THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT SYSTEM
                                          IN KENYA


In the 1990s the Kenyan government, similar to many other African governments,
initiated a series of radical market-orientated reforms, ultimately followed by a
comprehensive programme of reforms also in the public sector and local government.
The Kenyan Local Government Reform Programme (KLGRP) – established and funded by
the World Bank and continuing through donor funding – has worked since the mid-1990s
to strengthen the Local Government system, to enable local authorities to deliver
services and to increase local accountability.12 The 1996 Omano Commission of Inquiry
on Local Authorities had pointed to a large number of small and non-viable local

The reforms within the local government sector continued through the late 1990s and
were, in the beginning of the new Millennium, encouraged by the requirements of the
international donor community for African countries to prepare a Poverty Reduction
Strategy Paper. In the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (2000-2003) the potential
contribution of local government was recognised and a number of strategies to improve
the management of local authorities outlined. The latter included the accelerating of the

After the PRSP, Kenya has adopted a Country Assistance Strategy (2004-2007). A new
strategy is being prepared. CAS emphasis strengthening public sector management and
accountability, but also the role of local government.4 It is likely that there will be any
major changes concerning this matter in the new CAS.

Kenya has not adopted a policy of decentralisation by devolution5. The local authorities
have a minor role in service provision as at present most of the service delivery and
development activities are undertaken by line ministries, non-governmental organisations
or through the Constituency Development Fund system.

  CLGF, Local Government System in Kenya, sine anno.
  World Bank Country Brief, Kenya.
  Devolution is a more comprehensive type of decentralisation, and generally refers to the transfer of authority
for decision making, finance and management from central government to local authorities with corporate
status and considerable degree of autonomy from the central government. There are some features that are
commonly present in devolution. For example, the local authorities have authority to raise their own revenues
and to acquire resources to perform public functions, and have clearly recognised geographical boundaries over
which they exercise authority. Kuusi 2009, 7.


2.1 Legal Basis of Local Government

The current constitution is silent on the subject of local government. It is expected,
however, that the local government will be fully recognised in the new constitution.6

The Constitution of the Republic of Kenya does not define the local government system.
Revision processes of the Constitution were initiated in 1997, when a Constitutional
Review Committee was first set up.7 The revision of the Constitution might strengthen
local self-governance in Kenya, as the subsequent committees have proposed a stronger
role and more autonomy for the local government with powers and functions devolved to
the local authorities from the central government, but the proposed draft constitution
was rejected in a referendum in 2005. The rejection was mainly a result of a protest vote
against the way the final draft versions were prepared and some parts of the draft
constitution not related to the envisaged Chapter 14 on „devolved government‟. The
revision processes are still ongoing, but it is unclear when the revised constitution might
be adopted. 8

In March 2008 the Kenyan parliament amended the Constitution (Constitution of Kenya
Amendment Bill 2008). This is a step towards the new constitution. Revisions in the local
government legislation are expected to follow if a revised constitution is adopted.9

The main piece of legislation governing all local authorities in Kenya is the Local
Government Act (Cap 265) of 1977. To this there have been a series of amendments.
Work on a draft bill to substantially amend the legislation has, nonetheless, been
suspended until a new constitution has been enacted. 10

Other laws that affect the management of local authorities and their revenue base

                     Local Government Loan Authority Act (Cap 270)
                     Land Planning Act (Cap 303)
                     Trade Licensing Act (Cap 497)
                     Rating Act (Cap 267)
                     Valuation for Rating Act (Cap 255)
                     Agriculture Act (Cap 218)
                     Local Authorities Transfer Fund Act No. 8 of 1998
                     Constitution of Kenya11

2.2 Organisational Structure of Local Government

The Republic of Kenya is a unitary state, administratively divided into seven provinces –
Central, Coast, Eastern, North East, Nyanza, Rift Valley, Western – and one area, the city
of Nairobi. The Provinces, and the one area, are further divided into 69 districts, which
have administrative responsibilities under the De-concentration Initiative, the District

6 Ibid.
7 CLGF, Local Government System in Kenya, sine anno.
8 Kuusi 2009.
9 Land et al. 2008, 21–23.
10 Ibid.
11; Above information adopted from: CLGF Local Government
System in Kenya, sine anno.

Focus for Rural Development (DFRD), introduced in 1983. Under Districts there are
divisions, locations and sub-locations. Kenya has 175 local authorities including 67
county councils, 43 municipal councils, 62 town councils, and three city councils. 12

The Provincial Commissioners are appointed by the President and head the provincial
administrations. The provinces are divided into 69 districts. The District Commissioner is
also appointed by the President, and heads the district administration.

