one can start to draw conclusions on the type of skills that will be available to them. It will be ironic if the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (given the considerable budgets that will be available to the counties) don’t provide for proper remuneration within the county public service. Unfortunately the debate currently seems about the remuneration of County Assembly Members and not the county professional service. The salary on offer to County Assembly Members is Sh79,000 or approx. $900US. The first reports of professional turning down jobs at counties are also coming in. The governor of Nairobi, Evans Kidero called on a top lawyer to serve as the Secretary to the County Public Service Board. The nomination was declined based on low remuneration and now needs to be advertised. If the low salaries on offer to County Assembly Members are taken into account, it is not a positive sign of what the salary of, for instance, a qualified town and regional planner, engineer or demographer would be and if the counties will be able to draw such professional skills.

Not allowing counties to employ the correct skill sets at the correct remuneration will cause them to not spend their budgets. This actually forms and interesting recursive causal loop. Higher remuneration may increase the quality of the county public service which will increase the likelihood of spending the considerable transfers from central government. The opposite may also happen: low remuneration will not attract the right skills; this will decrease the quality of service that will cause them not to spend their budgets. This can easily be manipulated by the national government if there were a plot to bring power back to the centre.



Something that is key to remember is that there might be very successful counties and some lesser successful. One can’t generalise as each one will have their own unique government. For instance, 16 counties will have Orange Democratic Movement governors and nine independent governors. One would imagine that the opposition parties (nationally) would want to prove their skills at government administration in the counties. The Constitution provides for a number of income streams through the raising of taxes such as property taxes. A way out of the possible manipulation of resources available would be if a county managed to generate sufficient revenue to become less dependent on transfers from the central government. This will most probably be a luxury that only counties with large urban centres will have. Besides political affiliation one should of course also differentiate between rural and urban etc.



“The structure of devolved government will not create greater unity amongst people…those in Kenya who would like to unite the people should look out for those chances and make use of them…it seems as though ethnicity and power struggles will now take stage in the counties, and no longer only nationally any-more.”

Previously the major reward and access to resources of state, for an ethnic group in Kenya, seemed to have been to have one of your own elected as head of state. The stage has shifted (in part) to the position of county governor. This is peculiar to areas where two or more ethnic groups share space in a county and one feel they are being discriminated against by the other. One such example is in the county of Mandera: “the problem pits the two main clans – Degodia and Gareh, living in the county and neighbouring ones over political issues.” None of the Degodia clan were elected or nominated in the elections. Discrimination within counties and polarisation of the population, the opposite of “unity in diversity” needs to be kept in check.



One is tempted to try and tell which one of the scenarios seems more likely at the moment. Most probably a bit out of each one of them holds true. It is important to go back to the original intent of scenarios: it is not there to say what will happen, but rather a fiction of the future that could inform governments, policy makers and the public of salient issues. The successful future of devolution is in the hands of Kenyans.


Additional notes

After the recent secession of South-Sudan from Sudan and other conflicts with a definite in-country regional slant the question was asked: where will the next border change or secession in Africa take place? But is this a suitable topic of research? As futures thinkers we shouldn’t only be asking questions of what will happen, but rather what should happen? The interest in the Constitution of Kenya and devolved government came about because it is seen, by the author, as an alternative to border changes and balkanisation of Africa. In other words, a remedy for the negative effects of borders we mostly inherited from colonial powers.

This summary of what actually transpired is an exercise in history writing, which is also subjective and open for criticism and corrections (albeit less of an art form and more of a social science than forecasting or scenario construction). The practice of revisiting scenarios that were crafted a couple of years ago is surely not new in the field of futures research. No literature or methodology in this regards were reviewed as the author wanted to start with a clean page and attempt the exercise with a fresh mind, in case any original ideas may come up.


Jan Bezuidenhout

Project Manager: Development Bank of Southern Africa

Read more about the author and his view on being a futurist.




Bosire, C. 2012. Researcher at Community Law Centre, University of the Western Cape. Nairobi: Personal interviews, 11 -15 January, 2012.

Kangu, M. 2012. Chairperson, Task Force on Devolved Government in Kenya. Nakuru: Personal interview, 11 January 2012.

Mitullah, W. 2012. Institute of Development Studies, member, Task Force on Devolved Government. Nairobi: Personal interview, 13 January 2012.

Mkawale, S. (2013) Samburu Governor Kasaine Lenolkulal on tough mission to stem insecurity, accessed on 16 May 2013 at http://www.standardmedia.co.ke/?articleID=2000083654&story_title=samburu-governor-on-tough-mission-to-stem-insecurity.

Mosoku, G. (2013) Professionals give jobs in devolved units wide berth, accessed on 16 May 2013 at http://www.standardmedia.co.ke/?articleID=2000083567&story_title=professionals-turn-down-county-jobs

Mosoku, G. (2013) Raila warns of plot to kill devolution, accessed on 16 May 2013 at http://www.standardmedia.co.ke/?articleID=2000080745&story_title=raila-warns-of-plot-to-kill-devolution&pageNo=2

Namunane, B. (2013) Governors asked to keep of state assets, accessed on 17 May 2013 at http://www.nation.co.ke/Counties/Governors-asked-to-keep-off-State-assets-/-/1107872/1733290/-/ib6qe7z/-/index.html

Ng’etich, J. (2013) Why County Commissioners, PC’s and Governors face clash, accessed on 17 May at http://www.standardmedia.co.ke/?articleID=2000080521&story_title=why-county-commissioners-pcs-and-governors-face-clash&pageNo=3

Njagih, M. (2013) Senate turns heat on Salaries commission over pay demands, accessed on 16 May 2013 at http://www.standardmedia.co.ke/?articleID=2000083627&story_title=senate-turns-heat-on-salaries-commission-over-pay-demands&pageNo=2.

Nyarora, H. (2013) Government told to end dispute between County Commissioners and Governors, accessed on 17 May 2013 at http://www.nation.co.ke/Counties/-/1107872/1750632/-/format/xhtml/-/mevnv0z/-/index.html

Ombati, C. (2013) Plice demand surrender of guns in Mandera, accessed on 16 May 2013 at http://www.standardmedia.co.ke/?articleID=2000083530&story_title=police-demand-surrender-of-guns-in-mandera&pageNo=2


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