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Decentralising the State: District Focus and the Politics of Reallocation in Kenya

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 November 2008


Daniel arap Moi's announcement in October 1982 that Kenya would henceforth allocate its resources for rural development on a decentralised basis, to be more responsive to the ‘needs and aspirations of wananchi’,1 is one of the clearest statements by an African President that the state must establish a better consultative relationship with the people it claims to serve.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1989

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Page 431 note 1 Swahili for ‘people’; in this context, ordinary citizens.

Page 431 note 2 Collins, Paul, ‘Decentralisation and Local Administration for Development in Tanzania, in Africa Today (Denver), 21, 3, Summer 1974, pp. 1525.Google Scholar

Page 432 note 1 Gboyega, Alex, Political Values and Local Government in Nigeria (Lagos, 1987), pp. 134–89.Google Scholar

Page 432 note 2 Rondinelli, Dennis A., ‘Administrative Decentralisation and Economic Development: the Sudan's experiment with devolution’, in The Journal of Modern African Studies (Cambridge), 19, 4, 12 1981, pp. 595624.Google Scholar

Page 432 note 3 See, for example, Lele, Uma J., The Design of Rural Development: lessons from Africa (Baltimore, 1975);Google ScholarKorten, David, ‘Community Organisation and Rural Development: a learning process approach’, in Public Administration Review (Washington, D.C.), 09-10 1980, pp. 480511;Google Scholar and Esman, Milton J. and Uphoff, Norman T., Local Organisations: intermediaries in rural development (Ithaca, 1984).Google Scholar

Page 433 note 1 See Leonard, David K., ‘Analysing the Organisational Requirements for Serving the Rural Poor’, in Leonard, and Marshall, Dale Rogers (eds.), Institutions of Rural Development for the Poor (Berkeley, 1982), pp. 20–4,Google Scholar and Rondinelli, Denis, Nellis, John, and Cheema, G. Shabbir, ‘Decentralisation in Developing Countries: a review of recent experience’, World Bank Staff Working Paper No. 581, Washington, D.C., 1983.Google Scholar

Page 434 note 1 Although the policy as first announced in October 1982, details were not provided until June 1983 when the Kenyan Government published a pamphlet known as the ‘Blue Book’, because of its cover. The ‘Blue Book’ has been updated periodically. For the most recent statement, see Office of the President, District Focus for Rural Development (Nairobi, 03 1987).Google Scholar

Page 434 note 2 For a detailed description of the political alliances Moi has sought to build since independence, see Throup, David, ‘The Construction and Destruction of the Kenyatta State’, in Schatzberg, Michael G. (ed.), The Political Economy of Kenya (New York, 1987), pp. 3374.Google Scholar

Page 435 note 1 Moi himself is from Baringo District, and as party chairman had been the third most important leader of K.A.D.U.

Page 435 note 2 For a discussion of the evolution of this clientelist system, see Barkan, Joel D., ‘The Electoral Process and Peasant-State Relations in Kenya’, in Hayward, Fred M. (ed.), Elections in Independent Africa (Boulder, 1987), pp. 213–37.Google Scholar

Page 435 note 3 For a full account of the ‘Change the Constitution Movement’, see Karimi, Joseph and Ochieng, Philip, The Kenyatta Succession (Nairobi, 1980), chs. 1–5.Google Scholar

Page 435 note 4 The President eventually banned all ethnic organisations, including G.E.M.A., in 1981.

Page 436 note 1 The Kikuyu and the Kalenjin constitue about 21 per cent, respectively, of Kenya's population. Throup, loc. cit. p. 61, reports that whereas approximately 30 per cent of the Cabinet were Kikuyu throughout Kenyatta's rule, there was only half that number by 1986, while the proportion of Kalenjin had risen from 9 to 17 per cent. Following the 1988 elections, Kikuyu representation in the expanded Cabinet increased to one-quarter, but only 8 per cent of the 64 new Assistant Ministers were Kikuyu.

Page 436 note 2 Swahili for ‘footsteps’. Moi initially used the term to stress that his régime and the country would follow in Kenyatta's footsteps; within a few months the new President made it clear that the ‘footsteps’ to be followed were his own.

Page 437 note 1 Although accurate figures are impossible to obtain, it is widely recognised that Cabinet Ministers, and others wishing to retain positions in or near the President's inner circle, must regularly contribute a quota or ‘tithe’ commensurate with their ability to pay. During the early and mid-1980s, The Daily Nation (Nairobi) regularly reported ‘donations’ of several hundred thousand KShs. These donations were typically attributed to a Cabinet Minister ‘and his friends’, meaning that he had raised the funds with the help of others, including civil servants in his Ministry who were expected to contribute, as well as Asian and expatriate businessmen who had need of access to the state.

Page 437 note 2 Thus the Government did not have the resources to implement the President's announcement in 1979 that all school children would be provided with free milk. His declaration in 1981 concerning free primary education likewise placed a severe budgetary strain on the Government, being inconsistent with its stated policy of reducing the proportion of public expenditures devoted to education. A third example was the President's statement in May 1988 that Kenya's three Universities would accept an incoming class of more than 9,000 applicants, when places existed for only one-third of this number.

Page 438 note 1 Moi sought to remove Kibaki and two other pillars of the Kikuyu political establishment, Njenga Karume and Kenneth Matiba, from their positions as local branch chairmen of K.A.N.U. by calling snap elections for party officers in September 1988. Following an official announcement that all three had been unsuccessful, Kibaki alleged that the elections had been rigged and demanded a recount, after which he was declared elected. Matiba subsequendy quit the Cabinet in December 1988, after which he was expelled from K.A.N.U. In April 1989 the highest-ranking Kikuyu in the Government, Josaphat Karanja, who had been appointed by Moi the previous year to replace Kibaki as Vice-President, was himself dumped.