The districts are divided into divisions, the divisions into locations, and the locations into
sub-locations, which have divisional officers, chiefs and sub-chiefs as heads their
administration assisting the District Commissioner.13

The City and Municipal Councils are led by a mayor, whereas the Town and County
Councils fall under the leadership of a chairperson, elected by the councillors following
the local elections.14

The local government in the Republic of Kenya consists of 175 local authorities including
67 county councils, which are the rural local government authorities in Kenya, and the
urban local authorities of 43 municipal councils, 62 town councils, and three city councils.
The geographical borders of the county councils in almost all cases coincide with the
borders of Kenya‟s administrative districts. The county councils cover all the geographical
area that is not assigned to the jurisdiction of the urban authorities.15

Under the Local Government Act (Cap 265) of 1977, the cities of Nairobi, Mombasa and
Kisumu are treated as municipalities as their status, duties and functions are not defined
in legislation, although the City of Nairobi was established by Charter 16.

The legislation gives all local authorities – City, Municipal and Town Councils – similar
responsibilities. In practise, however, the established municipal councils are able to
provide a wider range of services than the cities, towns and some newer municipalities.
The local authorities have a semi-autonomous status within their geographic area. 17
“There are no executive committees or cabinets. Councils conduct their business through
committees, which make recommendations to the full council.”18

12   Land et al. 2008, 21–23; CLGF Local Government System in Kenya, sine anno.
13   CLGF, Local Government System in Kenya, sine anno.
14   Ibid.
15   Ibid.
16   Lumumba 2004.
17   CLGF, Local Government System in Kenya, sine anno.
18   Ibid.

Figure of the Local Government System in Kenya

Adapted from Peltola, 2008

                                      CENTRAL GOVERNANCE
                                    Parliament: National Assembly

                              7 x PROVINCES & NAIROBY AREA
                                     Provencal Commissioner
                                        69 x DISTRICTS
              Governance is divided into levels of division, location and sub-location.

                                         LOCAL GOVERNANCE

                                Urban areas                                     Rural areas
  3 x City Council             43 x Municipal           62 x Town Council   67 x County Council
  Nairobi, Kisumu,                 Council                   (c. 46 000           (c. 295 000
       Mombasa                    (c. 94 000                inhabitants)          inhabitants)
  (circa. 1 043 395              inhabitants

2.3 Local Government Elections

The local government elections are held at the same time as the presidential and
National Assembly elections as prescribed in Section 58 of the Local Government Act
(Cap. 265) of 1977. The local councils are dissolved after the dissolution of the National

Two-thirds of the councillors in each authority are directly elected in single-member
wards for a five-year term. The Minister of Local Government appoints the other one-
third, with nominations made by the political parties or coalitions on the basis of their
representation within each council. The district commissioner (or their representative) is
also a councillor, providing a link between the local authority and district activities. The
system is uniform across the country.20

The remuneration of the councillors is determined by the central government through the
Ministry of Local Government. The councillors are paid allowances from council revenues.
The level of the allowances has been subject to many debates over the recent years.
Many councils lack the capacity to pay the set allowances to councillors.21

The local government elections were last held in December 2007. The next elections are
predicted to take place in 2012. 22

2.4 Local Government Staffing

Senior staff to Local Governments is recruited through the Public Service Commission
(PSC), with the Minister of Local Government having full discretion over the most senior

19 CLGF, Local Government System in Kenya, sine anno.
20 Ibid.
   Kuusi 2009, 2.
22 CIA World Fact book.

appointments.23 The commission is also responsible for promotions and disciplinary
matters. “Other staff are directly recruited and dismissed by local authorities. Part-time
casual workers are also employed. A town clerk, appointed by the PSC, is the head of the
paid service in the city, municipal and town councils. A county clerk, similarly appointed
by the PSC, is the chief officer in the county councils. The town clerk and the treasurer
are supported by other officers depending on the size and responsibilities of the

In addition to the town clerk‟s and treasure‟s department, there may be other
departments such as the works and planning department, the education and social
services department and the water and sanitation department. 25

2.5 Independent Scrutiny

"Since 2000, under an amendment to the Local Government Act, Local Authorities have
been required to establish an independent internal audit unit, with an internal auditor
reporting to the Finance Committee. Financial statements must be submitted at the end
of each financial year for audit by the Controller and Auditor General." 26


3.1 Basic Public Services

The Local Government Act of 1977 provides for strong central government regulation and
oversight on the local authorities.

