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Kenya: Devolution without disruption

Kenya’s new constitution marks a critical juncture in the nation’s history. It is widely perceived, by Kenyans from all walks of life, as a new beginning. Indeed, many feel that post- independence Kenya has been characterized by centralization of political and economic power in the hands of a few, resulting in an uneven and unfair distribution of resources and corresponding access to social services; the opposite of an inclusive state.

Born of the political opportunity created by the 2008 post-election violence, the constitution finally adopted, after almost a decade of unsuccessful reform attempts, presages far-reaching changes. Its vision encompasses a dramatic transformation of the Kenyan state through new accountable and transparent institutions, inclusive approaches to government and a firm focus on equitable service delivery for all Kenyans through the newly established county governments.

Devolution is at the heart of the new constitution and a key vehicle for addressing spatial inequities. A more decentralized government makes eminent sense, given Kenya’s diversity and experience with political use of central power. Decentralization has been increasingly seen and adopted worldwide as a guarantee against discretionary use of power by central elites as well as a way to enhance the efficiency of social service provision, by allowing for a closer match between public policies and the desires and needs of local constituencies.

Kenya’s constitution entrenches devolved government by guaranteeing a minimum unconditional transfer to counties under the new dispensation. The devolution train has already left the station: the challenge is to make sure it arrives at destination, safely and on time. The politics of devolution explain the high intensity of hopes and expectations that have been pinned to it. It also means there are high risks if they are disappointed. There are great opportunities and enormous challenges waiting for Kenya, in a critical election year, which will determine the fate of the country, politically and economically for years to come. This report takes a snapshot look at the critical issues facing Kenya’s policy makers today. It does not argue for or against devolution (a decision that belongs solely to Kenyans), but presents suggestions and recommendations on how best to navigate the tough choices ahead. It’s main focus in on helping Kenya manage a delicate transition.

 

Read the full report:
World Bank. 2012. Devolution without disruption : pathways to a successful new Kenya. Washington, DC: World Bank.

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