Counties starting to realise their power to drive projects

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This article first appeared in my weekly column with the Business Daily on January 28, 2017

Over the last week I have been  traveling around the country and interacting with county governments  on various assignments. What has become clear is that county governments are beginning to truly appreciate the power they have to guide the direction of development in their counties. Devolution is reorganising power dynamics at county level in several ways.

The first is that devolution seems to be engendering brain gain to counties. Professionals from private sector and development agencies are now working as technical staff in counties. This is due to both push and pull factors. On one hand, county governments are seeing the wealth of expertise in their county and pulling individuals to lead various dockets in the county governments. Secondly, as professionals interact with county governments, they begin to get excited about how they could contribute to the development of the regions in which they work and push themselves into county structures. This confluence of factors is creating a situation where county need for expertise meets the willingness of professionals to work in the county, to the benefit of the county.

Council of Governors meeting. FILE PHOTO | NMG


Secondly, counties have learnt from the first phase of devolution and county structures are strengthening which has implications for numerous players. The first is that stronger structures at county level means development partners must align their funding and programs with County Integrated Development Plans (CIDP). No longer are donors coming in with thematic areas and priorities with which counties must comply; it is now the other way around.  Secondly, counties are becoming increasingly aware of the power of private sector in their counties and are taking steps to make the private sector environment positive and enabling. There is a willingness in many county governments to engage with the private sector on what county governments can do to build private sector activity in their jurisdictions with a focus on job creation and income growth.

To be clear these dynamics are not unfolding evenly across counties, but this is the general direction of the momentum being generated at county level. For example, counties are not interested in coordinating numerous donor programs each with varied objectives not linked to the CIDP; that is where the momentum sits. It is clear that in this second phase of devolution, that donors and development partners have to not only align their programs with the CIDP, they must ensure that  County Governments are aware of their activities. There is a sense of autonomy emerging. Donors aren’t the all powerful entities they used to be; either they make themselves relevant or counties will eventually have no real use for them.


In terms of private sector, what is clear is that there is growing interest for county governments to engage with private sector. As counties open channels for communication with the private sector, there is impetus  for private sector to effectively organise itself at county level to fully leverage the attention of county government. Private sector associations must now ensure they have representation in all counties, so that they are prepared to present their ideas on how to work more effectively at county level. Gone are the days where private sector associations had a main office in Nairobi and paltry representation at county level. Private sector must be organised and effective at both national and county levels if they are to bring strategies, relevant to the local context, to the table.

Anzetse Were is a development economist;


Is agriculture being neglected under devolution?

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This article first appeared in my weekly column with the Business Daily on June 16, 2017

 It is not a secret that Kenya has been suffering the consequences of a ravaging drought for about a year now. Q1 2017 GDP growth stood at 4.7 percent largely due to a notable contraction in agriculture. The 1.1 percent contraction in agriculture is obviously informed by the drought. For example, the drought has decimated the production of tea one of Kenya’s key exports; production is expected to drop by 12 to 30 percent. Livestock production has also been devastated with estimated losses of 40 to 60 percent of livestock assets particularly in the North East and Coast. Maize farmers in Uasin Gishu continue to generate measly yields from their farms.

The question becomes, how did this happen? This is the first major drought to affect the country since the advent of devolution. Are there issues that have emerged in the context of devolution that allowed the drought to grip the country to the extent it has? The answer seems to be yes.Image result for agriculture Kenya


The first issue is budget allocations to agriculture. According to the International Budget Partnership (IBP), national government allocated the sector as follows: 2 percent in 2015/16, 1.3 percent in 2016/2017 and 1.8 percent in 2017/18. As IBP points out, the Maputo Declaration 2003 calls for allocation of at least 10 percent of total national budget towards agriculture. The average expenditure on agriculture in Africa is 4.5 percent; Kenya’s national allocations are sub-par. These paltry allocations may be due to the fact that that agriculture isn’t an attractive sector to finance. Infrastructure remains a priority for national and (it seems) county governments because physical assets can be pointed to as proof of ‘development’. The same cannot be done with agriculture, as a result agriculture seems to wallowing in financial neglect.

