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Kenya in Motion 2000-2020

 | 
Marie-Aude Fouéré
, 
Marie-Emmanuelle Pommerolle
, 
Christian Thibon

Chapter 4

Between Hopes and Disillusionment: Constitutional Reforms and Decentralisation in Kenya, 2000–2020

Chloé Josse-Durand
Traduction de Matteo Réveillon et Sarah Levy Klimpke

Texte intégral

  • 1 In the early 2005–2010, many publications analysed this original form of governance: Ghai (2008), (...)
  • 2 For some—far less numerous—optimistic prospects: Shilaho (2015), Steeves (2015), Elszasz (2016), C (...)
  • 3 For some more critical perspectives: Mudida (2009), Hassan (2013), Adbille & Abdi (2016), Cannon (...)
  • 4 This chapter benefited from the sound suggestions of Marie-Emmanuelle Pommerolle, Claire Médard an (...)

1In 2010, Kenya made a bold decision: it reformed its constitution by launching a decentralisation—also called devolution—which the World Bank referred to as “ambitious” and “unprecedented” in Africa (World Bank 2012, xi). The exceptional nature of this decentralisation lied not only in its large-scale territorial reform but also in the large number of functions delegated to new local levels of governance, called counties. Each of the new 47 counties was granted a large share of civil servants and financial and administrative means to elaborate its own local public policies and to pass laws in its parliamentary assemblies. This institutional change rekindled academic thinking on decentralised governance in Africa, inspiring new research aimed at comparing, discussing and studying this innovative governance mechanism.1 Recent academic studies have underlined the significant progress that might be made in the distribution of basic services, the reduction of economic inequalities between regions, and the appeasement of land disputes and identity claims in Kenya.2 They have, however, also emphasised the limits of this reform. Among other things, they have highlighted shortcomings in the reform’s formalisation and implementation, including the conservation of a national level pre-eminence, an increase in political competition and violence, the proliferation of cronyism, and the growth of inequalities in the counties (as opposed to in the regions).3 This chapter, noting the continued relevance of the debates on the impact of constitutional reforms and the consequences of decentralisation on Kenyan society and political system in Kenya and in the academic realm, aims to contribute to these debates.4

  • 5 The Swahili word majimbo means “region.” Directly after independence, these regions took the form (...)
  • 6 Just before Kenya’s independence, the 1960 independence of Somalia contributed to push the Majimbo(...)

2Debates over this reform relate to Kenya’s long-term political history. Decentralisation is a political process through which—as a result their acquisition of a share of national income and the ability to raise their own funds—territorial authorities gain greater autonomy in decision making and action, as well as more financial resources. This concept has been at the heart of Kenyan political debates since the 1950s (Burbidge 2019). Until independence in 1963, these debates revolved around the issue of Majimboism,5 that is, the granting of power to regions. Between the 1960s and the 1980s, under the presidency of Jomo Kenyatta (1963–1978) and the first mandate of Daniel arap Moi (1978–2002), Majimboism vanished from political debates despite the fact that Daniel arap Moi had been a strong advocate of the Majimbo ideology during the fight for independence (Maxon 2016, 20). This disappearance was the result of both a secessionist threat (especially in the North of the country6) and the authoritarian regime maintained by Kenya’s first two presidents (Nyong’o 1989). From 1982 onwards, Daniel arap Moi implemented pro-rural development measures, it seemed, under the pretence of deconcentrating, but not for the purpose of real decentralisation (Southall & Wood 1996, 508–9). In the early 1990s, the political opposition, together with students and civil society, called for the return of multipartyism in Kenya and a radical change of its political system. They faced strong state repression (Pommerolle 2005, Ruteere 2010).

3The notion of decentralisation resurfaced with the writing of a new constitution during Mwai Kibaki’s 2002 presidential campaign. The 8 majimbo created after independence were divided in 47 counties. The borders of these counties correspond to the borders of some former districts which had been subdivided in the 1990s (Barkan & Chege 1989) before being “reassembled” to form counties led by locally-elected governments. The local administration remains however highly centralised and monitored by County Commissioners. This system is somewhat reminiscent of the former provincial government (Bourmaud 1988, 217). The conjunction of a local government appointed by the central governing power (national level) with the election of a local government (which appoints a local administrative staff) highlights the combination of two distinct power structures. Note that while these power structures intertwine, they also compete with one another (Médard 2006). Nonetheless, elected local officials—including governors, senators, women’s representatives, member of parliaments or members of local assemblies—enjoy flexibility in terms of governance. They play a leading role in public decision-making and, thanks to local parliaments (the County Assemblies) and the new budgets at their disposal, are capable of developing local projects. The political class is showing growth and, because of the governors’ political weight and as their governments enjoy a local base, a reconfiguration of power is emerging (Cheeseman, Lynch & Willis 2016).

  • 7 The hopes of the Kenyan activist sphere—soon to be shattered—were transcribed in an article by Rob (...)
  • 8 On the question of “historical injustices” in Kenya and the entrenchment of the land issue in Keny (...)
  • 9 Many academic publications aimed to nuance these flourishing hopes during that decade, for instanc (...)

4For Kenyan citizens and activists, the constitutional reforms and the political openness of the early 2000s fostered some hope for the democratisation of Kenya’s political and media spheres.7 In theory, such developments would ensure the improvement of governance (notably through public participation), transparency in the use of public funds, and a better redistribution of national financial resources. Hence, these reforms appear to be the long-awaited answers to both the territorialised and ethnicised resource-related tensions (including land) and the reduction of the historical inequalities and injustices that fuel these tensions.8 Because they would guarantee greater transparency and strengthen the control of public finances at the national level, the reforms could also reconciliate citizens with their elected officials. Be that as it may, this new wave of hope must be put into perspective.9 While decentralisation structures political practices and representations, it does not transform them completely. Quite the opposite: it reinforces some dynamics that should be brought to light through a macro and a micro analysis of the reforms that have been implemented since the 2013 general elections.

  • 10 On the persistence of neo-patrimonial practices in Kenyan public administration, see Cohen (1993) (...)

5Debates over the structure of the Kenyan state (unitary, decentralised, federalist) keep causing much violence. This violence is less the consequence of ethnic contention than of past or broken pacts between political elites at every level of authority and of the administration (Oucho 1998; Atieno Odhiambo 2004; Klopp 2002). Driven by a deep-rooted capitalist accumulation logic, these elites tend to defend their own economic and political interests through an ethnic rhetoric. This type of rhetoric succeeds in mobilising voters, but overlooks social, political and economic inequalities (Lonsdale 2004; Berman & Lonsdale 1992, II). Changing the rules of this neo-patrimonial, paternalist and clientelist game—which underpin the interpersonal relationship between elites themselves, and between elites and citizens—is neither in the interest of elected local officials, nor in that of territorial administrators10 (Bach & Gazibo 2012; Githinji & Holmquist 2012; Hornsby 2013, 260–1). The governance system established through decentralisation also ensures the subsistence of political and economic agreements concluded between local and national elites; and, what is more, it guarantees the protection of their respective interests (D’Arcy & Cornell 2014; Gadjanova 2019; Waddilove 2019). Ultimately, the effective implementation of decentralisation is restrained mostly by vicissitudes inherited from the past and the permanency of the central state’s weight (Hassan 2013). Corruption, for its part, has been decentralised, or at least enhanced, at every level (Burbidge 2015a; D’Arcy & Cornell 2016). And even if local assemblies and elected representatives (called Members of County Assemblies or MCAs) counterweigh the local executive, public participation of citizens in defining the priorities of development is not convincing (World Bank 2015; Rwigi, forthcoming).

6This chapter aims to illustrate the changes initiated by these administrative and political reforms since the early 2000s. Its purpose is also to display the perceptible continuities of the political practices of Kenyan politicians. The first section offers an introductory political chronology of the elections, partisan debates, and proposed reforms about Kenya’s historic inequalities and political moralisation since the early 2000s. This part aims to explain how decentralisation has been implemented as a means to resolve the issues inherited from Kenya’s political history—taking into consideration the fact that Kenya was built upon a strong legacy of administrative centralisation on the one hand, and major political crises on the other hand. The second section offers thoughts on the decentralisation project itself and its implementation. In particular, it questions the emphasis on local democracy and the approach of “local elected representatives.” The final section sheds light on the government’s development-centric vision, explains the cooperation arrangements between counties, and, on the basis of concrete examples, explores how these levels of authority interact.

1. Decentralisation Grappled with the Turbulence of Kenya’s Political Life

  • 11 These minority groups were supported by the British (including the settlers) who saw in this proje (...)
  • 12 In 1964, less than a year after independence, the opposition was dissolved and a decree—adopted by (...)

7Decentralisation is at the heart of Kenya’s contemporary public and political debate. It is a long-standing political project whose identity and territorial dimensions have always been questioned by both Kenyan elites and citizens. In the 1960s and the 1970s, “decentralisation” denoted Majimboism (regionalism). The Swahili Majimbo and Majimboism refer to the distribution of power to the regions. A controversial political project, regionalism was championed by Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, former Prime Minister of Jomo Kenyatta having joined the opposition. Like Jomo Kenyatta’s plan of unitary government, Odinga’s political project proposed a territorial and ethnic definition of access to resources based on administrative regions (Médard 1999). Indeed, at the time of independence, the Kenya African National Union (KANU), the political party led by Kenyatta, played a key role in the struggle against British colonial rule. KANU promoted national unity and the advent of a centralised state based on “Kikuyu constitutionalism,” which was inspired by the monarchical and imperial system established by British authorities (Kenyatta 1938, Lonsdale 2006). Representatives of ethnic minority groups, like Ronald Ngala (mijikenda), Masinde Muliro (luhya) or Daniel arap Moi (kalenjin), were opposed to this idea. With the support of the British, they proposed establishing a multi-racial governance system based on a “Majimbo Constitution.” This would guarantee the interest of minorities as well as the establishment of a regional power base.11 The representatives of these ethnic minority groups first formed their own regional parties, which united behind the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU). In the 1960s, KADU received the support of the Rift Valley, the coastal region and the Western part of the country. The populations of these areas with little government presence favoured a federal state and the decentralisation of the public authority to the regions. The 1961 elections settled the matter: KANU won with 67,4% of the votes against 16,4% for KADU. As the KANU leaders called on those of the KADU to rally behind efforts to create a government of national unity, the “Majimbo Constitution” project came to an end and Kenya became a de facto one-party state.12

  • 13 On this topic, see the definition of the Swahili Oxford Living Dictionaries (2018) at the ugatuzi (...)
  • 14 It should be made clear that the local political level has been built as a political arena since c (...)
  • 15 Mathenge, Oliver. 2009. “All Constituencies now Turned into Districts.” The Nation, 13 July [archi (...)