The Act prescribes many functions to the municipalities, but mostly on the basis of the
approval of the Minister of Local Government or other ministers as prescribed by other
Acts regulating the functions in question. The Local Government Act obliges the local
authorities to undertake only few functions in service provision. 27. Over the years the
service delivery capacity of local authorities has deteriorated to the extent that even the
most basic services are not always provided. Central government is forced to fill in the
gaps in service delivery when it comes to water and health services for instance.28

For example the provision of health and education services is usually only the task of the
larger municipalities.29 The services provided by the rural local authorities mainly include,
and are often at best limited to, the maintenance of rural access roads, establishment
and maintenance of public markets, bus parks and slaughter houses, housing and
implementation of social welfare programmes, including support to and burial of destitute
people .

The reasons for the poor state of service delivery by the local authorities are many.
Firstly, the existing facilities in most local authorities were not planned to cater for such
an amount of people now residing in the municipal areas. 31 The high population growth
rates are mainly the result of the expansion in commerce and industrial development.
Secondly, the local government capability to provide services is hindered by insufficient
resource base, mismanagement, weak technical and institutional capacity to increase

23   CLGF, Local Government System in Kenya, sine anno.
24   Ibid.
25   Ibid.
26   CLGF, Local Government System in Kenya, sine anno.
27   Local Government Act (Cap. 265) of 1977, Section 167.
28   UN-Habitat 2002.
29   Land et al. 2008, 13, 19; Schuler 2004, 8.
30   Land et al. 2008, 13.
31   Ibid.

service coverage, and lack of planning and foresight.32


Along with the political liberalisation, the shifting emphasis in development discourse and
industry towards promoting more socially equitable economic growth and meeting the
basic needs of the poor has created pressures for a wider participation of the people in
decision-making. “Participation and decentralization are considered to have a symbiotic
relationship, as successful decentralization requires some degree of local participation.”33
In relation to this, the Kenyan government has requires that the local authorities produce
a Local Authority Service Delivery Action Plan (LASDAP) together with the local
organisations, groups and associations.34 In the first year of LASDAPs (2001/2002) more
than 27,000 individuals participated in all together 900 meetings. 35 "Participant groups
included market and trader associations, women's groups, self-help groups, handicapped
groups, neighbourhood groups, health and medical groups, churches and schools." 36
Elected representatives both national and local also took part, together with some
government officials.37

Kenya‟s transfer into multi-party system of governance has been followed by a rapid
growth in civil society networks and groups. Such growth in civil society activity has not
been matched by opportunities for participation in the local government system. 38 The
law only guarantees political participation through civic elections, as is assumed that
councillors effectively represent citizens. Yet the councillors rarely hold consultative
meetings in their respective wards.39

The Local government Act makes no reference to citizens‟ participation. 40 “It allows, but
does not require the local authority to publish a summary of a budget estimates in a local
newspaper.”41 Local citizen‟s can attend full Council meetings as observers. They cannot,
however, attend any committee meetings as these are held behind closed doors as
closed sessions.42


5.1 Revenue

The local authorities collect revenue from different taxes, fees and charges. The local
authorities also receive resources from the central government through the Local
Authorities Transfer Fund (LATF) grants and the Road Maintenance Levy Fund (RMLF).

There are several acts of parliament – the Local Government Act, the Rating Act, the
Valuation for Rating Act and the Regional Assembly Act – which give local authorities in
Kenya a right to raise income from a wide variety of sources, subject to the approval of
the ministry of local government.43 “No particular source of revenue is required or

32   Above information adopted from UN-Habitat 2002.
33   UN-Habitat 2002, 44.
34   CLGF, Local Government System in Kenya, sine anno.
35   Ibid.
36   Ibid.
37   Ibid.
38   CLGF, Local Government System in Kenya, sine anno.
39   UN-Habitat 2002, 44.
40   CLGF, Local Government System in Kenya, sine anno.
41   Ibid.
42   Ibid.
43   UN-Habitat 2002.

reserved exclusively for specific types of local authorities, but some general patterns
have emerged.

