Following the violent aftermath of the 2007 presidential elections in Kenya, the country launched serious consultations with citizens and political parties resulting in a major overhaul of its constitution in 2010. Devolution of some power traditionally reserved for the national government was given to 47 county-level elected governments and was considered a major part of the solution towards enhanced cohesion between ethnic groups, improved and more accountable public service delivery and a more vibrant democracy. Of course such a process cannot be achieved overnight and three elected officials from the Eleyo Marakwet Assembly came to Canada early June to learn more about our own federal system.
On June 6, 2014 the highly committed Kenyan delegation had lunch with a few representatives from Ottawa University, the Canadian Parliamentary Center, the Aga Khan Foundation Canada and Mauril Bélanger, President of the Canada-Africa Parliamentary Association and MP for Ottawa-Vanier, followed by a meeting with members of the Africa Study Group (ASG) affiliated with the CIC-National Capital Branch. These events marked the culmination of a trip organized by the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the Canadian Parliamentary Center. During this trip, the delegation was able to learn about the functioning of the Canadian federal system with its long-standing and well-established separation of powers and reflect upon lessons learned for the Kenyan context.
Presentations and discussions during the visit were frank and open, explaining the rationale behind the 2010 Constitution, examining Kenya’s current effort to address the country’s socioeconomic problems with this new system of local county assemblies, and the challenges they were facing in its implementation. Albert Kochei, Speaker of the Elgeyo Marakwet County Assembly told the African Study Group that this new system allows citizens to have a more direct say in the decisions that affect their day-to-day lives, including budget preparation. He also pointed out that public education concerning the process is necessary to ensure that elected representatives and those who elect them learn how to interact with each other. As currently constructed, the new-fangled Assemblies in Kenya draft Integrated Development Plans and receive funding from the Kenyan government to facilitate their implementation. The Kenyan Anti-Corruption Commission then helps to oversee the accountability of these governance structures while individual county administrations have also been building internal mechanisms to guard against corruption. Furthermore, 30 percent of county government employees are sourced from outside the county to promote diversity and address the tribal divisions that were blamed for the most recent spate of violence in 2007-2008.
John Tomashevski of the IRI indicated that this trip was one of many that the organization puts together for both local and national-level political representatives to learn about governance practices in countries across the globe. In Kenya, IRI has played a significant role in fostering this educative process, paying special attention to marginalized groups such as women and youth.
There is much to be learned by Kenya’s practitioners of local government as the new system continues takes shape, and Canadians have every reason to be proud of the long history of strong federalism and the lessons it can offer trailblazers of emerging local governance in Kenya and beyond.
Alim Jiwa holds an MA in Conflict Studies from the University of Ottawa and a Bachelor of Public Affairs and Policy Management with a specialization in International Studies from Carleton University’s Arthur Kroeger College of Public Affairs. His academic interests include democratization, diversity and inclusion, human rights and social justice and Louise Ouimet, Chair of the Africa Study Group.