8To put an end to the violence associated with the Majimbo claims in the 1960s and 1990s, the 2010 Constitution introduced and provided for the use of the more neutral Swahili terms ugatuzi13 (decentralisation) and usambazaji wa madaraka (responsibility sharing). These terms, which have their origins in the constitutional debates of the 1960s, were used in the official reports that followed the 2007 post-elections violence. Note that this change in terminology was less about promoting regional preference than about reforming the provincial government’s system, which had resulted from colonisation and was considered inadequate.14 The districts were indeed perceived as fostering political ethnicity as they stimulated politicised ethnic disputes and entrenched local identities (Hassan 2016). Since their establishment at independence, these districts had been subjected to much political manipulation. For instance, between the 1992 and 2002 elections, Daniel arap Moi created 30 new districts in an effort to sway votes, as did Mwai Kibaki between 2002 and 2013.15 Indeed, although Moi had been a strong supporter of the Majimbo system, once he was in power (1978–2002), his promises of reform gave way to a process of power deconcentration aimed at strengthening his base in the regions through the strategic appointment of Provincial and District Commissioners, representing the central administration, and the establishment of police stations in the different provinces of the country.

  • 16 The attacks on the American embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in August 1998 left a deep impr (...)

9As this debate involves a long chronology of events, we should be aware of the political episodes that preceded and shaped the decentralisation project as it exists today, as well as its use in the political debates of the 2000–2020 period. In the 1990s, the KANU’s strategy was mainly aimed at reviving the Majimbo ideology to win the elections in the Rift Valley and the coastal region. It put forward the ethnic argument, that is, indigenous claims, to pit the “natives” (or “self-convinced ‘locals’” or “new indigenes” as Gabrielle Lynch calls them, 2011) against the more recent “migrants” (Jenkins 2012), without taking any concrete steps towards decentralisation. Following the violent and biased 1992 and 1997 elections, the December 2002 elections marked a historical transition in Kenyan political history with the end of the KANU monopoly of power (which had been de facto in 1969, and de jure in 1982 and 1991) and the victory of a multi-party coalition (Throup & Hornsby 1998, Maupeu 2003). These presidential and legislative elections took place in a peaceful context despite fears and the first terrorist attacks in the area.16 The victory of the NaRC (National Rainbow Coalition) led by Mwai Kibaki against Uhuru Kenyatta—who, in this first candidacy, had been designated as Moi’s successor—was unexpected. It raised high hopes for the establishment of a social contract that the increasingly authoritarian practices of the previous regimes had torn apart (Grignon & Maupeu 1998).

  • 17 While alternation was a source of optimism in Kenya and elsewhere, it was quickly put into questio (...)

10But these hopes were quickly dashed by the inertia of the first Kibaki government, which did not seem inclined to keep its promises to liberalise the political system. The work of the government agencies created to oversee the constitutional reform and transform a basic law inherited from the colonial period failed to convince the Kenyans. This was especially true in the case of the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) whose function was to ensure the healing of ethno-political conflicts by promoting greater inclusiveness; and that of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) aimed at redressing the injustices of the past (Bosire & Lynch, 2014). In 2003, the NaRc introduced the Constituency Development Fund (CDF). The CDF was intended to encourage the transfer of funds from the national level to the local level: as a result of the CDF 2.5% of the national income was allocated to Members of Parliament (MPs) for the development of their constituencies. The CDF was not so innovative in that it was an institutionalised version of harambee (literally “all together”). Collective fundraisings encouraged local leaders to initiate local development projects with the population (creation of health centres, schools, etc.), the operating costs of which would then be covered by the government. The existence of this decentralised fund—albeit highly corrupt (Cheeseman 2008)—led some to describe Kenya as a country with a “high degree of decentralisation” (Ndegwa 2002) even before the 2010 Constitution had been passed. However, these measures satisfied neither the Kenyan Human Rights Commission (KHRC), nor the activists and associations, which mobilised and demanded action from the government. This move shed light on the fragility of the change in power.17 Clear objections were also perceived among the victorious (and profoundly heterogeneous) coalition (Otieno 2005), and within which the Kikuyu elite was itself divided (Branch 2010, 304).

11Frustrations materialised in the creation of the “orange movement,” a multi-party alliance of MPs rallied around the person of Raila Odinga, the son of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, who opposed Kibaki’s draft constitution. In November 2005, the rejection of the draft by referendum completed the break-up of the NaRc and set apart the political factions that would be part of the opposition during the December 2007 elections. As the leader his new party—the Orange Democratic Movement, ODM—, Raila Odinga pledged to carry out an ambitious program during the first 90 days of his presidency: to implement a constitutional reform (as announced in 2002) and decentralisation. He condemned the corruption of the Kibaki government, which had failed to put an end to thievery inherited from the Moi era. His program focused on setting up a more equitable redistribution of resources, strengthening the counties’ capacities (60% of public funds would go to regional and local governments), limiting the executive branch and establishing a parliamentary system. For its part, Kibaki’s program was not surprising and represented a straight continuation of the promises he had made during his first term, namely: free secondary education, improved public services, and job creation.

  • 18 Turnout reached an all-time high of 69%, or 9,886,650 voters. The 2013 election (the first general (...)
  • 19 Both for its proximity to the authorities and also for the intimidation of its representatives.
  • 20 The Mungiki political militia is a prophetic religious movement, particularly influential in the K (...)

12In the aftermath of the 27 December 2007 presidential election, in which more than 14 million Kenyans came to the polls, sometimes waiting more than six hours to enter a polling station.18 The results of the elections were clear: Mwai Kibaki had been re-elected with 4,584,721 votes, while his opponent Raila Odinga had obtained 4,352,993 votes—a difference of only about 230,000 votes. Even before the official results were announced, the Raila Odinga camp actively denounced a massive fraud ordered by the incumbent government. The Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK), a supposedly independent but often denounced body,19 was seized upon the discovery of an illegal voters’ list in Raila Odinga’s precinct a few days before the elections, and because of internal irregularities in the system put in place: multiple registrations of the same voter or of deceased voters, circulation of false ballot papers, and suspicious movements of buses or coaches—escorted by the police or the Kikuyu militia Mungiki—which were suspected to transport full ballot boxes towards the regions which were won over to the opposition.20

  • 21 The day after the vote, on the evening of December 28th, 50% of the votes of the presidential poll (...)
  • 22 See the issue of Afrique contemporaine on this theme, especially the article by Christian Thibon ( (...)

13On the evening of Sunday, 30 December, ECK’s president Samuel Kivuitu proclaimed the final results: Mwai Kibaki had won the presidential election. Yet, the results previously announced during the counting of votes—which did not take the representativeness of the local results for the whole country into account—showed that Raila Odinga led by a considerable amount.21 Once again, political violence was used to weaken both electoral competition and democracy (Connan & Brisset-Foucault 2008). While there was a suspicion of widespread fraud at all the levels of the presidential election (a suspicion on which the ECK did not comment), the parliamentary elections resulted in a clear victory of the ODM candidates. These events triggered demonstrations and the first acts of violence in two informal settlements of Nairobi that Raila Odinga had won over: Kibera, which was his stronghold in the Langat’a constituency, and Kawangware. In the four months following the election, from December 2007 to April 2008, nearly 1,100 Kenyans lost their lives and about 600,000 people fled the violence, becoming internal refugees (Internally Displaced People, IDP, ICG 2008).22 Fuelled by deep historical inequalities and territorial tensions over access to land (Médard 2008), the discords affecting Nairobi’s poor neighbourhoods, medium-sized cities (Kisumu, Mombasa, Eldoret) and cosmopolitan regions of Kenya were reduced in unjust ways to the effects of ethnic antagonisms by political elites and the international media. Above all, these discords were territorialised class conflicts inscribed in the trajectory of a capitalist state that had developed globalised neoliberal policies and whose neo-patrimonial mechanisms structured the economy, politics and the society (see Calas as well as Maupeu in this volume). International mediations were carried out under the aegis of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan; and led to a coalition and a power-sharing agreement in April 2008. In an attempt to guarantee peace, a government of national alliance (Grand Coalition) was established. Mwai Kibaki held the position of President and worked closely with his former opponent and Prime Minister Raila Odinga to develop a set of policies aimed at reuniting the country politically and socially. Protecting the economy from the vicissitudes of politics was a priority.

  • 23 The BBI Initiative is an extension of the Vision 2030 project (see conclusion).
  • 24 Indeed, the violence and their recollection profoundly influenced the campaign and the management (...)
  • 25 See the article by Justin Willis and Ngala Chome (2014), which details these expectations from the (...)

14Thus, Kibaki’s second term was guided by a strong consensus on national development to defuse the main socio-economic gaps which had led to the 2007 crisis. This new direction led to the promotion of Kenya’s Vision 2030 development plan: a set of reforms and major infrastructure projects expected to bring Kenya to the status of a middle-income country within the next 20 years. The current “Building Bridges Initiative” (BBI) is one of these projects.23 The new direction was also reflected in a complex consensus around the redefinition of the constitution which, beyond a global reform of the Kenyan system, intended to pacify the elections in Kenya.24 From 2008 onwards, the coalition government led to a process of co-writing of the 2010 Constitution (known as the Bomas Draft) by Mwai Kibaki’s and Raila Odinga’s political entourage and some elected officials close to them. The latest version of the draft promoted decentralisation (Kasfir 2005). In an effort to restore credit to his government, Kibaki used decentralisation as a facade while his camp’s recommendations conferred a significant economic and political power to the governors. The MPs contributed to the draft Constitution by committing to decentralise power at the level of 47 counties (and not at that of the 8 existing provinces). This decision, however, went against the principle that minority groups and some opposition parties had been defending for almost 70 years.25 Indeed, the chosen political units (from the ward to the county) were generally thought to be too small to constitute a real counter-power capable of threatening the central government (see later in this section).

  • 26 Also sitting in the Senate are 16 representatives designated by the political parties on the basis (...)
  • 27 It should however be pointed out that while the new Constitution raised many hopes for freedoms (e (...)
  • 28 See Di Matteo in this volume.

15Following a second referendum which received a 67% “yes” vote, the adoption of the new Constitution in the summer of 2010 promised a better balance of power and mediation of land conflicts. The new text retained the presidential system, but subjected presidential appointments (ministers, prosecutors, ambassadors) to approval by the Parliament—which could now dismiss the President. Two new bodies were also set up: the Senate, composed of 47 members elected from the new administrative districts (the counties);26 and the Supreme Court, responsible for arbitrating disputes concerning the presidential election, as well as challenges to judgements handed down on appeal. “Traditional” civil liberties (of expression, worship, association, etc.) are guaranteed,27 and dual nationality is now possible. The land reform component was more controversial. It provided for the establishment of a National Land Commission (NLC). It also included the legal review of “historical injustices”—including “land grabbing issues”—and the limitation of private ownership, in particular the duration of emphyteutic leases for foreigners. This measure challenges the illegal acquisition of land involving the highest levels of the state and its elites since independence (Boone et al. 2019). Both the National Land Policy (2009) and the 2010 Constitution adopted principles—which are not always put in practice, especially with regards to so-called “community lands”—intended to emancipate land institutions from the centralised bureaucratic system of land administration inherited from the colonial era.28 These debates show that decentralisation raises a crucial question: which level of power—local or national—is entitled to control land and legislate on land ownership as well as on past and present disputes? This question relates to the very principles of the new decentralised political system aimed at establishing local and participatory control over resources.

