The Role of Kenya’s Devolution Process in Implementing the SDGs

With seventeen (17) goals and one-hundred and sixty-nine (169) indicators, it has been observed in both policy and academic circles, that implementing the Sustainable Development Goals’ (SDGs) agenda is an ambitious and complex exercise. Concerted efforts and clear pathways are therefore needed to ensure that the implementation of the SDGs is kept on course. One such platform in Kenya is the devolution (sub-national governance) process.

As a key component of the Constitution of Kenya and subsequent to a general election in March 2013, forty-seven (47) counties were formed and functionalized. The Constitution stipulates that the decentralization of government serves several fundamental functions, including:

  • Ensuring equitable sharing of national and local resources throughout Kenya
  • Promoting accountability, transparency, participation and decision making at the lowest level of government
  • Formally granting rights to communities to manage their own resources
  • Bridging economic and social inequality gaps by decentralizing state organs and public resources to enable ease of access to public services throughout Kenya and
  • Fostering unity, cohesion and co-existence among communities.

In the light of the above, the formation of the counties has been commended as the most transformative and promising aspect of Constitution of Kenya which provides an appreciable pathway through which pro-poor economic growth and social inclusion have an institutionalized framework to thrive. It is expected that, if well implemented, devolution will guarantee accelerated development and reduced levels of inequalities and vulnerabilities.

Against this background, the IDS Alumni in Kenya were pleased to host a roundtable as part of the IDS’ 50th anniversary celebrations to discuss ‘The Opportunities that the Devolution Process Provides in Enabling Kenya Respond Effectively to the Implementation of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)’. Held last month in Nairobi participants included non- IDS affiliates and representatives from the Government of Kenya (National and Counties), United Nations, universities and research institutes, the private sector, the civil society organizations and local and international Non-Governmental Organizations.

The roundtable revealed that there are strong research and policy potentials in: (1) the link between science, technology and society; (2) establishing an issue based ethical and value system; (3) strengthening public institutions and systems; (4) delivery of the Constitution; and (5) understanding multi-stakeholder approaches in tackling development issues.

A number of critical actors to actualize research, knowledge transfer and policy formulation and articulation include: Governments (national & county), Development Partners, academia, the Civil Society and the private sector.

Emerging issues from the alumni roundtable which need further interrogation to establish clear relationships between devolution and implementation of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda in Kenya include:

Managing the process of devolution

The overall framework on devolution needs constant dialogued reviews to facilitate development of dynamic devolution policies and operational guidelines that contribute to: effective and conclusive transfer of devolved authority, mandates and functions as stated in the Constitution; timely disbursement of sharable funding for devolved activities; adequate technical support in Human Resource Management and Public Finance Management; monitoring progress; and development of devolution-supportive laws in the Senate and at County Assemblies.

Ensuring inclusivity

Ensuring existence of a multi-stakeholder and inclusive process that guarantees wider citizen participation (involving representatives Civil Society, private sectors, faith-based, youth & women and other special groups), in public matters.

Consolidating gains

Consolidating gains made since devolution was operationalized in 2013 i.e. in infrastructural growth, health, use of ICT in revenue collection, agriculture and early childhood education.

Inform teaching and research

Documentation of good practices and challenges of the Kenyan devolution model by the academia and policy groups to inform teaching and research at universities including the IDS.

Public debate

Encourage objective public debate on devolution i.e through print and electronic media and social media.

Learn lessons from MDGs

Identify synergies among the national government, bilateral and multi-lateral agencies and other relevant entities that have documented Kenya’s performance in implementing the Millennium Development Goals and take forward lessons learned in the management of the Sustainable Development Goals. i.e. ensure that the goals are linked with the Vision 2030 through the Medium Term Plans, the County Development Integrated Plans and County Fiscal Strategy Papers.

Addressing corruption

In addressing corruption, which is a big hindrance to the realization of the SDG agenda, there is need to pursue opportunities that: enforce rule of law; facilitate whistle blower legislation; sensitize citizens and mainstream content into education curricula; support capacity building, training opportunities and  media campaigns; benchmark international best practices; strengthen audit  and reporting system; adequate remuneration of public servants; and judicial implementation of leadership and integrity.

Addressing county contextual needs

Development of tailored academic programmes that address contextual devolution needs i.e. counties have different contexts, so there is need to design programmes that can drive development in the different counties.

As way forward, the IDS alumni in Kenya should continue to actively participate in research, policy and practice on the above areas at their work places, regular meetings to monitor progress, and participating in public debates. It will also be helpful if the alumni hold at least one roundtable every year.

I also look forward to discussing our findings further with other IDS Alumni Ambassadors at the IDS conference States, Markets and Society in July 2016, as part of the panel ‘How can low and middle income countries respond effectively to the SDGs’


This post was written by Collins Aseka and first appeared on Institute of Development Studies

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