Large municipal councils are less diversified in their principle sources of revenue, relying
heavily on water charges, land rates, house rents, sewerage fees and grants for teachers‟
salaries with small percentages from all others. Town councils are less reliant on land
rates and infrastructure-based revenue but rely more on plot rents, licenses and incomes
from less capital-intensive services such as market and bus park fees. County councils
tend to have fewer substantial sources of revenue than the councils in the urban areas,
except for those that charge production excess on cash crops or have access to land
rates. Most county councils rely heavily on market related fees and trade licenses, which
are collected in at least several trading centres as well as the administrative seat of the
county council. Some councils have bus parks and slaughterhouses, and a few collect
large amounts of revenue from game reserves within their areas of jurisdiction. Most
other revenue sources are unreliable and unproductive. The financial sustainability of any
local authority in Kenya is to a large extent dependent on the central government/local
authorities' relationships.”44

It is also important to note that the sources and portions of local authorities‟ own source
revenues vary between the different types of local authorities. City and municipal
councils get their major sources of income from property rates, vehicle parking and
single business permit. The Nairobi City Council and municipal councils, which represent
27 per cent of all local authorities, collected 61 per cent of all local authorities‟ own
source revenues in fiscal year 2006-2007. While town councils represent 35 per cent of
all local authorities, they collected only 6 per cent of all local authorities‟ own source
revenues, which indicates that they considerable challenges in their viability as service
delivering entities. County councils represent 38 per cent of all local authorities, and they
collected 24 per cent of all local authorities‟ own source revenues. County councils are
more dependent on LATF transfers than urban councils. The county councils‟ revenue
sources differ significantly among different county councils. For example, 34 per cent of
county councils‟ total own source revenues originated from Game Park Fees, but the fees
were a significant revenue source only for four county councils.45

In 1998 the Kenyan government established the Local Authority Transfer Fund (LATF).
Through the LATF the government allocates 5 % of the national personal income tax to
all local authorities in Kenya. These allocations, although general grants, come with
certain performance conditions, which have considerably increased the willingness of
local authorities to deliver on the basic requirements of accountability: production of
budgets and accounts, information about debtors and creditors and display of information
about resource availability and use.46

Neither the Local Government Act, the Rating Act (Cap. 267) of 1963 nor the Valuation of
Rating Act (Cap. 266) of 1956 provide assurances or recognition that the local authorities
are entitled to adequate financial resources of their own or that their financial resources
shall be commensurate with the responsibilities provided for by law.47

In 2002/2003, to         be eligible for LATF funding, the requirements in terms of service
delivery were:
               1.        At least 50% must be allocated to service delivery
               2.        Not more than 60% of the total should be for personnel
               3.        Statutory charges must be paid within the year in which
                         they are due48

44   Ibid.
45   Republic of Kenya: Local Authorities Transfer Fund (LATF): Annual Report FY 2006-2007, 17–18.
46   Devas and Grant, 2003, 314.
47   Kuusi 2009, 16.
48   Above information adopted from: CLGF, Local Government System in Kenya, sine anno.

Since 2001/2002 the requirement for LAFT funding has been that the local authorities

                   1.   A statement of receipts, payments and balances, and an abstract of
                   2.   A statement of debtors and creditors
                   3.   A revenue enhancement plan (REP)
                   4.   Local Authority Service Delivery Action Plan, identifying and
                        prioritising local expenditures, prepared following a participatory
                        planning with citizens‟ of the area 49

The local authorities collect revenue from different taxes, fees and charges. The local
authorities also receive resources from the central government through the Local
Authorities Transfer Fund (LATF) grants and the Road Maintenance Levy Fund (RMLF).
The sources and proportions of local authorities‟ own source revenues vary between the
different types of local authorities. The county councils in the rural areas are more
dependent on LATF transfers than urban councils.50

5.2 Expenditure

Most of the local authorities‟ expenditure is used for recurrent expenditure. For example
in fiscal year 2006-2007 the recurrent expenditure (personnel, operations and
maintenance) formed 68.2 per cent of the total expenditure of all local authorities, while
the share of the capital expenditures was 15.2 per cent, debt resolution‟s 16.2 per cent
and loan repayments‟ 0.1 per cent.

The Local Government Act prescribes that local authorities are required to prepare a
budget for a financial year, which has to be submitted to the Minister of Local
Government for the Minister‟s approval. The Minister may from time to time exempt any
local authority or class of local authorities from the requirement to obtain the Minister‟s
approval for the budget.

In 2000/2001 the aggregate expenditure of local authorities was KSh 9.1 bn (US$
115.29m). It divided as follows:

                   1)   Personnel costs                   48.5%
                   2)   Operations                        25.5%
                   3)   Civic Expenditure                  6.5%
                   4)   Maintenance                        5.7%
                   5)   Other                             13.8%53
The contribution of local government to GDP was 1.1 per cent in 2001.