2. The Principles of the New Decentralised Political System

16Consider the following sentence: “Politics in tune with community (…), building from the ground-up a participatory system of governance that stays in touch with communities by staying in communities” (Burbidge 2019, 12). It sums up the principles at the heart of the Kenyan decentralisation experience in a nutshell. It describes a participatory and inclusive system of governance anchored in public opinion and decision-making at the local level.

17The 47 counties created by the Constitution have equivalent legal and political status. Each county government has an executive branch headed by the Governor, his cabinet of ministers (the County Executive Committee) and all the County Chief Officers, namely, sub-county-, wards- and village- administrators. The county government’s legislative branch consists of the County Assembly and the county’s representation at the national level (through the election of one MP per constituency and one Senator per county). The County Public Service Board recommends candidates for appointment as Ministers by the Governor, and manages human resources at the county level. The diagram below shows the relationship between the executive and legislative branches of government at the level of Kenyan county structures, and their equivalent in the national structure of power (Republic of Kenya 2014).

Fig. 1: Executive and legislative functions at the national and county levels

Fig. 1: Executive and legislative functions at the national and county levels

Adapted from two graphs from Burbidge (2019): Fig. 1.1: The Executive branch of county and national governments (p. 14); and Fig. 1.2: The Legislative branch of county and national governments (p. 16).

  • 29 While the president must be Kenyan, a governor is not required to be from the county he represents (...)

18The Governor leads his county government, just as the President leads the national government.29 In the national government, the President appoints the Cabinet Secretaries. The Public Service Commission recommends the candidates for appointment as Principal Secretaries to the President. The civil servants of each department answer to their Principal Secretary. In the counties, the Governor appoints the County Executive Committee members (CEC or CECs). They head the local ministries, which perform the functions partially-decentralised by the central government, namely: agriculture, health services, cultural activities, trade and finance. Ministers participate in the preparation of the so-called County Planning Development Plans (five-years development plans). CECs (equivalents of ministers) and County Chief Officers (equivalents of Principal Secretaries) are recommended for appointment to the Governor by the County Public Service Board. The latter manages civil servants at the county level, just as the Public Service Commission does at the national level. These are two separate commissions in the context of which the national level cannot influence the local level (the national civil service, i.e. the state civil service, is not in a position to re-centralise its responsibilities).

19To carry out the functions of the national government at the local level, a decentralised administration accountable to the central government has been maintained alongside the counties’ administration. This local administration is connected to the national level and consists of Local Civil Service Administrations governed by Regional Coordinators (i.e. County Commissioners), Deputy County Commissioners (at the head of sub-counties) and chiefs (at the head of wards), all of whom answer to the Ministry of the Interior. They have no say in the direction of local affairs and their missions are limited to the functions that have not been decentralised. The County Commissioners’ authority places them in a role similar to those who, in the former provincial administration, were called Provincial and District Commissioners. The counties therefore have a decentralised administrative machinery to carry out their functions. This machinery has been developed at the sub-county, ward (an elected MCA) and village levels (with Village Administrators gathered in a village council, which is made up of a handful of “elders”). The elders are not necessarily elderly men, but they occupy a central role in the local community they represent. For each ward, the elected MCA must work closely with the chief appointed by the central government. Counties cannot negotiate constitutional changes and do not have their own sovereignty (unlike in the federalist systems, for instance).

20Now turning to the legislative branch. The Parliament consists of two chambers, the National Assembly and the Senate. The National Assembly is composed of 290 MPs who are elected in their constituencies. To promote gender parity, each county elects a woman (the Women Representative) who sits in Parliament with the MPs. Note that she represents her county rather than a particular constituency. The mission of the County Assemblies is very similar to that of the National Assembly’s. They pass budgets and laws, and are both responsible for deciding on the impeachment of their respective executives. Naturally, the County Assemblies discuss and vote only on county budget and expenditures (county bills). The Senate is composed of 47 senators from the 47 counties. Their role is to pass laws that, while having a national impact, concern the counties in particular. If the MCAs request it, the Senate is also responsible for deciding on the impeachment of governors with a final vote, following [its own] investigation.

21National laws regulate the distribution of national income between the central and county governments—as laid down in the Constitution. The National Assembly decides on the division of revenues between the national and county governments. It then determines how the national revenue is divided and allocated to the counties. The counties can also raise their own taxes. Note that their available sources of revenue fall into five main categories: [1] local revenues (taxes on services, property, etc.), conditional and unconditional grants (allocated to the counties by the national government for specific funding, such as “Level 5 hospitals,” public hospitals previously managed by the provincial administration and that have become county referral hospitals), [2] equalisation funds (allocated to the most disadvantaged counties), [3] national equitable share (share given by the national government, corresponding to 15% of the national revenue),[4] private donors (e.g. the French Development Agency, which supported the Kisumu County Urban Renewal Plan), [5] and loans (repaid by the counties, with interests, and only with the agreement of the national government, which will pay the counties’ debts if they cannot pay it). The Commission on Revenue Allocation (CRA) is in charge of administering the national equitable share, which determines the division of the national revenue of up to 15% per county each year (excluding income generated by the counties themselves) on the basis of five criteria: county population, basic services, poverty, land and fiscal responsibility. Note that this fund differs from the smaller equalisation fund, which is reserved for the least developed counties (CRA 2013) and intends to ensure the distribution of basic services at a level similar to that of other counties (Bosire 2017). It only represents 0.5% of the national revenue every year.

Fig. 2. Flows of revenues from different sources for county governments.

Fig. 2. Flows of revenues from different sources for county governments.

Source: World Bank (2011, 42).

  • 30 The functions carried out by the national government and which have not been decentralised are: in (...)
  • 31 Lamu, Tana River, Kilifi and Kwale counties are among the poorest in the country (KNBS & SID 2013)
  • 32 Ogada, Mordecai. 2019. “Decolonising Conservation: It is about the Land, Stupid!” The Elephant, 27 (...)

22Health has been the most decentralised sector (Kimathi 2017); other sectors, such as agriculture and education, have undergone only partial decentralisation (Republic of Kenya 2014). In the field of education, for instance, some training centres—such as vocational training centres—are now managed by counties. However, school curricula are still developed at the national level.30 What is more, some sectors have not been decentralised: heritage management, still carried out by the public and research institution called the National Museums of Kenya; conservation, handled by the Kenya Wildlife Service; security has not been decentralised either. Apart from relying on the police, the national army, the NCIC and networks of national and international NGOs, the counties have little capacity to maintain peace and social cohesion at the local level (Republic of Kenya 2014). Ultimately, the absence of decentralisation in some policy areas, such as security, reflects a political and legal concern to maintain the central government’s base in certain areas. This absence also has a political origin and can be explained by fear of the governors’ instrumentalisation of the counties police forces; the fear that governors could have more or less organised local armies capable of threatening the central government and, to a larger extend, the monopoly of violence held by the Kenyan state—according to the Weberian principle (Burbidge 2019, 167). However, the limitations to and the division of powers that the new constitution provided for have not yet been implemented in the local practices of the counties. Mombasa County has, for example, established its own county police as well as infrastructure (football pitches, street lighting in poor neighbourhoods such as Majengo) and activities (dance, drama) to keep young people busy after school. Recent studies conducted by political scientist Fathima Badurdeen showcase the counterpart of the unique experiment held by Mombasa County. This county has a dedicated counter-terrorism department to secure the coast,31 reduce inequalities and poverty, and alleviate the sense of marginalisation among the youth—who are readily recruited by Somali Al-Shabaab gangs and terrorists (Badurdeen, 2018). But the county police are poorly trained, have insufficient resources and therefore make up an additional layer of state repression—and are perceived as such by the youth. The county police thus exacerbate violence, conflicts and the recruitment of young people from the coast by terrorist and criminal organisations. Similarly, in the Kenyan conservation environment, land tenure tensions continue to be a source of conflict, fuelled by politicians. This is partly because conservation has mostly remained the preserve of White Kenyans. The state violently responds to these conflicts, as it did when the Kenya Defence Force was deployed to quell the invasion of private ranches in Laikipia County in April 2017.32 These two examples highlight a problematic overlap of action levels, as well as the strong interdependence between the national and local levels when it comes to managing critical issues. Beyond the adoption of a new constitution and the legal framework presented above, the overlap is most visible in the practical implementation of decentralisation.

3. Decentralisation in Practice: Actors and Apparatus of Local Politics

23Decentralisation was part of Mwai Kibaki’s political project (2002–2013), which focused on growth and the achievement of major development projects. From 2013 to 2020, Uhuru Kenyatta implemented a policy program in line with the so-called “Big 4” Agenda, a development agenda, the primary objective of which was to foster an industrial revolution in Kenya (9.2% of the country’s GDP today against 20% of its GDP in 2022). To that extent, national issues are of concern to local elected officials. Nevertheless, it is interesting to question their relative independence and the nature of their approaches on the local political scene—a scene closely linked to that of national politics. The practical application of their approaches in relation to citizens—especially the strengthening of public participation and the representativeness of ethnic minorities and social cadets—are also being debated.

Decentralised Governance, a Political Project of a Developmentalist State and its Elites

  • 33 “IMF Cautions over Kenya Debt Vulnerability.” 2017. Business Daily, 21 November. https://www.busin (...)
  • 34 Despite this handshake, Raila Odinga is still running in opposition to the government’s policies a (...)

24While inherited from the Kibaki era, the developmentalist discourse of the Vision 2030 governmental project is still relevant today. It has accompanied decentralisation: each region must join in the national effort and throw its weight behind the emergence of an economy that does no longer rely solely on its urban middle classes, but also on the wealth of the rural world and the economies of counties now presented as the touchstone of national construction. As part of the national development agenda, and in the context of an economy of public expenditure and debt,33 Uhuru Kenyatta’s government (2013–2022) revaluated the Kenyan worker in his public speeches and political communications. In doing so, he played a role in the interlocking between political and development objectives (Hagmann & Reyntjens 2016). To guarantee the peaceful environment needed for business, Kenyatta even “shook hands” with Raila Odinga.34 This symbolic handshake, which took place in March 2018, was supposed to put an end to the political crisis that ensued after the 2017 elections. The Supreme Court had overturned election results, leading to a re-run, which took place two months later and was boycotted by Raila Odinga (Pommerolle & Josse-Durand 2017).

  • 35 This is also reflected in the additional 5 million voters registered for the 2017 elections, while (...)

