Here’s how to boost relations among counties

keroka town

Keroka Town, which is at the border of Kisii and Nyamira counties and has been at the centre of a dispute over tax zones.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Childhood fights over TV remotes and chores to adult tensions over resources and responsibilities illustrate the dynamics of sibling rivalry. And intergovernmental relations in Kenya echo these dynamics.

A notable example highlighting this sibling rivalry is the muguka ban initially involving coastal counties and Embu County. The Coast region counties, led by Mombasa, argue that muguka poses a significant threat to children’s well-being, while Embu views it as a crucial economic crop.

Another example is the administrative control fight between Kisii and Nyamira counties over Keroka town.

Such disputes underscore broader challenges within Kenya’s intergovernmental relations. While the Constitution and various statutes provide a legal framework, akin to parental guidance, for minimising conflicts, implementation and interpretation complexities persist.

For instance, the Intergovernmental Relations Act of 2012 emphasises principles like inclusive governance, yet uncertainties remain regarding who should engage in public participation, its location and how diverse interests should be weighted in resolving disputes.

Section 33 of the Act mandates parties to resolve disputes through negotiation or mediation before formal declaration of a dispute, yet some counties resort to indirect conflict through by implementing measures such as imposition of heavy taxes or restrictions on goods.

While the existing laws already envisage an approach inclined to conflict prevention, it appears intergovernmental relations have not fully embraced this idea. County governments should aim to find ways to balance their competing interests for the overall good of their residents. One way is through enhancing communication among themselves through inter-county forums and joint committees. This would ensure ongoing dialogue, information sharing and mutual understanding of each other's perspectives and concerns.

On public participation and inclusive policy development, the National Assembly should develop specific guidelines under the Intergovernmental Relations Act and any other legislation. The guidelines can specify who should participate, where participation should occur and how diverse interests should be weighted. One way would be to create a formal mediation panel responsible for facilitating this participation. These mechanisms could be mandated early in disputes to prevent escalation.

Establishing mechanisms for monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of public participation processes and conflict resolution mechanisms in intergovernmental relations is crucial. Regular reviews can help to identify gaps, successes and areas of improvement.

These approaches not only ensure resolution of potential disputes before they arise but also foster a culture of cooperation and mutual respect, leading to better governance and improved service delivery.

Mr Namasaka is a student at the Kenya School of law. [email protected]