The State of Decentralization in West Africa: Mixed Progess

Experience in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Senegal and Sierra Leone.

Since the 1990s, various African countries have adopted measures of decentralized governments as a means to expedite development, improve the democratic space and enhance socio-economic inclusion. Key indicators of the success of decentralization are the amount of local government spending (as a percent of total government spending), and number of women in local leadership. Data shows a mixed bag of results. A very progressive constitutional mandate in Senegal has raised participation of women in local leadership to 47%, while Ghana remains at about 10%. Inversely, Ghana local government spending stands above 25%, which is way above the West African average of about 4%. (DELOG, 2016) The table below is a summary of local government spending and % of women in local leadership.

Country Year decentralization launched % local government spending % women in local leadership
Sierra Leone 2004 2% (2014) 19.1% (2012)
Ghana 1992 26% (2013) 10% (2013)
Burkina Faso 1991 3.9% (2013) 21% (2012)
Senegal 1972 5.9% (2013) 47% (2017)

Table 1. Summary of local government spending and women in local leadership

These countries have faced many challenges including lack of capacity at the newly created local structures, lack of transfer of enough financial resources to support the local governments, legislative ambiguities that pit different tiers against one another, low civic engagement in local governance, and lack of implementation of measures to empower marginalized groups. To find out more, we will explore the following aspects of decentralization in four West African countries: legal and constitutional basis for decentralization; gender inclusion in decentralized governments; fiscal decentralization; and public participation and accountability.


Fiscal decentralization “…constitutes the public finance dimension to decentralisation in general, defining how and in what way expenditures and revenues are organised between and across different levels of government in the national polity.” (UNDP, 2005) This involves: transferring functions and authority from a central government to the local government; empowering the local government and the public to take charge of these responsibilities; transferring requisite financial resources and control of the finances to enable the new governments to accomplish their responsibility i.e. finance follows function; and control over local taxes and revenue-generating activities. The end result is to have a local government with relative fiscal autonomy to deliver services to local constituents.

A decentralized structure delivers services that are close to the needs of the constituent communities, and especially for socially marginal groups such as women. Furthermore, the expanded political arena provides opportunity for women to contest for leadership due to lower barriers of entry; women need not travel too far away from their communities, raise substantial financial resources or have substantial political experience to participate. Local leadership, therefore, raises the profile of women leaders who may step up to contest higher leadership at the national level. It is also a platform through which women can drive a gender-focused socio-economic agenda.

As the government is closer to the people, it is expected that “… citizens will take a closer interest in how their taxes are spent, and will subject to closer scrutiny the actions of their local representatives…” (UNRISD, 2013) This scrutiny is expected to improve the quality of service delivery, increase responsiveness, and accountability of the local government. Moreover, due to an expanded political arena, increased contestation in the local political space improves participation of communities in rallying behind their local leaders, to ensure they elect the representative with the best grasp of the local needs. Local leaders are generally more accessible than national leaders, and communities can use the electoral cycles to reward or punish their representatives who fail to deliver on agreed programs.

Burkina Faso

Like many African countries, the decentralization process in Burkina Faso began in the 1990s precipitated by a rejection of the centralist and one-party rule, and an economic crisis that had led to the implementation of corrective structural adjustment programs.

Legal and Constitutional Framework

In June 1991, the country adopted a new constitutional dispensation that among other things, recognized the territorial collectivities (collectivités territoriales; CTs) as “legal
entities, financially autonomous, and administered by elected bodies.” (Dafflon, Madiès & Ky) Consequently, in 1993 the Assembly of People’s Deputies enacted five laws detailing the municipal structure, process for electing councillors, and the special statuses of the Bobo-Dioulasso and Ouagadougou communes, which were replaced in 1998 by four laws that set the legislative framework for implementation of decentralization. (Dafflon, Madiès & Ky) Further changes created regions (2001) which brought the level of tiers to three (provinces and communes were the other two); brought the tiers back to two; and elections held under the new system in 2006.

The functions listed under the CGCT laws of 2004 to be performed by the CTs include land management; environment and natural resource management; economic development and planning; health and hygiene; education, employment, vocational training, and literacy; culture, sports, recreation, and youth; civil defense, social welfare, and emergency relief; funeral services and cemeteries; water and electricity; and markets, fairs, and slaughterhouses. (Dafflon, Madiès & Ky)

Fiscal Decentralization

The funding of various functions from central government ministries to the corresponding decentralized department has been delayed. For instance in 2009, only the Ministry of Basic Education and Literacy, and the Ministry of Agriculture earmarked and disbursed the necessary funds to the account opened by the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization (MATD). The central government through such legal entities as the Permanent Development Fund for Territorial Collectivities (FPDCT), provides both grants, loans and guarantees for investments; block grants for recurrent expenditures, and block grants for investments; budget allocations by line ministries. In 2013, the local governments received 3.9% central government, and generated about 5.4% of general government revenues. (OECD, 2016b)

The CTs get their revenues from taxes, revenue from communal service provision, revenue from communal property and miscellaneous revenues. The following six taxes are controlled by the central government and communes cannot set the tax rates or determine the tax base: business license contribution, residency tax, mortmain tax, firearms tax, land tax and informal sector contribution. Further, in practice, businesses are taxed on the basis of the location of their corporate headquarters, which are concentrated in the capital city Ouagadougou. Several businesses especially in the extractive industry have their major production centers in the rural areas, but the taxes are paid in their municipal headquarter locations. This leaves the rural communes without the much-needed tax bases to raise revenues. Other non-shared taxes include entertainment tax, gaming tax, advertising tax, cart tax, and communal development tax.