25At the county level, this development policy began to take root in 2013 and is now focused on local development. In regions abandoned by the government or plundered by their elected representatives, numerous development projects (including hospitals and ambulances, water access systems, improvement of the road networks, etc.) have since been completed. The policy has also been extended to the county level. Citizens gradually seem to show as much—if not more—interest in the development projects set up by the counties and their representatives (who organise themselves in a more concrete way) as in those promoted by the President of the Republic35 (Cheeseman, Lynch & Willis 2016; Waddilove 2019, 347). Since the implementation of decentralisation, the counties’ dynamism has thus reinforced the competition between the central government and the counties, as both sides strive to be central players in Kenya’s political life by emphasising their role in the development of their respective levels or fields of work (county, constituency, ward). This is particularly true in the case of productive regions resulting from colonisation (the former White Highlands), now transformed into counties (Laikipia, Trans-nzoia, Nandi, Kericho and counties of the former Central Province: Murang’a, Kirinyaga, Kiambu, Nyadarua, Nyeri). Today, these counties are working hard to develop their factories, cooperatives and export processing zones. This governmental approach to local innovation consists in capturing the added value of local products by allowing them to be manufactured locally, as in the case of coffee or fresh pasteurised milk dispensers for example (Muranga County), and by controlling export (the Chemalel Export Processing Zone in Nandi County).

26This developmentalist ideology, according to which every individual and every county must play a role in the national economic effort, is now visible at all levels of the state. However, the authoritarian translation of this ideology is seen at county level; it is, in fact, reflected in the rationalisation of local development by the local and central governments. As the official slogan of the decentralised government points out—“48 governments, 1 Nation”—, the integration of counties into globalisation will also be that of the Kenyan nation. Indeed, there is a clear overlap between the political and economic programs of the central government and those implemented by the counties despite the challenges or power games at play. The proximity of local elected officials to political and partisan networks is still relevant and continues to play a decisive role in the electoral battle. During the 2017 elections, governors who had Uhuru Kenyatta’s support had an easier time winning the elections (with an average of 53% of the vote) than independent candidates who were not aligned with Kenyatta’s Jubilee alliance (with only 17% of the vote on average). This held true for the governors of Embu, Laikipia, Mandera and Meru, who won the elections by large margins despite a strong competition for their positions (Gadjanova 2019, 277). Note that, it is also a strategy on the part of some, whose credibility and legitimacy are reinforced when they criticise the central government: the MP of Nandi Constituency, Alfred Keter, was re-elected although he had been in clear opposition to Vice-President William Ruto throughout his campaign. In any case, local elected officials cannot exist independently of the national level, whether in electoral times or during the implementation of local development programs and projects—which are strongly influenced by the directives and the necessary support of the national political and economic elites.

Mode of Action of Local Elected Officials: The Members of County Assemblies (MCAs)

  • 36 These comments are drawn from the observation of the 2013 election campaign in Nandi and Trans-Nzo (...)
  • 37 KDF, KWS, KFS, NYS, police, etc.

27The 2013 elections marked the coming into force of both the new Kenyan Constitution and decentralisation. On Monday, 4 March, voters went to the polls to elect candidates for six different positions. The competition had been particularly fierce due to a drastic increase in the number of candidates. While elections always require much “trickling-down” of national resources to the local level, the 2013 elections—which were organised at the ward, constituency and county levels—gave even more visibility to the decentralisation process. Indeed, this “trickling-down” to the county level took very concrete forms as a result of the multiplication of positions at the local level: jobs, vote buying, bribes, local or regional projects had been promised by all candidates. In addition, prior to the elections, the electoral commission had obtained international funding to organise staff training (polling station officials such as the Presiding Officer, his deputy and the clerks in particular). Note that most of the staff had been recruited locally (most of the clerks were young people from the county who had completed their primary schooling or were students). With the implementation of decentralisation, the local scene, and particularly the arena of local legislative elections, became a central arena for political participation within the (wider) Kenyan political scene. The 2013 general elections mobilised unprecedented resources. Electoral material had to be replaced: in addition to the purchase of electronic kits for biometric voting (KIEMS), ballot boxes were given their own colour. Pink represented the Women Representative (or Women Rep); and confusingly similar colours represented the MPs and MCAs (one’s ballot boxes were beige and the other one’s pale yellow). Moreover, before and during the campaign, many candidates made numerous requests for funding from the private sector or from local politicians who were already holding positions in the local or national governments. Urban centres were also overwhelmed by a wild public display of posters printed by candidates. The candidates started campaigning with pre-checked, fake ballots bearing their photograph and displaying the party symbols (a rooster, an elephant, a key, etc.), in addition to displaying the colour associated with the position they were seeking.36 For its part, the national government deployed numerous corps (military, youth, forest rangers and animal park guards37) to ensure the safety of the 40,883 polling stations (with two guards per station, one at the entrance and one inside). In doing so, the government underscored the attention paid to this first ballot and the ever-present suspicions of electoral fraud.

  • 38 On the subject of “big men” in Kenya, see the work of Jean-François Médard (1992) and François Gri (...)
  • 39 Waddilove, Hannah. 2017. “Kenya Voted for Change and Got it… at the Local Level.” African Argument (...)

28With these first general elections, came the hope that following representatives of citizens and “bottom” actors—including the “social cadets”—would enter politics: young people, women, disabled people, families and clans, squatters or migrant workers, civil servants of intermediary bodies and institutions. Prior to decentralisation, the electoral format rarely—if ever—allow these actors access to political positions. This new hope drew its strength from a deep collective belief in elective democracy and the strength of legislative institutions—an ambiguous legalism which characterises Kenya’s political culture (Katende & Kanyeihamba 1973; Warris 2013). However, while the 2013 elections initiated and put into practice this new decentralised administrative and political system for the first time, there was a clear, strong political continuity in the local elections. Thus, many “big men” as well as traditional and influential local figures—personalities who were often MPs in their region of origin before becoming ministers in the national government38—ran for governor positions. Nevertheless, the introduction of a large number of local elected officials, the MCAs, raised the question of the political staff’s renewal and that of the potential rapprochement between the state and citizens as a result of the implementation of decentralisation. Indeed, while the MCAs represented the smallest level of governance, they made up most of the candidates at the national level (1450 elected, 700 nominated). As of the 2013 elections and the establishment of local Assemblies, this position replaced the comparatively pale Ward Councillor position. The Constitution assigns the MCAs a dual role: the role of local legislators in County Assemblies and the role of territorial administrators, with access to the county budget for the citizens of the ward that elected them. This gives them a definite influence on the award of scholarships and local public contracts. The profiles of these elected officials have been quite atypical for Kenyan political scene: not being “professional” politicians, MCAs have seemed to be on the fringes of the traditional networks of clientelism.39 They were often elected because they had acted on behalf of their compatriots—for example, as union representatives, local shopkeepers or businessmen, or as young graduates who had returned home to put their skills at the service of their rural communities. Their credibility was also enhanced by the possibility of impeaching the county governor, a procedure which must, however, ultimately be validated by the Senate. It seems that their appearance on the political scene encouraged voting decisions less influenced by ethnicity considerations than before. Voters based their choice on local elected officials’ credibility, respectability and progress on development projects. Therefore, local elected officials had to convince voters of their deep-seated link with the community as well as their ability to act as intermediaries between voters—as is the case for MPs at the constituency level—and the state with its traditional elites. These logics of moralisation of representatives question the pre-eminence of the ethnic affiliations upon which the logics of political representation are based in Kenya (Atieno Odhiambo 2004; Berman, Cottrell & Ghai 2009). However, generally speaking, voting on the basis of ethnic considerations remains very common, particularly in cosmopolitan constituencies—not to mention constituencies where political divisions are aligned with sub-identity divisions (for instance, at the clan level) (NCIC 2014; 2016; Burbidge 2019, 91–120; Onyango 2018).

  • 40 Field notes, interview with Cynthia Muge, April 2018, Hotel Eden Spring, Kapsabet, Nandi County. S (...)

29During the 2017 elections, changes in political personnel and institutional hierarchies took place. They were all the more visible at the county level, in particular at the positions of MCAs and the 47 Women Rep’s (one per county). Among other things, one notes a form of power redistribution to the “social cadets,” since young people and women—sometimes young women—were elected; indeed, the 2017 elections saw more women entering politics thanks to the creation of a position reserved for women (Bouka, Berry & Kamuru 2019). Several young graduate students who could not find jobs, Youth Group Leaders, young entrepreneurs, citizens from the civil society as well as—more expectedly—individuals from the trading class (especially local figures who had their own financial means and influence at the local level) were elected as MCAs. Simon Muturi, an unemployed 24-year-old candidate who campaigned on a bicycle for the Jubilee (that is, the coalition that enabled Kenyatta to be elected in 2013 and 2017) and was elected for the Muruguru-Gatitu ward, was emblematic of this “new generation.” So was Cynthia Muge, a 24-year-old civil engineer and the country’s youngest candidate, who was elected as an MCA for the Kilibwoni ward. As a young graduated in civil engineering, she unsuccessfully tried to get a job in Nandi County administration before deciding to run a political campaign, which she primarily envisioned as a platform to carry the voice of the youth to the county’s politicians and the people in her home ward. Among other things, she proposed and introduced a technical and precise plan to renovate the deteriorated road infrastructure to the population during her campaign meetings. Note that her ward, being almost the size of a constituency (an MP being responsible for a constituency), had been divided in a peculiar way. In order to overcome the difficulty of meeting her constituents—who would have had to travel long distances to reach her office—and to take the diversity of their demands into account, she chose to set up a mobile office, moving between the different locations where she would meet them on certain days of the week.40

  • 41 More broadly, many local candidates are elected thanks to their inclusion in regional and national (...)
  • 42 Anne Waiguru (former CS for Devolution) for Kirinyaga County, Charity Ngilu (former minister and p (...)
  • 43 In this regard, see the damning reports of the Auditor General (2019) on the ethnic composition of (...)
  • 44 Lynch, Gabrielle. 2014. “Devolution Has Made Politics more Local and Violent than ever before.” Th (...)

30However, the role of women in politics remains to be nuanced. Most of those who have reached the counties’ highest positions are influential women who had already held national positions.41 This holds true in the case of the three women candidates who were elected as Kirinyaga’s, Bomet’s and Kitui’s first female governors during the 2017 elections.42 Laws on gender balance in politics and positive discrimination (according to the 2/3 principle) promoted by the Constitution have not yet been passed by the Parliament which, like the rest of the Kenyan institutions and bodies, function according to a marked patriarchal habitus (Nyabola & Pommerolle 2018). Furthermore, the role of the Women Rep remains unclear in the Constitution. The mission of these representatives is to express the specific needs and demands of Kenyan women and to be the “voice of women” in politics. The missions carried out under this new position are the subject of considerable debate. This is because they vary significantly from one profile to another. Incidentally, this new position is sometimes reduced to a springboard to access more positions deemed more prestigious and influential, in particular that of MP (ibid., 67–71). Finally, the effectiveness of administrative reforms aimed at ensuring the counties’ ethnic diversification is called into question by the almost mono-ethnic composition of the executive, legislative and civil service of the counties. It underlines that the majority of power positions still belong to the dominant local ethnic group.43 In addition, political competition being increased by the number of candidates running, decentralisation seems to have reinforced localised violence often spurred by the political class to the detriment of citizens, who are its “foot soldiers.”44

31Thus, it is difficult to give a clear answer to the question whether decentralisation has brought the state and citizens closer. It is clear that this new political chessboard allows some elected officials—notably governors and senators—to position themselves in relation to national elected officials, who take up their political function to strengthen their local legitimacy, sometimes by expressing their allegiances to the central power, sometimes by criticising the government’s actions in their region (Waddilove 2019; Gadjanova 2019). Nonetheless, the emergence of new levels of power and objections by the MCAs to the projects or decisions made by the governors and MPs—who used to be unquestioned leaders on their lands—indicates a kind of rapprochement between these new “local” elected officials and their voters. Increased citizen participation, which resulted from decentralisation, is supposed to strengthen this proximity between representatives and those they represent in the conduct of public affairs.