Page 438 note 2 Among their many duties, the P.C.s were expected to monitor all political activities, to tolerate the machine politics of the régime's supporters, and to harass its opponents.

Page 439 note 1 During the Kenyatta era, D.C.s who were transferred often took up the same post in another district, and, on occasion, were transferred back to a district in which they had served previously. Today, the pattern is to move a D.C. out of the rural administration to another section of the civil service, or out of government service to private life. The net effect has been an increasing sense of caution on the part of many D.C.s, an attitude which undermines their authority in the field.

Page 440 note 1 Nyachae himself retired in December 1986, and was subsequently thwarted in this attempt to run for Parliament in March 1988.

Page 440 note 2 For a history of the administrative procedures associated with decentralisation, see Cohen, John M. and Hook, Richard M., ‘District Development Planning in Kenya’, Development Discussion Paper No. 229, Harvard Institute for International Development, Cambridge, Mass., April 1986,Google Scholar and their ‘Decentralized Planning in Kenya’, in Public Administration and Development, (Chichester, Sussex), 7, 1987, pp. 7793.Google Scholar

Page 441 note 1 For an extended discussion of the failure of S.R.D.P., see Lele, Uma, loc. cit. pp. 143–50.Google Scholar

Page 441 note 2 Strictly speaking, the S.R.D.P. sought to re-establish the D.D.C.s which had legal status since 1964, but which were moribund as a result of the Government's policy of undercutting the district councils.

Page 442 note 1 It has been estimated that only 40 per cent of the projects supported by the R.D.F. were completed during this period. See ‘Kenya's Rural Development Fund: report from a joint evaluation mission appointed by the Government of Kenya, DANIDA, NORAD and SIDA’, Nairobi, April 1985, annex 10.

Page 442 note 2 These grants have been divided into two series known as Rural Planning I and II, and Resource Management for Rural Development I, II, and III. The grants have supported the continuous presence of a team of consultants from the Harvard Institute for International Development. The current grant to the Ministry of Planning and National Development, which now directs district planning, expires on 30 July 1992.

Page 443 note 1 Report and Recommendations of the Working Party on Government Expenditures (Nairobi, 07 1982), chaired by Philip Ndegwa.Google Scholar

Page 443 note 2 Ibid. p. 85.

Page 443 note 3 Office of the President, District Focus for Rural Development (Nairobi, 06 1983).Google Scholar

Page 444 note 1 A significant aspect of this ‘capacity’ was the ability of the Rural Planning Division to make its ‘availability’ known to senior administrators in the Office of the President. Mule's personal contacts with Nyachae and those of others working in the R.P.D. are of particular importance here.

Page 444 note 2 For a complete statement of the Budget Rationalisation policy, see Republic of Kenya, Economic Management for Renewed Growth, Sessional Paper No. 1 of 1986 (Nairobi, 1986), especially pp. 30–2. See also, Ministry of Finance, Treasury Circular No. 3, 18 February 1986, and Treasury Circular No. 7, 11 July 1986. Budget Rationalisation is best understood as an effort to implement key recommendations of the Working Party on Government Expenditures. It is also a response to demands by the International Monetary Fund and other donors that Kenya pursue a vigorous programme of structural adjustment.

Page 446 note 1 Such committees are most numerous and most active in areas that are relatively more developed and more densely populated than others.

Page 447 note 1 One example is the criticism endured by Mwai Kibaki in his home district of Nyeri since being dropped as Kenya's Vice-President in 1988.

Page 448 note 1 The D.D.C.s also exercise significant influence over the E.E.C.-funded micro-projects programme and the U.S.A.I.D.-funded District Development Fund. The former backs schemes similar to those supported by the R.D.F., but disbursements to districts are controlled on a project-by-project basis by the Ministry of National Development and Planning in consultation with the E.E.C. The Ministry likewise controls disbursements from the District Development Fund which was established in 1987 to support several Rural Trade and Production Centres in each district.

Page 448 note 2 Denmark, Norway, and Sweden provided 93 per cent of the 1987–8 Rural Development Fund, and the Netherlands has also been a major contributor. Government of Kenya, Development Estimates for the Year 1987/88 (Nairobi, 1987), pp. 61 and 67–8.Google Scholar

Page 449 note 1 Sources: Population: Government of Kenya, Statistical Abstract, 1985 (Nairobi, 1986), p. 13. Roads: Government of Kenya, Development Estimates for the Year 1980/81, pp. 232–5, 1985/86, pp. 434–5, and 1987/88, pp. 305–6. Rural Health: Development Estimates for the Year 1987/88, pp. 197–8, 201–12, and 222. R.D.F.: private correspondence and Development Estimates for the Year 1987/88, pp. 61 and 67–8.Google Scholar

Page 451 note 1 One possible exception to his generalisation is where the régime will allow a minimal or symbolic measure of redistribution in order to forestall the emergence of more intense opposition by the ‘have nots’. Significant measures of redistribution, however, will not occur.

Page 451 note 2 Some federal arrangements also satisfy this criteria, but not all.

Page 452 note 1 It is for this reason that District Focus has yet to grant districts the power to tax or establish local-user fees despite the need to generate more revenue, and why the issue is under constant review.

Page 452 note 2 Rondinelli, Nellis, and Cheema, op. cit.

Page 453 note 1 One way for a régime to delegate substantial decision-making authority to local units of government while retaining overall control, is to finance local government through block grants. This strategy falls somewhere between deconcentration and devolution — local governments, including elected ones, are free to conduct virtually all of their day-to-day operations without interference from the centre, but are dependent on revenues provided by the centre. The financing and operation of local government councils in Nigeria is an example of this strategy.

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