Gender Inclusion

Women participation in the local elections has grown over time, 10%, 20% and 30% of locally elected officials 1998, 2002 and 2006 being women. In 2009, the national parliament enacted a law to assure at least 30% representation of women in elected roles. (Hagberg 2010) However, the actual rate for women participation in decision-making at the local governments still remains lower than the statutory requirement, and it has been declining over time. In 2009, the level was at 26%, but dropped to 21% after the December 2012 elections. (Kaboré and Siboné, 2014)

Public Participation and Accountability

The March 2007 Strategic Framework for the Implementation of Decentralization adopted by the central government stated the need for ownership of the decentralization process by local authorities. This is in two parts: social ownership which includes participation by the population and civil society in management of local affairs; and political ownership to ensure the participation of constituents in the political arena. (Dafflon, Madiès & Ky)


Colonial Ghana was characterized by the British using chiefs and elders to indirectly rule on their behalf. After attaining independence in 1957, the 1966 ouster of Kwame Nkrumah resulted in subsequent military coups that undermined any prior efforts for decentralization.  (Antwi-Boasiako, 2010). During the mid 1970s, the military government under the Lt. Col. Ignatius Kutu Acheampong began to push for greater efforts empower the citizenry. However, significant progress would not come until the 1990s.

Legal and Constitutional Framework

From 1988, the PNDC government began a local government reform process aimed at “transferring functions, powers, means, and competences from the central government to the local government.” (Ankamah, 2012) This culminated in the 1992 constitution which set the environment for further legislative frameworks to entrench decentralization in Ghana. The goals of the process as envisioned were to: “strengthen and expand local democracy; promote local, social and economic development; and to reduce poverty and increase the choices of the people”. (Ankamah 2012)

Chapter 20 of the Constitution of Ghana 1992 lays out the objectives and composition of decentralization. The various articles state the role of people in participating in governance; expounds on the autonomy of local governments; “and proposes the enhancement of the capacity of local government authorities to plan, initiate, coordinate, manage and execute policies with regards to matters affecting the local people”. (JSG 1992) The initiative introduced changes in the public administrative system by creating “metropolitan, municipal and district assemblies as the highest political, planning and administrative and development authorities, as well as regional coordinating councils and sub-district structures such as urban, town and unit committees.” (WaterAid, 2009) The government has also enacted and amended several legislations and undertaken various policy documents that further strengthen decentralization. These include: Local Government Act, 1993, Local Government Service Act, 2003,  National Development Planning (Systems Act) 1994, and District Assemblies Common Fund Act, 2003.

Fiscal Decentralization

Both the Constitution and the LGA specify that each District Assembly (DA) should have “sound financial base with adequate and reliable sources of revenue” in order to ensure they deliver quality service to the people. To achieve this requires that the DAs generate their own revenue such as entertainment duty, casino revenue, betting tax, income tax registration of trades, gambling tax, rates and levies, fees, licenses, taxes chargeable on incomes of certain category of self employed persons and other miscellaneous receipts; and receive transfers from the District Assembly Common Fund (DACF)”.(Ankamah, 2012) The DAs have faced challenges that have hindered them from generating substantial own funds: lack of government support to enhance their capacity to generate own funds; lack of benchmarking to determine appropriate levels of revenue mobilization; lack of appreciation by DAs staff on the importance of own funds; lack of capacity by local land boards to perform property revaluations; and lack of collaboration by stakeholders to ensure internal control and avoid revenue leakages.

The DACF is funded each year by Parliament with statutory levels ensuring at least 5% of central government revenue goes to the local governments, which stood at 26% in 2013 (OECD, 2016a). Between 2000 and 2010, allocations to DACF have grown over 1700% from GHC 18 million to over GHC 340 million. However, disbursement of funds experiences delays which hinders budget plannings at the district assemblies. Revenue mobilization to district assemblies is also highly unpredictable. For instance, “An analysis of Bongo district budget revealed significant variations between expected income and what is eventually mobilised each year”, making planning for development programs very challenging.  Funding is also segmented, making tracking of expenditures difficult. For instance, some funds are not channelled through the sector ministry to the respective district assemblies, while others channelled as intergovernmental transfers have no clear lines to guide allocations to the sector. The lack of coordination of funding, therefore makes managing the funds and reporting difficult. (WaterAid, 2009)

Other challenges include the fact that a portion of the funds transferred from central government to the districts is tied to specific functions. For instance, in 2006, about 46% of the common funding was determined at the central government. (WaterAid, 2009) Further, the line ministries also retain some funds for purposes such as procurements. These factors reduce the available funds for the district and undermines the fiscal autonomy of districts. Further, district assemblies have little say on sectoral budgets, even though in principle they should inform the sectoral budgets. The district budgeting calendar is at variance with the national process thus making it difficult for the sectors to incorporate district sector information into their budgets. (WaterAid, 2009)

Gender Inclusion

The Constitution of Ghana provides equality between men and women. Ghana has also ratified several international conventions on gender equality, affirmative action and promoting women’s rights. However, participation and representation is still very low, with only 8% and 10% representing women at the national parliament and local assemblies respectively. (UNDP 2013) Cultural prejudices, discrimination, traditional beliefs and monetary requirements play a huge role as barriers that prevent women from running for political office. For instance, an Afrobarometer research showed that 34% of men and 21% of women sampled agreed that men made better political leaders and ought to be elected to public office. (Afrobarometer 2012)