Citizens’ Modes of Action: The Mixed Experience of a Decentralised “Participatory Development”

  • 45 For an updated and transdisciplinary analysis of these debates, see Chauveau & Lavigne-Delville (2 (...)

32Public participation is a core element of the constitutional reform. It is up to citizens to identify local development issues (Rwigi, forthcoming), and this occurs during public forums organised by each county through the retrospective plebiscite—by show of hands—of priority development projects. This procedure—which follows the model of participatory governance created in Porto Alegre (Participatory Budgeting)—aims to tie up strategies of local development with the will of the citizens, who must actively deliberate budget orientations. The local and decentralised co-production of public policies (co-production because it brings together citizens and elected officials) is intended to enhance the managerial transparency of the counties as well as the political legitimacy of their elected officials (Fung & Wright 2001, Wampler & Avritzer 2005). The reality is that these forums are either neglected or monopolised by supporters of the dominant party or group in local politics; or composed of citizens paid to participate or intimidated into self-censorship on the conduct of public affairs. Therefore, “participatory” democracy—as a fairer model and a system of good local governance—needs be put into perspective; as do the “democratisation” of Kenya’s political space and its opening up to civil society.45

33Indeed, the participatory approach has not yet proved its worth in Kenya—except, perhaps in Makueni County, which is presented as a success story. Makueni County’s success is partly due to the career and technical expertise of the county governor in office since 2013, Kivutha Kibwana. Kibwana is a recognised law professor, human rights advocate and former member of the opposition. However, this specific participatory process seems to work more to the advantage of his government’s political legitimacy than to improve his management. Public participation is “a structured way of consulting with persons, groups and entities before decisions are made” (GoMC 2016). Participants must come from six different levels: Village People’s Forum, Cluster People’s Forum, Sub Ward People’s Forum, Ward People’s Forum, Sub County People’s Forum and the County People’s Forum. In Makueni County, citizens at each of these levels nominate eleven people of their choice to form a Development Committee (DC). The mission of each DC is to represent the interests of the citizens of the level they represent. The DCs of the first four levels negotiate and deliberate with each other on the allocation and distribution of resources for the development of the ward. At the sub-county or county level, the DCs merely reiterate their vested interests in the verification and validation of their proposals as they were validated during the public participation forums held in the 30 wards of Makueni County. Thus, in principle, public participation is supposed to help Makueni County achieve two objectives: [1] to include marginalised constituencies in public decision-making, and [2] to consolidate the government’s authority over its political-administrative territory (GoMC 2016).

  • 46 Baraza are community forums for public debate, often associated with or overseen by councils of el (...)
  • 47 See the special issue on “Public Spaces of Speech and Practices of Citizenship in Africa,” of Poli (...)

34To some extent, this system has allowed citizens to influence spending in their ward according to their own priorities. There are, however, many participation gaps, which highlight the fact that the constituted assemblies are not always inclusive or representative. Local figures (e.g. teachers, religious leaders, activists, social workers and union representatives), particularly men, take up much of the speaking time in these meetings. Young people, for instance, often feel excluded from these forums because, in the continuity of the baraza tradition, they are usually reserved for “elders” and associated with values of respectability, maturity an honour.46 At the same time, MCAs are demanding that the government grant them their own fund (the Ward Development Fund) to carry out their projects at the grassroots. So far, they have been denied funding. According to the constitution, the ward is not intended to be a financial entity per se, and it is the county government that decides on the allocation of funds, based on the county’s (that is, not the ward’s) overall priorities. This situation creates deep frictions between parliamentarians and the executive. It also underscores once more the limits of citizen participation in defining local development priorities. The existence of People’s Parliaments—or Bunge la Wananchi—also highlights the fact that decentralisation has not really made it possible to involve Kenyan citizens in public decision-making in satisfactory ways. These People’s Parliaments offer an alternative framework for public discussion of political, social and economic affairs; and, on the basis principles close to those of “street parliaments” found in several African countries, they have been organised in a national and activist network.47

  • 48 Two workers can carry this machine, where manual harvesting requires an average of 30 workers per (...)
  • 49 Donors can indeed contribute to the counties’ finances but their contribution must be declared in (...)
  • 50 On the role of Councils of Elders in the conduct of local political and public affairs in Kenya, s (...)

35However, the partial renewal of the county elites between 2013 and 2017 showed that voters had not been fooled and had the means to influence the careers of elected officials. To a certain extent, by electing MCAs from their communities, citizens used the decision-making mechanisms at their disposal to restructure power relations that had hitherto disadvantaged them. They did so by mobilising the institutions and machinery of decentralisation to bring about the local reconfigurations they needed: namely, access to schooling, road construction, obtaining property titles, passing local laws to protect local labour or sectors of activities, etc. This has also been evidenced by demonstrations, petitions and increased appearances in local courts. While they are not new, these local mobilisations are becoming more effective and gaining visibility as a result of decentralisation (Lynch 2011). Employment and working conditions are central issues in the national and local political life, where corruption and co-optation are often denounced by citizens and activists who feel powerless outside election times. These grievances, directed at elected officials and the state, are relayed by the new institutions of power (the County Assemblies) and local figures (especially Senators) who question the decisions taken by national institutions and the state on their territory. To take a concrete example: a law to limit the number of machines authorised by multinational tea companies for automated tea leaf picking was passed in November 2018 by the MCAs of Nandi, a large tea-producing county. This measure allowed plantation workers to keep their jobs in spite of the mechanisation of the tea sector.48 The governor of Kericho too rallied against the multinational Finlay, which intended to dismiss its horticultural workers and close some of its tea plantations, on which the county’s economy. Obviously, these elected officials were also acting to protect their own interests and secure their individual re-election (MCAs among others). They did not hesitate to go against interests of the people, when necessary to ensure the continued support of agri-food lobbies and private sector individuals who finance and support the political campaigns and local actions of governors and their ministers.49 One final note. The so-called “Councils of Elders”—the traditional authorities in Kenya—still play a major role in guiding local policy,50 especially at the village level, where they are often appointed as administrators (see diagram).

4. Decentralisation in Question: Political Ethnicity, Corruption and Inequality

36While decentralisation has raised high hopes, it has also caused wariness, especially of the “ethnicisation” of local governments, the potential impact of decentralisation on corrupt practices and the persistence of regional inequalities—now measured at the county level.

Towards Increased Ethnicisation of Politics

37Between 2007 and 2008, fear of ethnicisation was the strongest in counties regarded as hotspots of violence. Such counties are often the scene of protracted conflicts over the control and monopolisation of resources. For example, in counties of the former North-Eastern Province like Turkana and Marsabit, lack of access to water for Turkana and Samburu pastoralist groups remains a driving force behind violent and armed conflicts (Scott-Villiers 2017). In cosmopolitan counties such as Nakuru—one of the counties that hosts many IDPs in the Rift Valley—, tensions over access to and ownership of land are a source of political tensions (Boone 2013). This is also the case in counties where a majority of the population belongs to a single ethnic group. For instance, in Uasin Gishu, the Kikuyu occupation of land and ownership of trade has long been contested by Kalenjin elites, who mobilise indigenousness to maintain their political and economic base in the region (Elfversson & Sjögren 2019, 8).

  • 51 Wekesa, Grace. 2015. “NCIC Chair Francis Kaparo Warns Nandi, Luhya Leaders against Incitement.” Th (...)
  • 52 Jelima, Rael. 2018. “Nandi County Claims Seven Towns along Border with Kisumu.” The Standard, 28 M (...)

38The counties’ response to these fears, tensions and conflicts has been ambiguous as the initiatives of elected officials and administrators have been driven by their own interests. In the case of Nandi County, a market has been established on the western border—which Nandi County shares with Kakamega County. Land disputes and tensions over use of the forest by the two main communities of the region, the Nandi and Luhya, have long been a source of friction in the border are between Nandi County and Kakamega County. In November 2014, violent clashes erupted in the area after the arrest of three Luhya men suspected of killing a Nandi because of a land dispute. A meeting between Nandi County’s governor, Cleophas Lagat (2013–2017), and the governor of Kakamega, Wycliffe Oparanya (2012–2022), ensued. The two men proposed to set up a “peace market” in Kamungei; an initiative supported and approved by the president of the NCIC, Francis Ole Kaparo.51 With the agreement of the governors of the two counties, the NCIC decided to reinforce police patrols in the area and to allocate additional vehicles to the two counties on a temporary basis in case of conflicts. In addition, the idea of deploying the army in temporary camps along the border emerged. From 2017 onwards, on the southern border of Nandi County, Cleophas Lagat’s successor—the young governor Stephen Arap Sang (2017–2022)— campaigned for the integration of eight lowland localities with Nandi names, but which belong to Kisumu County.52 The idea was to set up an Export Processing Zone, which cannot be built in Nandi County because of the pressure that intensive tea production already exerts on the arable land of the Nandi escarpment, there. A local industrial park specialised in tea manufacturing would mainly benefit Nandi County; this fact is a source of tension between not only the Luo and Nandi farmers of the area but also the Nandi inhabitants and migrant tea plantation workers—who are often of Luo, Luhya and Kisii origins. What can thus be said is that the role of the counties in conflict management has been restricted to local and small-scaled actions, which are sometimes limited to the mandate of a particular governor. Moreover, their choices and the modalities of their actions have underlined a lack of coordination with the central government and a lack of coherence in the actions carried out—in particular with the NCIC—depending on the type of issues that the conflicts give rise to.

Towards Acute Corruption at the Local Level?

  • 53 This corruption also concerns the CDF, managed by the MPs, as it was already the case before the i (...)

39Decentralisation and major development projects driven by Vision 2030 have led to the decentralisation of corruption (Burbidge 2015, D’Arcy & Cornell 2016). Scandals are no longer just national or international, as was the case with Goldenberg or Anglo-leasing, but mainly involve the corruption of local public funds.53

  • 54 Oteba, Titus. 2015. “Uproar as Bungoma County Buys 10 Wheelbarrows at Sh1m.” The Standard, 8 Septe (...)
  • 55 Amadala, Benson. 2018. “Seven Former Officials Sent to Jail over Wheelbarrow Scandal.” Daily Natio (...)
  • 56 Shiundu, Alphonse. 2013. “Six Counties Fail to Spend Allocated Funds.” The Standard, 14 August. ht (...)
  • 57 Munyi, Martin. 2019. “Laikipia Assembly Rejects Supplementary Budget.” Kenya News Agency, 29 June. (...)

