Devolution /ˌdiːvəˈluːʃ(ə)n/

(n) the transfer or delegation of power to a lower level, especially by the central government to local or regional administration.

Simply put, devolution means decisions on the issues that affect you will be made locally without the need for government permission.

A little flashback

Many Africans, including Kenya, initially emphasized efforts on building a nation state. Now, the problem that seems to have arose from this was in the efficiency in the delivery of public services, local governance was also on the watch.

In the colonial era, local governments in Kenya were considered to be fairly independent and had significant sources of revenue.

After independence though, these governments were weakened and simultaneously developed a bad reputation for being incompetent. The consolidation of local governance was however triggered by the assumption of power by Kenyan leaders. This saw successful attempts to re-centralise which then undermined both the link and the relationship between local authorities and their constituents.

So, when and how did Devolution come in?

In 2010, a major turning point took place; the constitution of Kenya reconfigured the balance of power by devolving power and responsibilities from the national government to 47 elected county governments. Powers between the executive, legislative and judicial branches were also recalibrated.

What role does devolution play in Kenya?

Local governments have clear and legally recognised geographical boundaries over which they exercise authority and within which they perform public functions.

Those decisions to be made by our local government include; decisions about our health services, where and when our buses run, how best to help local businesses grow, and how to support young people get the skills they need to work. People who understand those issues are best suited to make the decisions. Without devolution, the government would be implementing decisions far away from the communities they affect.

Is this change with the execution of devolution helping? Well, progressive democratisation and expansion of political space especially for the historically marginalised communities in Kenya has been experienced, which is good news.

From democratic centralism to enhanced citizen participation

The past model of citizen participation can be termed as “democratic centralism”, with this, the context revolved around citizens being able to participate in elections. The catch, however, was with the centralism of decision-making that those citizens were expected to support whether or not decisions made were in their best interests. This therefore, made Kenyans feel they were subjects not citizens and decisions were made remotely about their lives without consulting them, it was constraining.

Fortunately, devolution opened the window to promoting and realising citizen participation and decision-making where local affairs are concerned.

What about corruption?  Devolution’s emphasis on accountability by bringing participation and decision-making closer to the people provides one of the strongest arguments for anti-corruption efforts. It proves that closer proximity to the citizenry increases transparency in the use of local resources.

An overall view would be that devolution has helped in the delivery of public services by reducing costs, it has exposed problems with the watch on delivery mechanisms and it has assisted in the easy access of the people to policy and decision makers; people feel more visible and the loci of power is easy to identify.

The expectations of Kenyans on service delivery still remain very high, despite there only being a few years into the new system as we have had a largely central government since 1963.