Public Participation and Accountability

Article 240(2) of the Constitution provides that the government should provide a system for people to participate in local development. The district assemblies are responsible for “…facilitating public participation in the development process and disseminating information on all matters related to development.” (WaterAid, 2009) However, civic engagement in the development process remains low. A study carried out in Upper Western region of Ghana on public participation in local development revealed that the top reasons for not participating include: a lack of incentive to participate, lack of information and lack of formal education. ( Bebelleh & Nobabumah 2013) Local community bottom-up demand for accountability and transparency from their elected leaders such as members of parliament (MPs) and members of their assemblies is weak. Further, citizens do not know their responsibility in the governing process. This lack of grassroots participation results in planning, budgeting, procurement processes being carried out without any input from the respective communities.(UNDP, 2013)

Several audit and accountability reports have concluded that there is little accountability by the elective and appointed district level officials. For instance, “the Ghana Round 5 Afrobarometer research mentioned that 68% of the constituents had not contacted their local government officials to demand accountability, 52% said their councillors never listen to them, while 87% perceive their councillors to be corrupt”.(UNDP, 2013)


Senegal has long since established decentralization as an approach to development. When it gained independence from French colonial rule, the highly centralized state began experimenting with various measures to devolve power to the local communities.

Legal and Constitutional Framework

The government has implemented decentralization by enacting various legislations and policies in three progressive phases. The first phase enacted Law 72-25 in April 1972, establishing local authorities to manage and administer communities. The second phase enacted Law 96-06 created the regions while Law 96-07 transferred powers to these regions, communes and rural communities (11 regions, 110 municipal communes and 320 rural communities). The Constitution of 2001 further entrenched the place of local governments (collectivités territoriales: CTs) as the channel for citizen participation in running their local affairs. (World Bank, 2015)

The government launched the National Local Development Program in 2006 which incorporated a “community-driven development (CDD) approach to promote the effective, efficient and sustainable local development.”  (World Bank, 2015) This enabled the government to set up guidelines for participation in local development. In 2013, the government adopted the third  phase of decentralization policy with the aim to harmonize the decentralization and local governance efforts.

Fiscal Decentralization

The decentralization law transferred the following areas of responsibilities to the communes: land planning, public land administration, urbanization, health, education, environment, youth and sports/culture. The law also established the Decentralization Endowment Fund to finance current expenditures and the Local Communities’ Infrastructure and Equipment Fund to finance local investment. The government estimated that it would need to allocate about 25% of public expenditure (80 to 100 billion CFAs) in the year 2000 to finance the decentralized responsibilities. However, the amount budgeted for the same period was only 9 billion CFAs, less than 3% of consolidated expenditures, while the actual amounts transferred were well below the allocated amount. (Ndegwa & Levy) Expenditure reports as at 2013 show that 5.9% of total government expenditure is at the local level.  (OECD, 2016c)

Gender Inclusion

In 2010, the former president of Senegal, Abdoulaye Wade signed the Gender Parity Law. This piece of legislation “obliges all political parties to place women and men in an alternating matter on candidate lists, aiming at a male-female ratio of 50%.” (Tøraasen, 2017) The law empowered the electoral commission to exclude parties that did not comply, and reject their lists of nominees. Consequently, the number of women representatives at the national assembly in the 2012 election almost doubled from 22.7% to 42.7%, while it almost tripled in the local elections of 2014 from 16% to 47%. (Tøraasen, 2017) This has ensured greater female political participation both at the local and national levels.

Public Participation and Accountability

The General Code of Local Government provided the institutional framework that gave the LGs responsibility over designing, and implementing programs for socio-economic development of communities. Further, local executive bodies are tasked with establishing community participation frameworks to include the interest of the local communities in the planning, implementation and accountability. However, civil engagement in governance is weak, with little done to ensure that local needs are incorporated in CTs’ priorities.

Accountability of the CTs leaders has been weak. For instance, many CTs do not keep full accounting records with tax rolls not provided in time to account for revenues collected. Further central government action has at times gone against the practice of the sub national governments by exempting some companies from taxes “without informing or compensating the CTs concerned. (The Hunger Project, 2014)

Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone emerged from a decade-long civil war in 2002. One main cause of the conflict was the “overcentralized system of rule that led to the exclusion and marginalization of areas outside Freetown”.(Srivastava and Larizza, 2011) Postcolonial elected local councils were abolished by President Siaka Stevens in 1972 and the responsibilities moved to the central government. Consequently, traditional chiefs became responsible for collecting local taxes, despite having no service delivery or development function.

Legal and Constitutional Framework

After the 1996 multiparty elections, the Sierra Leonean government launched a national policy document, the Good Governance and Public Sector Reform Strategy, that emphasized the role of decentralization as a tool for reform especially in rural areas. In 2004, the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) government of Abdul Tejan Kabbah reestablished local councils when it passed the Local Government Act of 2004 (LGA). This initiative provided the legislative framework for political, fiscal and administrative decentralization through devolution of key central government functions to local councils.(Srivastava and Larizza, 2011) The new dispensation was especially popular with SLPP political leaders whose interests had been adversely affected during the single-party rule of the All People’s Congress party. The new local councils were also seen as balancing out the power of the oppressive paramount chiefs that ruled during the single-party era.

The new law included transitional provisions as the country moved to develop new policy guidelines on decentralization and chiefdoms. However, the law maintained ambiguities in the relationship between chiefdoms and local councils. By law, chiefdoms are subordinate to the local councils. In practice, the chiefs disregard the hierarchy. The local councils set the local tax rates and the chiefs are supposed to collect them, and hand them over to the local councils, a situation Chiefdom Councils are not comfortable with. There has been delay in repealing laws governing the chieftaincy and enacting new ones that reflect the new dispensation. These ambiguities have led to tensions between the two institutions, dampening the process of decentralization.

