Counties: rise up and take over the socio-economic transformation of the locals


Kenya’s Constitution has been hailed as being transformative. It is a value-oriented. Its interpretation and application must therefore not be mechanical. It must be guided by the spirit and the soul of the Constitution itself as ingrained in the national values and principles of governance espoused in the preamble and, inter alia, Article 10 of the Constitution.

For 50 years, Kenyans were excluded from participation in political, economic and cultural systems that shape their lives. Exclusion meant policies failed to address their needs and favored those with power and resources.

Devolution has however, empowered them and also tackled inequality. Meaningful civic engagement and access to information empower underrepresented and marginalized communities to raise their voices, claim space, influence decisions that affect them, hold government and elected officials to account and tackle inequality. Devolution has created momentum for change in an area that people already identify with and have deep attachment without feeling they have to beg national bureaucratic structures.

The devolved system of governance and development that Kenya constitutionally adopted has been rolling out over the past six years. It has recorded significant achievements in increased levels of participation, social inclusion and accountability. However, in addition to governance accountability and proper planning questions, financial sufficiency and long-term sustainability remain a deep concern. Duplication of governance and development processes between the two levels of government leading to wastage of public resources is yet another hurdle. The national government is sustaining costly, wasteful and duplication of parallel government systems, which is inconsistent with the Constitution. It is a subtle strategy of weakening devolved governance.

While counties have formal responsibilities over major categories of spending and accounting for huge crucial sectors of the economy spending, including basic services like health, agriculture and roads, they have fewer powers to raise their own revenue.

County governments need significant capacity and powers to raise their own revenue in a bid to enhance financial sufficiency, strengthen fiscal responsibility and compensate the well-developed counties that stand to lose from a more equalization-based system of resource sharing transfers. The current revenue and taxation policy is fiscally unbalanced. The national government continues to determine fiscal and taxation policy with very limited participation of the county governments.

The implementation of the devolved fiscal policies for the delivery of quality public services is yet to give the desired efficiency and effective delivery. Therefore, good governance matters a great deal. Strong vision and leadership at the political level, backed by a high quality public service are the engine of designing and executing of people-centered lives transforming policies.

At the moment, the country needs to enact a new national, sound, integrated, democratic, devolved system of sustainable development and governance policy framework consistent with the Constitutional principles and based on rule of law. Credible public institutions and long term predictable public policies remain a key priority.  This policy framework should anchor policies that are more effective, equitable and sustainable, driven from middle and below. For fair business competition, sustainability and stimulating investment, the country requires strong, predictable and transparent legal and justice environment.

Under this framework, everyone should operate within the mainstream socio-economic and political contour. All resources available should be consolidated and channeled in a manner ensuring maximized utilization, impact and return benefits.

Effective democratic devolved system of governance and development is the epicenter of judicious use of resources, providing quality public services and creating sustainable, well-paying jobs.  The county is the new engine of participatory democracy, human security and socially inclusive economic development. It is the driver that influences the shape and direction of local economy and human development. However, there is no policy framework underpinning this constitutional reality. At the heart of this new devolved system of governance and development is the right to development, improving living standards of all people, human rights application on social inclusion and sharing wealth and opportunities equitably. It offers the nexus between governance, security and economics.

Model devolved systems

All countries with devolved systems of government around the world have shown great improvement in socio-economic development. Historically, the Swedish economy suffered from low growth and high inflation, and the Swedish krona was repeatedly devalued. Sweden was also hit by a severe financial crisis in the early 1990s. The path back to stability and success was not easy for Sweden. But by pursuing inventive and courageous reforms – and sticking to them – Sweden has transformed its economy, paving the way for robust growth in the face of global economic uncertainty.

Today, Sweden has a diverse and highly competitive and successful economy. The World Economic Forum ranks Sweden among the top ten most competitive countries in the world. It is also one of the easiest countries in the world to do business with, according to the World Bank. The reforms did not just happen; it was backed by governance systems. Sweden, for instance, has three levels of domestic government: national, regional and local.

At the regional level, Sweden is divided into 20 counties. The county councils are responsible for overseeing tasks such as health care and are entitled to levy income taxes to cover their costs.

At the local level, Sweden is divided into 290 municipalities, each with an elected assembly or council. Municipalities are responsible for a broad range of facilities and services including housing, roads, water supply and waste water processing, schools, public welfare, elderly care and childcare. They are legally obliged to provide certain basic services. The municipalities are entitled to levy income taxes on individuals, and they also charge for various services.

