Sunday, March 3, 2013

Elections, new constitution in Kenya (also, riots)

Kenyans head to the polls this Monday, March 4 to select a new government. The state-wide elections coincide with a comprehensive overhaul of the sub-national government structures in Kenya that are seen as one of the boldest experiments in government reform within the region. The new system aims to bring Kenya’s government closer to its people, including several significant changes to the country’s organization and new requirements for gender representation in elected assemblies.

Local Government Minister Paul Otuoma dissolved all local authorities in January ahead of the elections, leaving mayorships and local legislatures vacant for the past month. The new constitution creates 47 counties to replace the country’s current provincial system. Each county will be comprised of a County Executive (headed by a governor) and a County Assembly. According to a government-sponsored website, each new assembly will be responsible for “exercising the powers of enacting laws at the county level, acting as an oversight instrument on the county executive, approval of plans and policies for smooth operation and management of resources and county institutions”.

A new mandated gender quota requiring that women representatives comprise one-third of each new assembly will not go into effect this year, following a December ruling by Kenya's Supreme Court. Justices angered rights advocates across the region when they warned that the new quotas were not appropriate (just yet), and that the country should rather roll them out gradually in 2015. In the case that voters do not select enough women to meet this quota in the next election, additional women representatives would be appointed until the threshold is met. We recently wrote about this issue and the role of participatory governance in empowering women over at, so go check it out.

Yet it's not all great news for local government advocates. While the new constitution does devolve many responsibilities to county governments, it also consolidates some powers of lower municipalities and townships at the county level. City councils will be replaced by boards of directors selected by the county governments, and municipal and township councils will be replaced by administrators appointed by each governor. The county will be responsible for developing its own devolution scheme.

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