Before the dust completely settles on the just-concluded fifth annual devolution conference in Kenya, I want to present a few insights from my personal observations during the event. The conference was held in the week of 23 April in Kakamega County, and it was successful in many aspects – compared with previous sessions characterised by an incessant rift among the major players, with governors on one side pitted against senators, national government and members of county assemblies. This year’s session was unusually characterised by cordial relations and a call for unity among stakeholders to achieve the tenets of devolution: to bring service delivery and participation in governance processes closer to the people. Perhaps this can be attributed to the recent ‘handshake’ (a declaration of political truce) between key political protagonists in the recent and fiercely contested presidential elections, President Uhuru Kenyatta and Mr Raila Odinga.
Devolution is working – it’s time to unlock its full potential
Keynote speakers at the conference, including President Uhuru Kenyatta, Deputy President Mr William Ruto, Former Prime Minister Mr Raila Odinga and various members of the diplomatic community, observed that devolution in Kenya is working. This was clearly corroborated by presentations made by counties on key achievements they have made thus far, primarily in the devolved sectors such as health, early childhood education, water and sanitation, and agriculture.
The conference discussions were largely dominated by how to achieve the Big Four agenda, which seems to be the lever that will epitomise President Uhuru’s legacy as he begins to serve his second and final term in office as the president. Under the Big Four agenda, the Jubilee administration has prioritised delivering affordable housing, rolling out universal health coverage, increasing the share of manufacturing in the economy, and improving food security. This is in conformity to the development goals captured under Kenya vision 2030.
From the in-depth discussions and presentations made at the conference, it is apparent that policy reforms to forge closer collaboration and encourage innovation will play a fundamental role in accelerating development initiatives.
Data is a key driver to achieving devolution promises and the Big Four agenda
Significant policy reforms are required to realistically achieve the Big Four aspiration and fast track development achievements under the devolution system, now in its 7th year of implementation. Key among the policy reforms is prioritisation of production, sharing and use of quality data to inform the making of every decision in all sectors. This was echoed a number of times by many speakers, especially during health and agriculture sectors side meetings. Adequate resources, both financial, infrastructure and personnel, should be allocated to regular statistics collection and analysis both at national and county levels; quality data should be both timely and disaggregated to the lowest level and ensure marginalised and hard to reach areas are not left behind.
Development Initiatives (DI) has closely followed discussions on achieving universal health coverage and presented data on health indicators in arid and semi arid lands (ASALs) counties during the devolution conference. DI has also exhibited poverty data from its Spotlight on Kenya. This is in line with our work on pro-poor budgeting.
Our most recent sub-national analysis shows that spending may not go to where it is most needed, especially to benefit the poor. This is particularly true when decision-makers lack quality data on health needs and resource requirements. Therefore, critical data gaps must be filled to effectively plan and monitor implementation of universal health coverage. Health insurance should be used in the poorest ASAL counties as a funding mechanism aimed at enhancing access to healthcare.
During the devolution conference we interacted directly with stakeholders from the national level and various counties, including development partners, county assembly members, county executive committee members, counties region economic blocs (e.g. Lake Region Economic Bloc), civil society organizations, academic and research institutions and parastatals. The stakeholders had various challenges and data needs (including data analysis to inform decision-making and advocacy initiatives, timely access of quality data in open formats and the integration of various existing data sets). We presented our Spotlight on Kenya and offered future support through our forthcoming Data Support Service.
The vital role of data in monitoring and evaluating development projects cannot be denied. For counties and the country at large to make significant strides towards delivering on development promises, clear baseline indicators must be available to monitor progress and inform necessary adjustments. A culture of timely data collection, sharing in open platforms and data use must be instilled in government policy makers and development partners. Citizens must also be able to access timely open data if they are to meaningfully participate in governance processes; the Spotlight on Kenya offers citizens exactly that.
Government stakeholders, particularly the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics and other departments, should ideally seek to collaborate more openly with non-state stakeholders involved in data collection and analysis work. This would enhance a common understanding on critical issues to compliment and promote wider sharing and use of existing data. Finally, and critically, there is need to strengthen the legal framework on statistics at county government level. Statistics collection as per the fourth schedule of the Kenya constitution is a shared role between the national and county government, although counties are not permitted to undertake certain statistics functions (such as a population census). Enactment of the County Statistics Bill and Policy, for instance, should be fast-tracked to provide a clear structure.