This has enabled the country champion its development agenda that is more citizen centered offered that are empowered to make decision that are considered into planning and execution with no duplication of service.

International Center for Policy and Conflict (ICPC) in the past three years has been engaging the County government to actively promote pro-poor gender-responsive local economic development: this will enable facilitation on investment in viable public-private partnerships and local pro-poor gender-responsive economic development in line with the overall Counties development planning framework. A key focus is to make critical investments that collectively unlock the potentials of important productive sectors and value chains.

Moi Stadium, Kisumu

Partnerships between County government, businesses and community leaders are instrumental to the design and implementation of “bottom-up” strategies for local development (economic and social). The new ‘place-based’ approach will involve promoting economic development through a bottom-up approach in which partnerships between community leaders, business leaders, county base chamber of commerce, grassroots SACCOs, Kenya Manufacturers Association (KMA) and governments to collaboratively develop visions, strategies and oversee the development and implementation of plans and specific initiatives.

This intervention is guideline for various players in counties to organize and engage with the respective governments at the County level and to bring in the required policy, laws and regulatory reforms in devolved government to facilitate growth of business and strengthen private sector.

The policy advocacy strategy is an attempt to engage the champions of trade in each county who can possibly unite with common goals a long county newly emerging block and move the county governments and regional institutions favouring more intra-county trade towards peace and prosperity in the region which is the biggest national player in national trade and investment. The answer lies in the two questions: What can county governments best do to contribute to an enabling environment for pro-poor, gender-responsive, socio-economic development? How can county governments best contribute to an improved enabling environment for sustainable socio-economic development?

Currently, the single largest economic and financial risk which devolution portends is failure of the national government to rationalize and downsize, consistent with the Constitution to respect and accord with devolved system of governance.

On September 4, 2018 a Bill on the preservation of human dignity and enforcement of economic and social rights was gazetted stipulating the obligation of national and county governments with respect to economic and social rights under section 6(1) & (2) of the Bill.

Each county government should put in place county strategic plan for the realization of economic and social rights of residents, which needs to be incorporated within its county integrated development plan prepared pursuant to section 108 of the County Governments Act, while preparing county strategic plan as stated, a county government shall be guided by the principles of planning and development set out under section 102 of the Act.

In the county strategic plan, the counties need to set out the following:

  • Variables and specific actions required to be undertaken for the realization of economic and social rights;
  • Programs and projects aimed at the realization of economic and social rights of residents;
  • Programs and policies aimed at social protection and promotion of economic rights of marginalized groups;
  • Objectives that would facilitate the availability, accessibility, acceptability and adaptability of goods and services relevant to the realization of economic and social rights; and
  • A framework for the implementation of such programs and projects including timelines, targets and expected outcomes in the realization of the economic and social rights.

The principle objective of this strategic plan is to ensure that a county government is able to ensure the availability, accessibility, acceptability, adaptability and quality of goods and services necessary for the realization of economic and social rights as set out under the Constitution.

Kenya must raise productivity, do more with less. This means investing in the right outcomes and citizen centered policies, capacities and capabilities, and alertness, efficiency and high performance.  Create better alignment and greater productivity in government. For this vision and opportunity to be seized, the county public and private actors must work together in creating sustainable county economy.

It is essential that we create conditions under which the County economy can expand and grow. There are two major policy thrusts necessary: credible public sector leadership and governance; and sustainable community investment programs. To achieve this, there are four critical pathways addressing actions, implementation and funding. These include: modernized, harmonized and well-structured, good governance system delivering high quality information driven public service and public and market confidence in Counties; spatial development planning exploiting the comparative advantage and competitiveness of Counties; enterprise support and business infrastructure development; and introducing sustainable community human capacity investment programs focusing on organizing communities for development and maximizing circulation of public spend in local economies.

The cost and inefficiency of running parallel structures is unduly expanded and adds strain to minimal financial resources. Where possible, the National Government should hook into County Government structures to implement its programs in counties; such a measure is recognized under Articles 6 (2) and 189 of the Constitution. Similarly, National Government can avoid establishing duplicate structures by assigning to County Governments the function of implementing some of its programs within the counties in terms of Article 183 (1) (b).

The aim of restructuring the political, administrative, economic and service structures through devolution of power include promoting and deepening local democracy, improving local social and public services delivery, ensuring local Mwananchi participation and county government accountability, entrench equity and inclusiveness in development and access to services, and driving local economic development.

Writer is programs director at ICPC

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