40Yet, what is sometimes associated with simple corruption actually reveals tensions between county and national governments over the allocation of funds. The “wheelbarrow scandal” provides a perfect example of this phenomenon. The scandal burst forth in 2015 when the Bungoma County Ministry of Agriculture bought ten wheelbarrows at a price of 109,000 KES each (about 965 EUR) while the market price was around 5,000 KES (about 45 EUR).54 Shortly after that, seven county officials were fined 300,000 KES, the non-payment of which was punishable by imprisonment of 18 months.55 Price inflation in county budgets and the justification of expenses are also crucial issues because unspent funds are returned to the County Revenue Fund at the end of the fiscal year—which is set for 30 June—after the Budget Controller’s audit. Such funds are then put back into play for the following year.56 Incidentally, while—by voting for supplementary budgets—local assemblies have enabled local governments to move money previously allocated to a budget line, project or ministry within a county, to do so is often difficult. Note that local assemblies may also occasionally clash with the executive when they wish to “settle score” with certain county officials or expose local corruption. One such tussle ensued the Assembly’s refusal to transfer funds four days before the deadline for the 2019 fiscal year in Laikipia County. Because of this—and because of limited funding—the wages of county employees were frozen for three months in a row.57 These practices, which are sometimes too quickly labelled as corrupt, highlight the challenge of spending locally and on the basis of the county’s development properties and non-fungible budgets. They also underline the issue of the politicisation of budget management.

  • 58 Mbula, Ruth. 2019. “Migori County Official on Graft Charge Detained for Four Days.” Daily Nation, (...)
  • 59 “Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko Denies Corruption Charges in Court.” 2019. Al-Jazeera, 9 December. ht (...)
  • 60 Two years later, a second survey showed that 33% of Kenyans believed that “all or most” of the cou (...)
  • 61 I warmly thank Alexia Van Riij for shedding light on my understanding of corrupt practices in Keny (...)

41One finding bears note. Corruption has not so much been decentralised—or in the words of the Kenyans, “corruption has [not so much] been devolved”— as multiplied; meaning that it has multiplied due to the increase in the number of contexts that are conducive to corrupt practices. Since 2015, successive reports of the Auditor General have revealed that at least 20 counties out of 47 experience irregularities in the management of their public finances. In fact, many county governors are involved in serious corruption cases: following the disappearance of about 17 million EUR (2 billion KES), Governor Obado and several officials from Migori County have been monitored by the Ethics and Anti-corruption Authority (EACC) for “abuse of office and corruption.”58 For his part, the controversial Nairobi County Governor, Mike Sonko—who was, until recently, thought to be very close to President Kenyatta [who made the fight against corruption the touchstone of his second term]—was arrested in December 2019 as he was trying to flee to Tanzania. He [and his immediate political circle] is being proceeded against for the embezzlement of public funds amounting to 3.2 million EUR.59 In 2012, an opinion poll conducted by AfriCOG highlighted that a third of the surveyed Kenyans who were against decentralisation justified their opinion by saying that the new system would lead to a “decentralisation of corruption.”60 Decentralisation was, at least in theory, supposed to provide checks and balances mechanisms by affording better representation in national and local governments and institutions to minority groups, social cadets and opposition parties. In practice, however, it has also opened new windows of opportunity for corrupt practices, among other things, through the levying of local taxes and the allocation of local budgets and public contracts.61 At the same time, these practices—which are simultaneously rooted in local clientelist networks and connected to the national scene—are those of elected officials who are increasingly “close” to citizens. Thanks to their proximity to citizens, these officials are in a position to both challenge and denounce corruption; or, conversely, have a front-row seat to benefit from corruption—including in electoral times, in which bribes are commonplace.

Recentralisation as a Response to the Strong Persistence of Inequalities between Counties?

  • 62 On inequalities between counties, see the report of the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics and th (...)
  • 63 Owiti, Maugo. 2015. “Matatu operators decline proposal to remit tax through M-Pesa.” Hivisasa, 3 D (...)

42Governors have also complained about inequalities between counties; inequalities related to differing state-issued budget allowances, varying abilities to raise taxes, and the presence (or, for that matter, absence) of county-managed resources. The inequitable redistribution of resources between counties is at the heart of political debates and alliances. For example, while it is very sparsely populated—albeit very poor, much revenue is allocated to Turkana County.62 These allowances should be based on the counties’ own available resources to raise funds and taxes (for example, Narok County benefits from important revenues from local tourism thanks to the presence of Masai Mara National Park, a major luxury safari destination in the East-African region). As noted above, each county receives 15% of the national revenue annually, and some counties benefit from the equalisation fund that amounts to 0.5% of the annual national income, and is earmarked for the country’s poorest counties. This additional but minimal funding is not enough to “brush up” these counties, which are lagging far behind in terms of access to the most basic services. Furthermore, due to the legal and constitutional framework, which severely limits the counties’ ability to obtain cash flows, the levying of local taxes leads to circumventions in counties whose economic stability depends on an unstable source of revenue (natural and cultural heritage sites, national parks) or sector of activity (tourism, agriculture, etc.). It also generates localised corruptive practices which limit the generation of revenue such as untimely taxes on public transport (matatu) between counties, levied at the entrance to cities.63 These inequalities have persisted since colonial times, and have been reinforced since then. The ghost of the former provincial administration and its functioning still hovers over the counties, whose borders are not so new, as they sometimes overlap with those of the old districts. This underlines the central state’s maintained control over its peripheries, which explains the difficult and partial implementation of decentralisation. In the counties, structural spending reduction is also among the main challenges of decentralisation: huge amounts of resources are channelled into recurrent expenditure. And some counties spend up to 80% of their budget on wages. This is, in part, due to the fact that they inherited staff from the provincial administration (CRA 2013; Franceschi, Memusi & Muhindi 2015).

43Finally, a trend towards recentralisation—through the creation of regional economic blocs—highlights the limitations of the possibilities that decentralisation offers county governments to raise sufficient equity capital to carry out their five-year plans. A law aimed at clarifying the administrative and financial organisation of regional blocs and the potential public/private partnerships set up by counties is also under consideration. This was initiated by the Council of Governors (CoG), which is composed of the county governors who meet to promote good governance and local development.64 In September 2019, the governors voted in favour of the so-called the Ugatuzi Initiative, a constitutional reform to strengthen decentralisation. This reform provides for, among other things, the establishment of a three-tier system of government (national, county and regional) and the creation of regional governments to strengthen the devolution of responsibilities. Over the past five years, under the leadership of CoG’s President Wycliffe Oparanya, governor of Kakamega County and leader of the largest regional bloc (the Lake Region Economic Bloc, which includes 14 multiparty counties), the following regional blocs have flourished and strengthened their capacities: the North Rift Economic Bloc (7 counties), the Frontier Counties Development Council (7), the Lake Region Economic Bloc (14), the Central Kenya Economic Bloc (10), the South Eastern Kenya Economic Bloc (3) and the Jumuiya ya Kaunti za Pwani (6).65 These six blocs group the counties into large economic regions independently of the partisan affiliations of the governors. The Lake Region Economic Bloc is one of the first to have formalised this economic pact between counties. It brings together 14 counties in an unprecedented combination, uniting the counties bordering Lake Victoria (which was won over by the opposition) and those of the Highlands (won over by the coalition in power since the alliance between Kenyatta and Ruto in 2013). The Lake Region Economic Bloc Investment Bank was created to serve as a joint; and, in it, each of the counties deposited an equivalent amount of money: 200 million KES per county, for a total amount of 2.8 billion KES (about 25 million EUR). The objective of these blocs is to strengthen the counties’ comparative advantages, optimise their economies of scale and attract regional investments—following the model of the European Union and the East African Community and with the support of the central government. In the case of the Lake Region Economic Bloc, the objective is to revive the tea, sugar, dairy and fishing sectors by: [1] providing start-up capital for local entrepreneurs that are supported by their county; and [2] building regional industrial parks to create jobs in these sectors and increase the local added value.

  • 66 Their activities and the preparation of the report were widely covered by the media, fuelling nume (...)
  • 67 William Ruto, who aims to become President in 2022, indeed suffered from the rapprochement between (...)

44While the policy of regional economic blocs is still topical, it lacks a legal framework; the central authorities and institutions have been slow to legislate on this issue. Thus, the governors’ Ugatuzi Initiative was quickly abandoned and incorporated into the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), a new national initiative for a general reform of the Constitution through a series of amendments. The BBI was launched in March 2018, following the symbolic handshake between Kenyatta and Odinga. A team of 14 well-known figures appointed by the two leaders have since formed the task force at the heart of the BBI. These 14 figures—who, like the president of the commission Yusuf Haji (senator and former minister), are from the activist, political and religious spheres—are in charge of drawing up a program of reforms aimed at restoring the pact of confidence between the rulers and the ruled, and facilitating the concrete implementation of the 2010 Constitution. The taskforce issued its report on 27 November 2019, with one month’s delay. The highest state dignitaries—President, Vice-President, speakers from both assemblies—and the main political leaders were present for the report’s release. While this text is not legally binding, it puts forward major institutional reforms. As far as decentralisation is concerned, the proposals for improvements are many. Examples include the strongly recommended grouping of counties into “regional units.” According to the report, the share of the national income allocated to the counties should be increased from the current 15% per year to a minimum of 35% per year, and should be distributed more equitably between counties by taking into account the actual population density (up to a maximum of 50%); branches of the Auditor General’s offices should be set up at the local level for greater control of public expenditures and accounts; the ward level should have greater decision-making power in access to public services; etc. The year that has elapsed since the task force began its national tour, mobilising nearly 8,000 citizens and elected officials, has been marked by criticism, hopes and rumours.66 From a political point of view, the BBI is, above all, the expression of a rapprochement between the president and his main opponent Raila Odinga, also aimed at William Ruto and his presidential ambitions for 2022 keeping at bay.67 As a matter of fact, the main reform proposals (namely, to transition to a semi-presidential regime; strengthen anti-corruption measures, parity and inclusion in institutions; rationalise wages and the decentralised system; and introduce a Prime Minister position chosen by the President from among the parliamentary majority) are clearly reminiscent of the opposition’s demands and programs at the time of the 2005 referendum.

Conclusion: Decentralisation in Kenya, “Everyone’s Turn to Eat”?68

  • 68 According to the expression often used in reference to the “politics of the belly” (Bayart 1989) a (...)