Fiscal Decentralization

The LGA provided a framework for fiscal decentralization. The law recognized that local councils would be unable to generate own revenues, at least for a certain period. The Act identified local council revenue sources as: transfers from the central government; own revenues generated from fees, taxes and dues; other loans and grants. For devolved functions, the law provided for tied funds to deliver the service at the pre-devolution standard in the first phase (2004-08), and at an “appropriate” standard post-2008. The law was unclear on revenue-sharing formula or the definitions for terms such as “equity” and the standards to be used to gauge the level of service delivery. (Srivastava and Larizza, 2011)

The government has seen a moderate transfer of resources to the local councils, with transfers increasing by 45% between 2005 and 2009, from Le 19 billion to Le 34 billion. The ratio of actual to budgeted transfers grew from 70% in 2005 to 98% in 2009. (Srivastava and Larizza, 2011) However, these transfers to local councils are still low, representing about 2% of total government expenditures. (CLGF, 2014)

Another challenge has been the low own-revenue generation by the local councils, with capacity between 25-30% of their expenditure coming from own revenues. Identified as a stable long-term revenue stream, property taxes have failed to live up to the expectation as a source of income for local governments, especially urban councils. For instance, in 2007 three urban councils, Bo, Kenema and Makeni were still collecting less than half of their targeted revenues, relying heavily on market dues and other easily collectable taxes and fees, while neglecting property taxes. Even with a relatively straight-forward tax collection framework set in place by a partnership of donor organizations, collecting and enforcing compliance has proved incredibly difficult. Large property owners have frustrated the efforts. This is in part because “…strong ties between large landowners and political elites have been widely cited as the primary explanation for weak property tax collection”. (Jibao and Prichard, 2013)

Gender Inclusion

Women and ethnic minorities have benefited immensely from the expanded political participation. Between 2004 and 2008, share of council seats occupied by women increased 5% from 13 to 18%, three times the share occupied by women at the national Parliament. (IRCBP 2010) In the 2012 local elections women accounted for 19.1% of elected councillors and 11.8% of nominated chief councillors, and 10.5% of mayors. (CLGF, 2014) Further, representatives from ethnic minority groups such as Kono, Loko and Sherbro were elected to the councils. However, a lot still remains to be done. The government has still not passed a gender quota law that would ensure a 30% minimum representation at the local and national level. (Abdullah, 2010) During the electioneering period, women councillors also faced threats of violence, intimidation by male opponents, and lack of financial resources. In their jobs as councillors, they faced barriers to push the gender issues with their committees starved of necessary resources to work.

Public Participation and Accountability

The LGA requires local communities to be consulted before the elected council approves development plans. Further, it establishes the ward committee as a platform for residents to discuss their issues, which are forwarded to the local councils. Councils are required to publish budget documents and accounts, development plans etc. in an easily accessible manner, and open their meetings to the public. Some councils have taken the initiative to rotate their monthly meetings to different wards to reach wider constituents. Various initiatives have also been undertaken by the government to strengthen the capacity of civil society groups to monitor and keep local governments accountable. In 2010, community monitors were trained to facilitate the development of social accountability systems, disseminate council’s activities to ward levels and monitoring service delivery. (CLGF, 2014) All these have seen a rise in civic activism and participation in local elections has remained moderately high. (Srivastava and Larizza, 2011)

Lessons & Recommendations

West African countries that are experimenting with decentralization have had varied experiences. First, entrenching decentralization in a new or amended constitutional dispensation gives the process the legitimacy to overcome any tendencies to regress towards a more centralized system. Secondly, political will is very important in the implementation of the requirements of the constitution and new legislations. For instance, women participation in governance and development still remains largely tokenistic due to the patriarchy that controls the political space. Thirdly, as described above, most central governments championing decentralization have focused attention on transfer of funding to the subnational governments, with little done to improve the capacity of local governments to raise their own funds and become truly fiscally independent. Those local governments that have tried to collect own revenues have relied mostly on easily collectable taxes and dues such as market dues, while avoiding the more politically unpopular property taxes. Finally, many implementations of public participation in the decentralization process has left most of the citizens as mere observers in the development planning and execution process. Apart from voting in their local government officials, little has been done by the central and local authorities to ensure better quality citizen engagement.

In order to build local government structures that truly reflect the development needs of the local constituents, stakeholders need to make concerted efforts to strengthen fiscal autonomy at these subnational governments. This will reduce the reliance on central government funding, and ensure that the spending is aligned with priorities. Further, when citizens fund local government expenditure to a significant level, they are likely to demand greater accountability for their taxes, which in turn improves service delivery. (Jibao and Prichard, 2013) To achieve this, greater investment in local capacity and systems needs to happen. Before handing over major responsibility to local governments, stakeholders should agree on which functions will be funded by own revenues, targets for revenue mobilization set, and administrators of this process trained. Other models could include sending central government tax administrators to the local levels who then perform handholding to the officers at the subnational governments to pass on the necessary skills to deliver the new fiscal functions. Political will is also key in ensuring the enactment and implementation of unpopular local government taxes such as property taxes. Without political willingness to enforce unpopular legislation, fiscal autonomy is likely to remain a mirage for many local governments.

Without investing in the empowerment of women, decentralization will still fail to reach and impact a majority of the population. This is especially evident in West Africa where traditions and culture still dictate the place of women in society and leadership. However, such progress can only be made with great political will by leaders at both the national and local governments. For instance, in Senegal, the passing of the gender parity law is credited to former President Abdoulaye Wade who championed it and helped bring it into the Constitution. Consequently Senegal has witnessed significant progress in women’s representation at local authorities and national leadership. However, since the elections of 2014, the marabouts, a network of Muslim brotherhoods in Senegal have resisted the increased presence of female leadership, and moved to neutralize this influence, albeit unsuccessfully. Since the requirements are contained in the constitution, however, and there still exists great political will to enact the Constitution fully, attacks on female leadership has failed. (Tøraasen, 2017)

Civil society needs to take up the challenge of building the capacity of the citizenry to engage their local governments to meet their local needs. In Ghana for instance, Plan Ghana trained youth in budget advocacy, giving exposure and the experience which has increased the confidence level of the youth to engage their district assemblies during the development planning process. These youths have also become trainers for other regions, beyond Awutu-Senya District, building youth budget network to advocate for youth and children issues both locally and nationally. (Bani-Afudego et al., 2014) This and other similar projects need to be undertaken in order to build lasting and meaningful community participation in governance and development.


