Podcast: devolution, inclusion and conflict in Kenya

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Devolution was meant to reduce identity-based politics that discriminates along ethnic lines in Kenya. But has it delivered on the promise of greater inclusion, accountability and peace? Saferworld’s Kenya project officer Elizabeth Atieno sat down with Samson Wasilwa to discuss the findings from our latest report (link), which is part of the Peace Research Partnership.

What was the research about?

This research, funded by UK Aid from the UK government, sought to look at devolution and how inclusive it is, the quality of the services it provides to citizens, and accountability of the devolved institutions in Kenya.

It also looked at the contribution these institutions have made in ensuring inclusivity and accountability towards peace and security at the local level, and identified practical ways in which the national and county government institutions could embrace institutional inclusion and accountability.

What were the most significant findings from the research?

This research highlighted that devolution is making some substantial progress, including in financial investments in Isiolo County, increased employment, and the interaction between the citizens and the government.

People feel more connected with governance processes when electing their leaders and they feel more represented. We also have new health facilities, and now that health has been a devolved function we also have more early childhood development facilities and we’re seeing some bits of infrastructure development in places that were previously impossible. So devolution is promising.

What challenges does devolution face in Kenya?

"When it comes to public office you realise that the competition is ‘unhealthy competition’ because it is based on identity rather than policy. Therefore, communities tend to fight one another."

Devolution has its fair share of challenges which, for it to be effective, need to be adhered to. When it comes to public office, for example, you realise that the competition is ‘unhealthy competition’ because it is based on identity rather than policy. Therefore, communities tend to fight one another.

This affects how institutions deliver their services, because services tend to be discriminatory based on issues of identity. We also have those that control power, the elites, who manipulate processes for their own gain, as opposed to gains that benefit the entire community.

What was more surprising is that there is limited public understanding of how devolution works. As a result, people are not really able to effectively participate in ongoing processes like budgets. Security is another challenge at the community level.

What changes are needed to help devolution deliver on its promise of peace and inclusion?

For devolution to be inclusive, institutions need to be more proactive in transforming components that are perceived as discriminatory, be they norms, power or rules.

Also, there is a need to support oversight mechanisms because devolution needs to take into account community needs and should also be able to demonstrate that whatever is promised to the communities is delivered. This is only possible by supporting oversight mechanisms to limit corruption and underperformance.

Finally, there is a need to promote gender equality within the institutions, as well as civic education – so that citizens better understand how devolution works and their role in ensuring that service delivery and inclusivity are addressed by the leadership.Also, there is a need to support oversight mechanisms because devolution needs to take into account community needs and should also be able to demonstrate that whatever is promised to the communities is delivered. This is only possible by supporting oversight mechanisms to limit corruption and underperformance.For devolution to be inclusive, institutions need to be more proactive in transforming components that are perceived as discriminatory, be they norms, power or rules.

This interview has been edited.


Read the report 'Delivering on the promise of peace? Devolution, inclusion and local conflicts in Kenya'.

Read our blog about the report.

Read more about our work in Kenya.

Read more about our work on governance.