45The Kenyan decentralisation experience raises the inevitable question of the consequences of the disruption of the political hierarchy on local development, corruption and political competition. In Kenya’s political history, local development income has often benefited only large landowners, state-owned companies—often led by powerful elected officials or the president’s entourage—and multinational corporations such as Unilever in the tea sector, owner of the Lipton brand, or Monsanto in the grain sector—and often protected by the state (Holmquist, Weaver & Ford 1994, 76). Decentralisation has resulted in the creation of funding as well as human and institutional means of encouraging local and regional development. Yet development gains are under imminent threat of monopolisation. The taking of public action at the local level, by the ministries and county assemblies, is in fact ambiguous since it can be put sometimes at the service of citizens and sometimes at the service of the interests of elected officials and local authority representatives. Elected officials in the new local governments—from the MCA to the governor and his cabinet appointees—all have taken a keen interest in the economic benefits brought and multiplied by decentralisation. Evidence shows that there are strong tensions between members of the local governments over access to and management of the various local budgets, not to mention the repeated scandals that illustrate the misuse of these funds—for example, when they are squandered on unjustified per diem and personal investments. At the same time, some tenuous overlaps create a strong interdependence between elected officials and the existence of a system of territorial administration deployed in the counties by the central government. These overlaps underline the persistence of the national level administrations, bodies and representatives in the conduct of local development and in the access of candidates to the positions they covet. In this respect, it seems that the establishment of a new political order, raising of national consciousness and building of unity that should have followed the collective catharsis announced in the early 2000s have not worked properly. The new decentralised structure is, as a matter of fact, still precarious in its practices, which attest to the presence of the central state and the lingering vicissitudes of the provincial era and the country’s political history. The latent lack of confidence in the institutions of power and government committees, as well as the persistent distrust of the procedure of popular participation in public hearings, confirm this hypothesis (Lynch 2018).

46However, it must be noted that—while they are tainted by corruption—fundings earmarked for the counties (i.e. equalisation funds and equitable share funds) and the development projects that have been implemented reflect the progress made since 2013. Decentralisation—which enjoys unwavering public and voter support—strengthens state power and, to some extent, state legitimacy. It also fuels clientelist networks, at the head of which newly elected officials take advantage of the possibilities that corruption has multiplied, at all levels. These officials blithely enjoy symbolic (career, legitimacy) and concrete (bribes, embezzlement) benefits from the redistribution and trickling down of national resources to the local level. And while some local elected officials and county servants act as counterweights in the distribution of public funds among constituencies, others become decentralised actors in a national accumulation strategy, the possibilities of which decentralisation has multiplied. The local scene is emerging as the new network of regional patronage, which is maintained by corrupt political practices and fuelled by the intimidation and/or purchase of a local electorate. To that extent, the emergence of elected officials at the county level has not resulted in a thorough renovation or transformation of the political culture of post-colonial elites (Haugerud 1995). The question then becomes whether decentralisation functions as a tool for the elites to engage in nepotistic behaviour; and we must determine to what extent local mandates are part of the debate on the colonial legacy and the formation of the post-colonial state in Kenya (Bourmaud 1988).

47The unprecedented experience of Kenyan decentralisation provides concrete answers, but also leaves open questions about the effects of decentralised governance on the transformations—and the continuities—of the country’s political culture. Future research will provide a better understanding of the consequences of decentralisation, as well as a rethinking of the political registers shaped by development issues. This will allow us to deepen and nuance the classical theories of politics in Africa, which are articulated around the notions of clientelism, nepotism and neo-patrimonialism. As the many examples and dynamics detailed in this chapter highlighted, decentralisation unites the 47 governments which make up a single nation in a complex motion. But towards which horizon? Both county governments and the central government have, on more than one occasion, claimed that “decentralisation works” or “is working.” As a matter of fact, the official slogan of the Annual Decentralization Conference, where county and national officials meet, reads as follows: “Devolution is working!” Optimist slogans aside, however, we are confronted with the following question: what could the initiatives for constitutional amendments and institutional reforms bode for Kenya’s future? The BBI initiative is ongoing, but it already suggests that, once again, popular participation in constitutional amendments and in shaping public and political life is partial, and will certainly, as in the past, lack concrete implementation. The restructuring of the political camps is happening in the run-up to the 2022 presidential election, in which Uhuru Kenyatta is not eligible. Many governors—such as Gideon Moi, son of Daniel arap Moi and governor of Baringo, or Ali Hassan Joho, governor of Mombasa—as well as national-level and government politicians, headed by the current Vice-President William Ruto, will lead a campaign that will certainly be colourful. During this campaign, the issues surrounding the reform of the constitution and the effective implementation of decentralisation—as well as the preservation of the interests of the economic and political elites and of some counties that influential elected officials playing in the foreground on the national stage represent—will be key elements of political competition at all levels.

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Notes

1 In the early 2005–2010, many publications analysed this original form of governance: Ghai (2008), Branch & Cheeseman (2008), Cheeseman & Tendi (2010), Githinji & Homlquist (2008), Kanyinga & Long (2012). More recently, see Burbidge (2019).

2 For some—far less numerous—optimistic prospects: Shilaho (2015), Steeves (2015), Elszasz (2016), Crawford & Hartmann (2008), World Bank (2011; 2012; 2015), Bouka, Berry & Kamuru (2019), Elfversson & Sjögren (2019).

3 For some more critical perspectives: Mudida (2009), Hassan (2013), Adbille & Abdi (2016), Cannon & Ali (2018), Chome (2015), D’Arcy & Cornell (2014; 2016), Githinji & Holmquist (2012), Berman, Cottrell & Ghai (2009), Boone et al. (2019), Burbidge (2015), Cheeseman, Lynch & Willis (2016), and more recently Cheeseman, Lynch & Kanyinga (2020).

4 This chapter benefited from the sound suggestions of Marie-Emmanuelle Pommerolle, Claire Médard and Marie-Aude Fouéré, who I warmly thank, along with Paul Kembala (alias Maddo) for sharing his nuanced approach of Kenyan politics with me.

5 The Swahili word majimbo means “region.” Directly after independence, these regions took the form of 8 administrative provinces, which were replaced by 47 counties from the 4th March 2013 elections and the implementation of decentralisation.

6 Just before Kenya’s independence, the 1960 independence of Somalia contributed to push the Majimbo ideology into the background during the 1960s. The Somali political elites, as well as the Kenyan political elites originally from Somalia, claimed that Kenya’s Northern Frontier District belonged to the new Somali State. Two weeks before independence, President Jomo Kenyatta declared the state of emergency and deployed the army in North-East Kenya. This region immediately became one of the 8 Kenyan provinces (North-Eastern Province), which triggered a secessionist conflict at the regional level (Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia, Kenya). This conflict is known as the Shifta war (meaning “bandits” in Amharic) in 1963–1967. On the reformulation of these secessionist debates within the frame of decentralisation, see Brancati (2006).

7 The hopes of the Kenyan activist sphere—soon to be shattered—were transcribed in an article by Robert Press (2012) that gave voice to some activists.

8 On the question of “historical injustices” in Kenya and the entrenchment of the land issue in Kenyan power relations since the implementation of the constitutional reforms and decentralisation, see Francesca Di Matteo in this volume and D’Arcy & Nitstotskaya (2019).

9 Many academic publications aimed to nuance these flourishing hopes during that decade, for instance: Kagwanja (2003), Murunga & Nasong’o (2006), Otieno (2005), Githinji & Holmquist (2012), Berman, Cottrell & Ghai (2009), Branch & Cheeseman (2010), Kanyinga & Long (2012).

10 On the persistence of neo-patrimonial practices in Kenyan public administration, see Cohen (1993) for the provincial administration, and Onyango (2017) for the counties’ administration.

11 These minority groups were supported by the British (including the settlers) who saw in this project a means to oppose the Kikuyu power, see Anderson (2005).

12 In 1964, less than a year after independence, the opposition was dissolved and a decree—adopted by a 2/3 majority in the House of Representatives—buried the Majimbo Constitution by amending its prerogatives.

13 On this topic, see the definition of the Swahili Oxford Living Dictionaries (2018) at the ugatuzi entry.

14 It should be made clear that the local political level has been built as a political arena since colonisation. The politicisation of the districts rests on a double dynamic: 1) the creation of new districts to fight the 1990s requests for multipartyism (Hassan 2016), but also 2) the non-reform of the provincial administration which made it possible for the central power to control the local level (Médard 2006).

15 Mathenge, Oliver. 2009. “All Constituencies now Turned into Districts.” The Nation, 13 July [archive].

16 The attacks on the American embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in August 1998 left a deep impression because of their violence and death toll, in the same as the attack on a Mombasa hotel in November 2002.

17 While alternation was a source of optimism in Kenya and elsewhere, it was quickly put into question. See in particular the critical introduction by Godwin Murunga and Shadrack Nasong’o (2006).

18 Turnout reached an all-time high of 69%, or 9,886,650 voters. The 2013 election (the first general election under decentralisation) beat this record with a rate of 85,01% and 14,352,533 registered voters (a rate never seen before).

19 Both for its proximity to the authorities and also for the intimidation of its representatives.

20 The Mungiki political militia is a prophetic religious movement, particularly influential in the Kikuyu diaspora of the Rift Valley and in the cities of the Central Province. It has been mobilised in times of political crises by Kikuyu elites since the late 1980s (Kagwanja 2003; Maupeu 2013).

21 The day after the vote, on the evening of December 28th, 50% of the votes of the presidential poll were counted at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre by the ECK: 3.3 million votes for Odinga and 2.4 million for Kibaki. The next day, on December 29, the gap gradually narrowed to around 30,000 votes. And the day after, Kibaki was declared winner of the presidential election, with 250,000 more votes (4,584 million votes for Kibaki, 4,352 million for Odinga).

22 See the issue of Afrique contemporaine on this theme, especially the article by Christian Thibon (2013).

23 The BBI Initiative is an extension of the Vision 2030 project (see conclusion).

24 Indeed, the violence and their recollection profoundly influenced the campaign and the management of the election announced for March 4, 2013.

25 See the article by Justin Willis and Ngala Chome (2014), which details these expectations from the perspective of the Coastal region and elites.

26 Also sitting in the Senate are 16 representatives designated by the political parties on the basis of their representativeness, two youth representatives and two representatives of persons with disabilities.

27 It should however be pointed out that while the new Constitution raised many hopes for freedoms (especially with the creation of various commissions), the political context hardened under Uhuru Kenyatta’s presidency, between 2013 and 2017, and particularly regarding media freedoms.

28 See Di Matteo in this volume.

29 While the president must be Kenyan, a governor is not required to be from the county he represents. Yet, in practice, and because of political ethnicity, all governors come from the counties that elected them. See the detailed results in the appendices provided by Dominic Burbidge (2019): 2013 Gubernatorial Election Results (Appendix C: 239–48) and 2017 Gubernatorial Election Results (Appendix D: 249–51), as well as governors’ biographies (Appendix E and F).

30 The functions carried out by the national government and which have not been decentralised are: international relations, national defence and security, labour and employment, social security, education, housing, health, agriculture, tourism, the formulation of public policies for the economy, and the currency. See Constitution of Kenya (GoK 2010), art. 186, “Respective Functions and Powers of National and County Governments.”