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Devolution in Kenya: Gender and Public Participation Dimension


The World Bank hails the devolution process in Kenya as one of the most ambitious decentralization efforts in the world. Since 2013, counties have been allocated an increasingly generous portion of the total annual government expenditure, currently standing above the minimum 15 percent threshold. Historically marginalized regions have benefited from the resource allocation to prioritize citizen needs. For instance, Marsabit county built its first tarmac road since independence, thanks to county government resources. (Kipchirchir, 2016) The county government also sunk boreholes and constructed dams and water pans that cut distance traveled by constituents in search of water from 70km to 20km. (Muchui, 2016) One goal of devolution was to establish and guarantee that citizens are fully involved in the governance processes. Positive economic impacts aside, public participation under devolution in Kenya faces some challenges: county governments have failed to carry out adequate civic education; insufficient dissemination of information; inadequate entrenchment of public participation in county laws; and lack of a framework for sharing innovation and best practices.


In August 2010, a 67 percent majority of Kenyans voted to enact a new constitution after a reform process that had lasted five years. (Nation, 2010) The constitution elevated the place of the people, “All sovereign power belongs to the people of Kenya… The people may exercise their sovereign power either directly or through their democratically elected representatives.” (National Council for Law Reporting, 2010) Among the provisions of the new constitution was the establishment of a devolved system of 47 county governments with both executive and legislative functions and a bicameral house (national assembly and senate). (Kimenyi, 2013) The devolved system of government was envisioned as a tool to bring the power closer to the people, expand the political space, and “enhance the  participation of people in the exercise of the powers of the State and in making decisions affecting them”. (National Council for Law Reporting, 2010, Article 174(c ) )

In March 2013, Kenyans voted for the first time for 47 governors and their deputies, women representatives to the national assembly, senators and members of county assembly. These new counties, headed by the governor with oversight from members of county assembly (MCAs) would be in charge of some functions such as health care, pre-primary education, and maintenance of local roads. (Kimenyi, 2013) Since then, the counties have seen varying degrees of success in distributing resources, reducing marginalization, enhancing national unity and intensifying public participation. The proceeding will focus on the place of public participation and women in leadership as contemplated in the constitution and in law.

Women in leadership

The Constitution of Kenya 2010 provides for equal rights among citizens of both genders. Article 27 goes further to protect representation of women in leadership “…the State shall take legislative and other measures to implement the principle that not more than two-thirds of the members of elective or appointive bodies shall be of the same gender.” (National Council for Law Reporting, 2010) This essentially assures the place of women in leadership, a protection from past discrimination. It is for this reason that the election of March 2013 saw Kenyans vote 47 women representatives to the national assembly. However, no single woman was elected as a senator or governor, and only 6% of the more than 1400 elected members of county assembly (MCA) were women. (NGEC, 2014) These legislative bodies, therefore, resorted to nominating women in order to fulfill the two-thirds gender rules.

A 2016 rapid assessment performed by CREAW Kenya, a nonprofit that advocates for women’s rights, revealed that the role women play in leadership is still limited. The assessment was carried out in Nyeri and Meru counties. It showed that the respondents were unaware of the leadership positions that were available to women for contestation. For instance, only one woman in a sample of 90 mentioned that she could run for the presidency. (CREAW Kenya, 2016) Further, the study shows that most respondents indicated being aware that women could participate in MCA and Member of Parliament positions, but fewer than a third indicated that women could contest for positions of governor and senator. (CREAW Kenya, 2016) The major challenges mentioned by women hindering their participation in leadership include family responsibilities, violence and insecurity, lack of confidence in their abilities, lack of awareness of positions available, lack of resources and cultural norms that discourage women from seeking leadership opportunities.

Legal and constitutional framework for public participation

In January 2016, the Ministry of Devolution and Planning in conjunction with the autonomous Council of Governors published guidelines for improving public participation in governance. The document noted that though the constitution provided for public participation in all matters concerning them, there didn’t exist any national guidelines on how to go about it. This left county governments to engage in tokenistic participation which “deprived the public the ability to engage with trust at every stage, to ensure development of sound policies and quality legislation, effective planning and budgeting and efficient service delivery” (Ministry of Devolution and Planning & Council of Governors, 2016). Further, the County Government Act, 2012 requires that the county governments should “ensure that there is public participation, coordinate the participation, and develop capacity of the public to participate”. Further the Urban Areas and Cities Act 2011 sets provisions for urban areas and cities to provide public forums for active citizen participation in the affairs of an urban area or city. Moreover, the Public Finance Management Act of 2012 requires public participation in county public finance matters through the establishment of a County Budget and Economic Forum. (IEA, 2015)

Case study of four counties

A review of public participation by the Institute of Economic Affairs in Makueni, Isiolo, Kisumu and Turkana counties revealed that the county governments fared variously in establishing the legal frameworks, disseminating information, performing civic education and engaging civil society.  

