The history of local government in Kenya, 1952-2002
As Kenya embarks on a process of devolution – transferring power to 47 County Governments – questions about the historical foundations of local governance have emerged. This research examines the experiences of county and municipal councils in Kenya, from their inception in the late-colonial period up to the end of President Moi’s regime, by which time local authorities were widely viewed as bastions of nepotism, corruption and inefficiency.
Much of the historiography of modern Kenya has been interested in the dynamics of power within the strong, central government. Yet in 1963, Kenya gained independence under a regionalist constitution which empowered local authorities with enlarged functions and relative autonomy. This research looks to chart the late-colonial drive for local government and its subsequent marginalization under Kenyatta's presidency and thereafter. It seeks to understand whether municipal and county councils played any meaningful role in local politics in the post-independence period by asking:
- Does a focus on local government alter our understanding of Kenyan politics and the interplay between ethnicity and patronage?
- Were councils forums in which it was possible to debate local and national development policies?
- Given most councils poor service delivery, how did councilors sustain legitimacy amongst their supporters?
- What challenges and opportunities for devolution are suggested by the history of local government?
To answer these questions my study explores three case studies - Kilifi County Council, Nakuru Municipal Council and Kakamega County Council – chosen to demonstrate the range of experiences across the country. I am currently in Kenya conducting fieldwork; my methodology combines documentary and oral sources to uncover the official and unofficial accounts of councils and councilors. I hold an AHRC and Foreign and Commonwealth Office collaborative doctoral award, which aims to facilitate mutually beneficial exchange between researchers and policy-makers.