The second concern is the lack of coordination between county and national government. It is still not clear who is responsible for what in the agriculture sector. While agriculture has been devolved, the truth is that the national government through the Ministry of Agriculture, is still a key player in the sector. In the work I have done at county level, it has become abundantly clear that neither county nor national government are of the view that they are fully in charge of the sector. As a result, the sector is wallowing in a lack of ownership riddled by a lack of collaboration and coordination between the two levels of government. This is surely a contributing factor that allowed the drought to reach the scale it did.

Image result for agriculture Kenya counties


The third is a breakdown in support services to small holder farmers and poor early warning systems; both of which should sit in the county government. It has been noted that extension services that rural farmers in particular used to enjoy are no longer there. Aside from subsidies in fertiliser for example, small holder farmers on whom most Kenyans rely for food, need continuous support to make their farms more productive, limit post-harvest loss and make sure their products reach markets. County governments also seem to have failed in the early warning systems that should have signalled the crisis as they are present at grassroots levels. County governments seems to be having difficulty in playing their role in the sector and it is not clear why. Perhaps it may be a combination of a lack of technical capacity as well as limited financial allocations to the sector.

What is clear is that the situation detailed above cannot continue to happen. National and County government need to not only prioritise agriculture in terms of budget allocations but also solve the coordination problem that is so clear.

 Anzetse Were is a development economist;

TV Panel feature on the cost of living in Kenya

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On May 11, 2017 I was interviewed on cost of living issues in Kenya.

How to prevent corruption from arresting economic development

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This article first appeared in my column with the Business Daily on June 12, 2015

Corruption has always been a hot topic for Kenyans but recently it has become a national obsession. We all know that graft is deeply rooted in this country and threatens our economic development. So the focus should now be on: how can we address corruption effectively as a nation?

Firstly, all public bodies that can play a role in arresting graft should not only be more enabled to speedily discharge their constitutional mandate, but also be seen to be doing so. This is crucial because if institutions like the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, the Judiciary, the auditor-general’s office, the Kenya Revenue Authority and even the Kenya Police are seen to be failing in their duty to arrest corruption and seed a culture of transparency in public office, the cynicism in Kenyans will only grow and so will the graft.


Secondly, those suspected of corruption must be charged and those found guilty prosecuted. This has been said numerous times but Kenyans are still waiting for the day when a high profile public graft case will end with an official being prosecuted and actually facing consequences such as imprisonment. One major problem is that the language of corruption has been politicised and any allegations of graft are interpreted by the accused as witch-hunting.

This is problematic because the politicisation changes the narrative from one where graft is the focus to one where the public postulates as to whether the accused is guilty and/or why they would be “witch-hunted”. The only way this can be arrested is if both leaders allied to government and those who are not are treated in exactly the same manner and undergo the same process. Only then will it be clear that ending graft, and not witch-hunting, is the aim.

Thirdly, ­leverage on technology. We have already seen the role the Integrated Financial Management Information System (Ifmis) played in preventing the fraudulent procurement at the National Youth Service in which Sh826 million could have been stolen. Ifmis flagged the irregularities and allowed action to be taken to prevent disbursement. Kenya should build on this and look up to Chile. Research by the World Bank makes the point that Chile has created one of the world’s most transparent public procurement systems in the world. ChileCompra was launched in 2003, and is a public electronic system for purchasing and hiring. It has earned a worldwide reputation for excellence, transparency and efficiency. In 2012, users completed 2.1 million purchases issuing invoices totalling $9.1 billion (Sh924 billion). We need to study such examples.


Finally, we have to understand what graft looks like under devolution. The truth is that with devolution, the number of public officials has increased. Therefore, theoretically speaking, there are more fingers in the public money pot and more avenues through which money can “disappear”. It is crucial that we learn the new governance structures, how counties manage and disburse their funds, and the holes that exist that facilitate both petty and grand graft.

Some of these strategies are being deployed such as technology in the use of Ifmis, but more can be done. It is crucial that Kenyans evolve beyond complaining pessimistically about corruption, believing that no improvements will be made. Rather, they should remain vigilant and determined to end corruption. Only then do we stand a chance of arresting this serious social ill.

Were is a development economist; twitter:@anzetse