County-level legal frameworks

The four counties are at various stages of fostering public participation in the law and engaging substantively with their electorate. According to the 2015 study, the Kisumu County Assembly has not enacted a County Public Participation law as required to provide a legal basis for policy formulation. Further, the bill on information access is still in draft stage. The county publicized the FY 2014/2015 county budget via Ramogi FM, a vernacular radio station, giving the public an opportunity to scrutinize expenditure planning. Turkana county has already enacted a County Public Participation Act which established the governor-led County Budget and Economic Forum to engage the public in financial planning. The county government also publicized the FY 2014/2015 budget via a gazette notice on a national newspaper. Further, public ward meetings are held quarterly where county budgeting and planning is discussed. In Isiolo county, the County Executives and MCAs held public budget hearings for FY 2013/2014 although the forum was unclear on how input from the public informed government agenda. Disagreements between the executive and legislative branches of the county reduced opportunity for deliberation of FY 2014/2015 budget at the community level, and the government failed to pass the appropriation bill by the June 30th deadline. Makueni county has established a policy to award county public the priority in providing goods and services for government contracts. (Institute of Economic Affairs, 2015)

Information dissemination

Strengthening public participation requires an informed public. Makueni County Government has established a County Disclosure and Communications Policy to guide its provision of information to the public. Further, it publishes a quarterly newsletter (ENE: The Makueni People’s Magazine) to provide information on government projects. The government also provides agricultural information via two vernacular radio stations, Musyi FM and Mbaitu FM and Facebook pages. Isiolo county uses community radio stations and its website to disseminate information. The county website, however, is missing crucial information such as budget estimates and finance bills. Turkana County Government established two periodicals, Turkana Mirror and Turkana Times (now defunct), and its website to inform citizens of development activities. Kisumu County Government established a toll free number in conjunction with the Ecumenical Church Organizations which the public can use to call and find out information about development projects. (IEA, 2015)

Civic education

An educated public will be able to participate fully in governance. Makueni County Government trained over 900 community members as public interlocutors in FY 2013/2014. This is in recognition of the importance of a civically engaged public in development. The County also established a Public Participation Office to coordinate efforts across all departments and also set aside resources in FY 2014/2015 to facilitate planning and civic education. Isiolo and Turkana counties have not put in place any civic education mechanism. (IEA, 2015)

Civil Society

The last aspect of public engagement involves the place of civil society. Kisumu county has a number of civil society organisations advocating for various causes. Transform Empowerment for Action Initiative (TEAM) is a grassroot civil society organization that advocates democratic governance, human rights and civic engagement. It also educates citizens on policy issues through dialogue forums, local radio stations and dissemination of education material. Another CSO, DUKOKE advocates for greater involvement in county governance for persons with disabilities. In Turkana county, Friends of Lake Turkana and The Catholic Justice and Peace Commission (CJPC) – Lodwar Diocese are two CSOs that are working to educate the public on matters to do with their rights, environmental protection, greater participation in governance and better natural resource usage. In Isiolo county, the Pastoralist Women for Health and Education (PWHE) conducted social accountability trainings for community representatives, who then conducted social audits for projects and shared the results in an audit forum. The Makueni County Government contracted civil society organizations and professional associations such as Teachers Association Union of Makueni, Makueni Churches and Pastors Associations (MACOPAP) and Transformational Education Initiative (TEI) to conduct civic education and facilitate public participation. (IEA, 2015)

Lessons and Recommendations

The study reveals that the county governments have made a number of attempts to engender public participation in running the counties. Further, counties are at different levels of establishing the enabling environments for an informed and engaged public. Moreover, the role of women in national and county leadership is still insufficient to fulfill the requirements of the constitution.  Below are some recommendations to further improve the situation.

Firstly, the succeeding 12th Parliament needs to enact the legislation on two-thirds gender rule as directed by the High Court and required by the Constitution, a move that has failed several times in the current 11th Parliament due to lack of quorum. (Shiundu, 2017) Maendeleo ya Wanawake – CSO in Kenya that advocates for women’s issues – chairperson Phoebe Asiyo called for the national assembly to enact laws to protect women against political violence to ensure a level playing field for political contestation. (Nyaundi, 2016) Further, Kenya is likely to have its first female governor in the coming 2017 election as the two frontrunners in Kirinyaga county are women. This will set a precedent for future elections and encourage more women to put themselves up for other elective and appointive positions. As with other marginalized citizen groups, civil society and county governments need to raise awareness and increase affirmative actions to produce meaningful and substantive women leadership.

Secondly, the government may want to consider establishing a county public participation index that ranks counties on various indicators for involving their constituents in the running of the county affairs. Devolved county government units encourage competition among the counties. It is in the best interest of the county governors to perform well, as some seek to enter the national leadership platform. This index, would among other things, place the onus on every county government to do better than their peers, and thereby improving service delivery to the communities. For instance in Elgeyo Marakwet county, the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), together with the Kerio Center for Community Development and Human Rights (KCCDHR), suggested a program-based budget proposed by the communities as opposed to a line-item one. This alternative way of budgeting, proved very popular with both citizens and community based groups, because it was simpler and more relevant to the communities’ wellbeing. (Gatere, 2015) These best practices could be shared on a common platform to ensure quicker diffusion of ideas and knowledge.

Thirdly, the study revealed that there is an abundance of grassroots CSOs. These engage the government and public to create the forums for greater participation and strengthening of devolution. There has also been a great innovation in the way government and CSOs engage to drive the civic education and participation agenda. A representative of the Ministry of Devolution and Planning called for “closer harmony between civil society groups working to enhance public participation in the counties.” (Musau, 2016) Civil society groups need to work together and share best practices as well as form a larger pool of advocates for specific issues. This will increase the voice on public participation issues and move to encourage greater engagement by the citizenry in governance.