31 Lamu, Tana River, Kilifi and Kwale counties are among the poorest in the country (KNBS & SID 2013).

32 Ogada, Mordecai. 2019. “Decolonising Conservation: It is about the Land, Stupid!” The Elephant, 27 June. https://www.theelephant.info/culture/2019/06/27/decolonising-conservation-it-is-about-the-land-stupid/ [archive].

33 “IMF Cautions over Kenya Debt Vulnerability.” 2017. Business Daily, 21 November. https://www.businessdailyafrica.com/markets/marketnews/IMF-cautions-over-Kenya-debt-vulnerability/3815534-4197034-mrydle/index.html [archive].

34 Despite this handshake, Raila Odinga is still running in opposition to the government’s policies and more specifically to William Ruto, the current Vice-President and candidate for the 2022 election. He claims that some counties are not economically viable, advocates for constitutional changes and wants the country to be divided in 14 regions to better address the deep inequalities between counties. See Kahura, Dauti. 2019. “Building Bridges to Nowhere: Some Reflections One Year After ‘The Handshake.’” The Elephant, 7 March. https://www.theelephant.info/features/2019/03/07/building-bridges-to-nowhere-some-reflections-one-year-after-the-handshake/ [archive].

35 This is also reflected in the additional 5 million voters registered for the 2017 elections, while the 2013 elections marked a turning point in voter turnout.

36 These comments are drawn from the observation of the 2013 election campaign in Nandi and Trans-Nzoia counties with Dominique Connan, complemented by the author’s experience as an international observer during the 2017 elections. On the subject of vote materiality in Africa, see the special issue of Politique africaine edited by Sandrine Perrot, Marie-Emmanuelle Pommerolle and Justin Willis (2016): https://www.cairn.info/revue-politique-africaine-2016-4.htm.

37 KDF, KWS, KFS, NYS, police, etc.

38 On the subject of “big men” in Kenya, see the work of Jean-François Médard (1992) and François Grignon (1997). Among the most prominent big men were Henry Kosgei, who was re-elected six times as MP for the Tinderet constituency and held eight ministerial positions between 1979 and 2013, but also Charles Njonjo (Attorney General for more than 17 years (1963–1979), MP for the Kikuyu constituency and twice minister), who was profiled in an article by Jean-François Médard (Médard 1987). The list is long and one could also name Matu Wamae, Nicholas Biwot, Kiraitu Murungi, Joseph Ole Nkaissery, etc.

39 Waddilove, Hannah. 2017. “Kenya Voted for Change and Got it… at the Local Level.” African Arguments, 18 August. https://africanarguments.org/2017/08/18/kenya-voted-for-change-and-got-it-at-the-local-level-elections/ [archive].

40 Field notes, interview with Cynthia Muge, April 2018, Hotel Eden Spring, Kapsabet, Nandi County. See also her detailed interview by the Kenyan media Daily Nation: “Cynthia Jepkosgei, 24, Speaks on her Victory as MCA.” 2017. Daily Nation, 11 August. https://www.nation.co.ke/news/politics/Nandi-MCA-elect-24-beats-odds/1064-4053920-nnbwikz/index.html [archive].

41 More broadly, many local candidates are elected thanks to their inclusion in regional and national patronage networks. On the Kenyan logic of the partial renewal of local elites, see Grignon (1999) and Cornell & D’Arcy (2014).

42 Anne Waiguru (former CS for Devolution) for Kirinyaga County, Charity Ngilu (former minister and presidential candidate) for Kitui County, and Joyce Laboso (former Vice-President of the National Assembly) for Bomet County.

43 In this regard, see the damning reports of the Auditor General (2019) on the ethnic composition of the executive and legislative branches at the county level. These reports point out that a large majority of counties do not comply with the provisions detailed in section 65 of the County Governments Act of the 2010 Constitution. The latter provides that 30% of positions must be occupied by people who are not coming from the dominant ethnic group in the county. However, the latest audit reveals that, on average, only 10% of county staff come from minority groups. Figures on the ethnic group of elected officials and civil servants in the counties’ administrations are given by the NCIC (2016). See also the “Decentralisation in Kenya” section of the article by Nicholas Cheeseman, Gabrielle Lynch & Justin Willis (2016), and Dominic Burbidge’s chapter on counties described as “ethnic mini-states?” (2019, 92–101). For an analysis of the ethnic group of public servants from the 1960s to 2010, see Rebecca Simson (2017).

44 Lynch, Gabrielle. 2014. “Devolution Has Made Politics more Local and Violent than ever before.” The Nation, 26 September. https://www.nation.co.ke/oped/opinion/Majority-of-Kenyans-still-support-devolution/440808-2466284-bbwxt1z/index.html [archive].

45 For an updated and transdisciplinary analysis of these debates, see Chauveau & Lavigne-Delville (2013). These questions also intersect with the work of French sociologist Christian Le Bart (2003) on local citizenship.

46 Baraza are community forums for public debate, often associated with or overseen by councils of elders (Haugerud 1995).

47 See the special issue on “Public Spaces of Speech and Practices of Citizenship in Africa,” of Politique africaine, edited by Richard Banégas, Florence Brisset-Foucault and Armando Cutolo (2012), or Rasmussen & Omanga (2012/3).

48 Two workers can carry this machine, where manual harvesting requires an average of 30 workers per plot.

49 Donors can indeed contribute to the counties’ finances but their contribution must be declared in the budget, which is certainly not always the case (bribes, illicit financing, money laundering).

50 On the role of Councils of Elders in the conduct of local political and public affairs in Kenya, see Josse-Durand (2020) and Nyamweru & Chidongo (2018).

51 Wekesa, Grace. 2015. “NCIC Chair Francis Kaparo Warns Nandi, Luhya Leaders against Incitement.” The Standard, 25 January. https://www.standardmedia.co.ke/article/2000149182/ncic-chair-francis-kaparo-warns-nandi-luhya-leaders-against-incitement [archive]; Sirma, Evans. S.d. “Governor Lagat Commissions Amani Market to Foster Unity in Kamung’ei Border.” County Government of Nandi. https://nandicounty.go.ke/governor-lagat-commissions-amani-market-to-foster-unity-in-kamungei-border/ [archive].

52 Jelima, Rael. 2018. “Nandi County Claims Seven Towns along Border with Kisumu.” The Standard, 28 May. https://www.standardmedia.co.ke/article/2001281967/nandi-county-out-to-reclaim-seven-towns-from-kisumu [archive].

53 This corruption also concerns the CDF, managed by the MPs, as it was already the case before the implementation of devolution. The Auditor General’s report on public finances for the year 2013/2014 reckons that corruption affects 270 constituencies (out of a total of 290) and is estimated at 38.5 million EUR. “NEW: Billions Unaccounted For in CDF Audit.” 2016. RoggKenya, 5 December. https://roggkenya.org/new-billions-unaccounted-for-in-cdf-audit/ [archive].

54 Oteba, Titus. 2015. “Uproar as Bungoma County Buys 10 Wheelbarrows at Sh1m.” The Standard, 8 September. https://www.standardmedia.co.ke/article/2000175604/uproar-as-bungoma-county-buys-10-wheelbarrows-at-sh1m [archive].

55 Amadala, Benson. 2018. “Seven Former Officials Sent to Jail over Wheelbarrow Scandal.” Daily Nation, 25 June. https://www.nation.co.ke/counties/bungoma/7-sentenced-in-wheelbarrow-case/1183258-4630664-10cux86z/index.html [archive].

56 Shiundu, Alphonse. 2013. “Six Counties Fail to Spend Allocated Funds.” The Standard, 14 August. https://www.standardmedia.co.ke/article/2000090917/six-counties-fail-to-spend-allocated-funds [archive].

57 Munyi, Martin. 2019. “Laikipia Assembly Rejects Supplementary Budget.” Kenya News Agency, 29 June. https://www.kenyanews.go.ke/laikipia-assembly-rejects-supplementary-budget/ [archive].

58 Mbula, Ruth. 2019. “Migori County Official on Graft Charge Detained for Four Days.” Daily Nation, 9 May. https://www.nation.co.ke/counties/migori/Court-detains-Migori-official-four-days/1183306-5097492-xcc1yrz/index.html [archive].

59 “Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko Denies Corruption Charges in Court.” 2019. Al-Jazeera, 9 December. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/12/nairobi-governor-mike-sonko-pleads-innocent-corruption-charges-191209134806019.html [archive].

60 Two years later, a second survey showed that 33% of Kenyans believed that “all or most” of the county governors were “involved in corruption,” with the figure rising to 37% for members of the county assemblies (MCAs). In 2016, the perception of corruption at the county level was even higher: 78% of Kenyans believed that the county government office “uses corruption, sometimes or systematically.”

61 I warmly thank Alexia Van Riij for shedding light on my understanding of corrupt practices in Kenya.

62 On inequalities between counties, see the report of the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics and the Society for International Development (2013). On the political aspects of territorial inequalities in Kenya, also see Owiti (2014).

63 Owiti, Maugo. 2015. “Matatu operators decline proposal to remit tax through M-Pesa.” Hivisasa, 3 December. https://hivisasa.com/posts/--------------------------------------matatu-operators-decline-proposal-to-remit-tax-through-m-pesa [archive].

64 “Ugatuzi Initiative.” 2019. The Council of Governors. https://www.cog.go.ke/component/k2/item/179-ugatuzi-initiative [archive].

65 See the map of the blocs made by the CoG (s.d.): https://cog.go.ke/regional-economic-blocs [archive].

66 Their activities and the preparation of the report were widely covered by the media, fuelling numerous rumours and spreading false reports. Only one member of the committee is a lawyer, and some measures remain vague, such as the range of 35%-50% of the budget allocated to the counties or the possibility that the newly reintroduced figure of the Prime Minister could be the leader of the opposition at the same time.

67 William Ruto, who aims to become President in 2022, indeed suffered from the rapprochement between the President and his former opponent Raila Odinga, which left him in the shadows. Present at the ceremony alongside the latter two, he gave his official support to the report but would suffer from a referendum campaign of which he would only be the third man.

68 According to the expression often used in reference to the “politics of the belly” (Bayart 1989) and taken up in relation to Kenya by Michela Wrong (2010), Daniel Branch, Nicholas Cheeseman & Gardner (2010), and more recently by Michelle D’Arcy & Agnes Cornell (2016) to refer to the corrupt practices of the new decentralised system.

Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1: Executive and legislative functions at the national and county levels
Légende Adapted from two graphs from Burbidge (2019): Fig. 1.1: The Executive branch of county and national governments (p. 14); and Fig. 1.2: The Legislative branch of county and national governments (p. 16).
URL http://books.openedition.org/africae/docannexe/image/2480/img-1.png
Fichier image/png, 998k
Titre Fig. 2. Flows of revenues from different sources for county governments.
Légende Source: World Bank (2011, 42).
URL http://books.openedition.org/africae/docannexe/image/2480/img-2.png
Fichier image/png, 2,0M

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