The book 'Decentralisation Dialogue in Africa' offers many lessons on devolution

The Decentralization Dialogue

The cover of ‘The Decentralization Dialogue in Africa’ by Kinuthia Wamwangi.

Photo credit: Francis Nderitu | Nation Media Group

Kinuthia Wamwangi is not just a distinguished local governance expert. The 71-year-old wears many hats.

The Nakuru-born former chairperson of the defunct Transition Authority (TA) is an advocate, a lecturer, human resource manager and a local government administrator.

However, what stands out is his many years of distinguished service during the era of local government system in Kenya having served in various positions in different municipalities.

The decades-long experience with the local authorities saw him being appointed as the pioneer chairperson of TA, a body that midwifed the transition to the current devolved units.

But his experience was not just limited to Kenya as he would also be tapped by Municipal Development Partnership for Eastern and Southern (MDPESA), a World Bank-supported decentralisation initiative covering 25 countries but based in Harare, Zimbabwe, where he served as senior programme officer.

With the vast local and international experience in local governance, Wamwangi has penned a book,  The Decentralisation Dialogue in Africa: A Precursor to Devolution in Kenya.

The scholarly book, published by the Jomo Kenyatta Foundation (JKF) Educational Publishers, packs an in-depth analysis of African experience in embracing decentralisation, with Kenya featuring heavily.

Gained prominence

He traces the history, drivers, achievements, opportunities and challenges attendant to the new phenomenon that only gained prominence in the continent in the 1980s.

The author dips into his immense experience to take the reader through the decentralisation journey.

The book contains empirical illustrations and comparative analyses based on the author’s experience, observations, research, teaching and general public engagements as a practitioner, scholar, public administrator and consultant on local government.

Chapter one of the 187-page book opens with definition and concept analysis of decentralisation but also delves deeper into its various forms, motivation for devolution and attendant resistance.

The University of Nairobi alumnus goes on to examine the nexus between decentralisation and development, saying that empirical evidence points to achievements falling far short of stated objectives and aspirations, more so in sub-Saharan Africa.

Viewed as power to the people, the book picks instances where devolution has failed to achieve the intended purpose, with Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Zambia sticking out like a sore thumb.

But even in South Africa and Kenya where the phenomenon has been cited as a success story, much depends on the level of political goodwill.

The chairman of Embrace International opines that devolution is a new paradigm in public management where different countries have adopted diverse mechanisms in their implementation.

The author dedicates chapter seven for a comparative analysis of decentralisation in six countries (Uganda, Namibia, South Africa, Botswana, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe), concluding that the system is at different levels of advancement in various countries.

He argues that many African countries have adopted a centralised system of governance to ensure stability, prosperity and sustainable development.

Local government

After independence, countries were reluctant to embrace democratic devolution, opting to cling on the central control model, which left them with weak systems of local government.

But even though the centralised system was a failure, it was not until the 1990s that the continent started to open up to a new model, with the World Bank and other development partners, in collaboration with progressive forces in Africa, playing critical roles in influencing the adoption of decentralisation.

In Kenya, for instance, he said the rebirth of decentralisation came in 2010 with the promulgation of the new Constitution, which heralded a major paradigm shift in both national and local governance since independence. This led to the birthing of two tiers of government, the national and county governments, coinciding with the phasing out of local governments.

Mr Wamwangi says he was motivated to write the book as a way of documenting the journey of decentralisation for posterity.

He says he wrote the book over a 10-year period in order to share insights from his experiences in Kenya and other countries. “I saw an opportunity to document my decentralisation experience, which has been immense, and not let it go to waste. People come and go but records remain and there was no record anywhere,” he avers.

The executive director of Africa Governance Renaissance Centre points that the book explains the essence of devolution and how it came to be by tracing its roots.

“I wanted people to appreciate the journey we have travelled from the beginning to where we are currently.”

The book is a great reference material for local governance scholars, researchers, students, administrators and policymakers, both at the national and local levels.

The book retails at Sh700 and is available at JKF Centre along Kijabe Street, university libraries and selected bookshops in Nairobi.


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