Thirdly, local FM radio has emerged as the most important media of communication for a majority of citizens. This is the media tool with the widest reach to inform and engage the most number of Kenyans. Most counties use it well although a few underutilize this key tool. The Institute for Social Accountability, TISA, suggests that information should be disseminated in a timely and accessible manner. While all counties had websites, the information posted was usually outdated, haphazardly structured, inaccessible and difficult to understand. A study by Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) and the Centre for Enhancing Democracy and Good Governance (CEDGG) in Baringo county showed that print media is inaccessible to a majority of citizens. The report suggested the use of more effective forums for dissemination of information such as churches, mosques, local markets and social media. It stated, “The choice of the mobilization strategy should be informed by the preferences of the target group” (Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung – Kenya Office, 2014)

Finally, a UNDP report compiled on an evaluation of devolution noted that there was inadequate funding to ensure sufficient citizen mobilization and civic education. (UNDP, 2016) TISA recommends that county governments set aside funds to facilitate civic education, and also engage other stakeholders such as development partners and private sector to mobilize for resources. (Omolo, 2010) Citizens need to own the governance processes as theirs, and therefore, be willing to contribute financial resources for development. To achieve this more effectively, citizens need to form citizen interest groups through which funds can be channeled, deliberations made and issues prioritized. This should take advantage of the already existing social cooperatives that Kenyans already participate in e.g. financial groups (chamas), water action groups etc.. As Grace Maingi of Uraia Trust, a Kenyan CSO that deals with governance issues, notes, citizens must begin engaging in governance, “…If we do not engage, we cannot participate, if we cannot participate we cannot begin to cause a change”. (Maingi, 2014)


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Lessons from Decentralization in Rwanda


Various development institutions and Western governments have held up decentralization in Rwanda as fairly successful. A study commissioned by the government and development partners showed that decentralization had improved economic growth averaging 10% since early 2000s, reduced region inequalities, increased community participation, improved service delivery and made local government more responsive to citizen needs. (United Nations Development Programme, 2012) While the country has gained a reputation for being a development model case held up by many development institutions and Western governments, we find a few challenges that Rwanda may need to consider. Firstly, decentralization seems to have increased central government control of local governance processes. Secondly, substantive public participation in governance is lacking. Finally, there is absence of a top-down accountability framework for government officials.

Beginning 2001, Rwanda legislated and began the implementation of decentralization to address the social, political and economic marginalization of communities that precipitated the 1994 genocide. (Gaynor, 2013) The decentralization would achieve this by increasing the voice of the people to have a say in the running of their affairs, as evidenced by consultative efforts which had revealed that 70% of the people demanded more participation in public affairs. (Ministry of Local Government, 2004) This would be done in three phases: the first phase (2001 to 2005) would set up the institutional and administrative structures; the second (2006 to 2010) would entrench public participation in planning, decision-making and implementation of plans; the third phase (2011 to present) would consolidate gains, enable fiscal decentralization and improve on challenges encountered in previous phases.(Ministry of Local Government, 2011)

Greater control of local governments

The process of procedural participation through electing local leaders at the village and cell (collection of villages – collection of cells is called a sector) levels is fairly transparent and free of political influence by the central government. However, in the higher level, particularly the Vice-Mayor and Mayor positions constitute “strategic political appointments”. (Gaynor, 2013) Those who get to be formally elected are first vetted and put forward by contacts in the police and the army. At the district level, the elected Mayor and the appointed Executive Secretary who reports to the President are occasionally on opposite sides of decisions. Due to this, conflict of authority arises where for instance, the Mayor decides one thing and a central government official blocks it.

Moreover, government policy shifted from reconciliation and nation-building to “fast-track and equitable local economic development” to achieve fiscal autonomy. This shift has necessitated greater central government planning and decision-making in order to accomplish the goals and targets more effectively and efficiently. The officials at the district level implement national policies and district resolutions with the planned activities and programmes taking place at the cell and village levels.

Lack of substantive public participation

Community participation was envisioned as one of the benefits of decentralization as citizens sought greater input in matters affecting them. However, participation remains only of procedural kind (electing local leaders at the village, cell and sector levels) and through cost-sharing i.e. local taxation to pay for services and communal labor sharing. More substantive participation through engaging in planning processes, community agenda prioritization and decision-making is all but missing.

The Community Development Policy document emphasized the mobilization of resources and community effort in cost-sharing to improve their own development, with little emphasis on decision-making. Article 47 of the Constitution of Rwanda states, “… All citizens have the duty to participate, through work, in the development of the country; to safeguard peace, democracy, social justice and equality and to participate in the defence of the motherland.” (Constitution, 2003) Cell committee meetings for instance, are used for the communication of directives from the upper levels, which are then implemented through mobilization at the village level. Where the elected members bring issues to the upper levels for discussion, it is not clear how prioritization is done and how the final decision is made. Ubudehe, an innovative public participation forum, transformed from a tool of substantive citizen participation, to one used for citizen poverty classification.(Gaynor, 2013) Further the law is very ambiguous in entrenching the protection of the community planning process, and rather focuses on communal mobilization of labor and finances as participation.

Lack of downward accountability

The Rwandan government implemented imihigo performance contracts that are signed by all leaders at all levels (village, cell, sector and district) with their supervisors.(Gaynor, 2013) These signed agreements increase pressure for the leaders to meet the targets set by their supervisors. The government encourages them as a means to foster competition among communities and improve service delivery. However, increased pressure to produce results set at higher levels consolidate upward accountability, thereby reducing opportunity for top-down accountability and public participation. This means that district mayors have a huge incentive to perform well for their central government reporting, and little incentive to increase accountability to the lower levels. While elected councillors at the cell and sector levels regularly attend umuganda (communal labor-sharing) meetings, those elected at the district level rarely do so, and are naturally therefore more out of touch with their constituents.(Gaynor, 2013)

Even more concerning, is the shrinking civil space in Rwanda. There has been an increase in imprisonment, legal intimidation and attacks on journalists and political opposition presenting a dissenting view of the government. The government uses the Genocide Law and NGO laws to restrict liberties of expression. (International Service for Human Rights, 2016) This is especially true during elections when political dissidents have been forcibly disappeared and many have been killed. Without protections in the laws and the misuse of laws to threaten media freedom, a regression towards a totalitarian state is imminent. This may prove fatal and threaten the entire development agenda of the government.


These are a few of the numerous implementation challenges facing the Rwandan government in efforts towards decentralization. Some recommendations to the challenges include the following: entrenching and protecting the envisioned tenets of decentralization in the law; reinstituting nation-building and reconciliation as the underlying end goal of the decentralization process;

It is clear that some of the processes for achieving public participation such as the local planning forum ubudehe was structurally altered and rendered ineffective in responding to the needs of the community. There’s no evidence that the process was protected by law. Participation is now more procedural through electing local leaders, communal labor sharing and local taxation. The government needs to protect the gains made in engaging citizens in community development by entrenching this through national policy guidelines and in the law. Moreover, it needs to ensure that these are implemented. As outlined in the National Decentralization Policy 2013, the government needs to integrate the central government strategic planning with citizen prioritization to ensure that the scarce resources are put to the best use. (Ministry of Local Government, 2013)

Secondly, the Rwandan government seems to have relegated to the background the process of nation building and reconciliation. The focus is on state building through fast-track development. While this may be admirable in the short term, the government risks alienating people and regressing to the pre-genocide feeling of marginalization. Efforts need to be made to ensure that the voice of the people is heard in planning and making decisions that affect the development of their communities. Further, as Basabose suggests, the government needs to coordinate between district, sector and forum community dialogue in order to build reconciliation. This process will “help restore destroyed relationships among people…” (Basabose, 2015)

Finally, civil society needs to engage the government and keep the government honest. However, for this to be meaningful, donors need to step in and engage the government in guaranteeing civil liberties. As development partners fund economic development and growth in the country, they can tie funding to specific achievements by the government towards protecting the civil space. McDoom states that “Freezing aid, in full or in part, is a method for signalling disapproval of government behaviours that violate international obligations and other important normative standards. Enforced consistently, it can help build and sustain an international legal and moral order.” (McDoom, 2013) However, donors need to implement such measures to ensure that they do not end up hurting the same people they are meant to protect.


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Rwanda, Ministry of Local Government. (2013). National Decentralisation Policy. Kigali: Ministry of Local Government.

World Development Report 2017 and Community-Led Development

The flagship World Development Report 2017 by the World Bank Group highlights the need for continued collaboration between governments, citizens, civil society and private sector to improve governance and produce “life-improving outcomes.” This is in the midst of declining development assistance and strained government budgets. The movement for community-led development (CLD) in particular helps to support these endeavors, to guarantee that local constituencies lead reform efforts and promote more sustainable development. The report also discusses the role of providing financial resources to support participatory and demand-side initiatives that promote collective action by communities.

The report says that development is necessarily messy and nonlinear, and therefore, stakeholders in development work need to be more agile, adaptive and develop frameworks for feedback mechanisms and citizen engagement in order to meet the expected opposition to these initiatives. The following areas are particularly relevant to CLD: decentralization, social organizations and induced public participation.

Decentralization provides opportunity for social and economic experimentation of policy choices at the local level without risking the entire country. This attracts competent outsiders into leadership who spur innovation in providing alternative solutions to challenges at the grassroots. Competition and demand for competent leaders provides incentives for incumbents and new leaders to perform well, because their political careers depend on it. Further, success at local levels can lead to national adoption of policies. This provides an incentive to local leaders who may want to step up into national leadership  to demonstrate their competence.

The place for citizen engagement in leading development is at the front. Citizens have the opportunity to effect change in governance through various complementary mechanisms. The process is long-term, uncertain and difficult and requires patience and building of coalitions to meet the challenges. Social organization improves coordinated action among citizens around specific issues and push for policies and laws to bring new issues to prominence. Many countries in the world have adopted democratic norms which encourage and protect the formation of autonomous civil society that promotes civic activism. Moreover, the availability of communication technologies has increased access to information and enabled easier and less costly tools for coordination across the globe.

Induced public participation provides communities with the space and process for discussing and weighing in on policy alternatives and helps to rebalance power for marginalized groups by giving them a voice in deliberations. Improving the participatory process requires existing mechanisms for downward accountability. The media has a particular role in providing information and promoting participation through political deliberative forums. In Kenya for instance, evidence suggests that a weekly panel discussion on politics and governance increased knowledge and citizen engagement. Backed by a range of actors including community-based organizations, the media and nongovernmental organizations, there has been an increase in the number of transparency and accountability initiatives, which have resulted in reduced corruption in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, and reduction in under-5 mortality in Uganda.

Despite the gains made, challenges exist that engender inequality. For instance, local elites at decentralized governments can capture participatory processes and exclude minority and dissenting voices. Evidence suggests that more wealthier, educated and politically connected males are more likely to participate in governance processes. Secondly, increased availability of digital technology does not automatically improve the situation unless efforts are made to increase access to poorer people. In Brazil for instance, online voters in municipal budget proposals were significantly wealthier than offline voters. Finally, there have been increased government efforts to limit the democratic space by media censorship citing national security concerns, and using regulations to limit civil society activities and financing.

The movement for community-led development remains a relevant stakeholder in meeting the challenges of development. It is evident that decentralization, social organization and public participation are having an impact on efforts to improve governance. The CLD movement needs to redouble its effort, seeking novel and dynamic ways to tackle developmental challenges by building new coalitions.