Despite the decentralisation efforts in Kenya, there are still no mechanisms in place that
would guarantee the representation of women in local government. In the local elections

49 Ibid.
50 Kuusi 2009, 2.
51 Republic of Kenya: Local Authorities Transfer Fund (LATF): Annual Report FY 2006-2007, Table 6.
   Local Government Act (Cap. 265) of 1977, Sections 212–213.
53 Information adopted from: CLGF, Local Government System in Kenya, sine anno.
54 Ibid.

of 2002, some 381 women stood as candidates and 97 were elected, representing a mere
2.6 % of all (approximately 3,800) councillors.55

Gender equality in Kenya is promoted by the National Policy on Gender Development of
2000. The Government is also in a process of developing a Gender mainstreaming
Implementation Plan of Action to strengthen the implementation of the Policy. Women‟s
participation in decision making at the household and national levels has been found to
be an important ingredient in development.56

Since two thirds of the councillors are directly elected and the remaining one third is
appointed by the Minister of Local Government from the nominations made by the
political parties or coalitions on the basis of their representation in the councils.57 There
are often women among the appointed members. There is no quota system in use to
ensure the representation of women. Still, in recent years the number of women at local
government level has increased.58

Also the formulation of the new Constitution may bring changes since the equal
treatment of men and women is highlighted there in many ways59.

Female councillors in Kenya

According to Simonen 2009

   Local Authority Councillors 2003                              Local Authority Councillors 2008

                     13 %                                                        16 %

                                           Women                                                     Women
                                           Men                                                       Men

      87 %                                                          84 %

7. THE ASSOCIATION              OF   LOCAL       GOVERNMENT             AUTHORITIES     OF   KENYA

The Association of Local Government Authorities of Kenya was established in 1959. The
goal was to facilitate the development of an effective and viable local government system
and to act as a national forum to lobby for and promote strong local governance.60

ALKAG is a voluntary organisation. In other words, no local government authority is
obliged to participate. It is funded by member contributions.61

55 CLGF, Local Government System in Kenya, sine anno ; ALGAK website.
   Country Gender Profile2007: Kenya, 6.
   CLGF, Local Government System in Kenya, sine anno.
   Millennium Development Goals: Status Report for Kenya, 18-19.
   Country Gender Profile2007: Kenya, 9.
60 CLGF, Local Government System in Kenya, sine anno.
61 Ibid.; ALGAK website.


Unlike in many other African countries, traditional leaders are not formally involved in the
local government of Kenya.62



Independence: 1963

Capital: Nairobi (population est. 2, 2 million)

Administrative divisions: 7 provinces and 1 area; Central, Coast, Eastern,
Nairobi Area, North Eastern, Nyanza, Rift Valley, Western

Population: 39 002 772 (2009 est.)

Infant mortality rate: 54 deaths/1,000 live births

Literacy: 85,1%

Languages: English (official), Kiswahili (official), numerous indigenous

Religions: Protestant 45%, Roman Catholic 33%, indigenous beliefs 10%,
Muslim 10%, other 2%

Last local elections held: December 2007. Councillors are elected for a

GDP: $61,83 billion (2008 est.)

GDP real growth rate: 2,2% (2008 est.)

GDP per capita: $1,600 (2008 est.)

Export commodities: tea, horticultural products, coffee, petroleum
products, fish, cement

Population without sustainable access to an improved water source:

People living under 1 $ per day: 22,8% (2008 est.)

CIA World Fact book
UNDP Human Development Report 2009

Adopted from CLGF’s The Local Government System in Kenya:
(x) = discretionary services by the local authority

  SERVICE                 CENTRAL      DISTRICTS     LOCAL
                          GOVERNMENT                 GOVERNMENT
  General admin.
  Fire Protection                                           (x)
  Civil Protection
  Criminal justice
  Civil justice
  Civil status register
  Statistical Office           x
  Electoral register           x

  Primary school                            x               (x)
  Secondary school                          x               (x)
  Vocational and                            x
  Higher education                          x
  Adult education                           x               (x)

  Social welfare
  Kindergarten and                                          (x)
  Family welfare                                            (x)
  Welfare homes                                             x
  Social security              x                            x

  Public health
  Primary care                              x               (x)
  Hospitals                                 x               (x)
  Health Protection                         x               (x)

  Housing and Town
  Housing                                                   (x)
  Town planning                                             (x)
  Regional planning                         x

  Roads                        x                            (x)
  Urban roads                  x                            (x)
  Urban rail

  Environment and
  public sanitation
  Water and sanitation                                      (x)
  Refuse collection and                                     (x)

Cemeteries and               (x)
Slaughter-houses             (x)
Environmental                (x)
Consumer protection

Culture, leisure
and sports
Theatre and concerts
Museums and                  (x)
Parks and open               (x)
Sports and leisure           (x)
Religious facilities

Gas services
District heating
Water supply           (x)   (x)
Electricity                  (x)

Economic promotion
Trade and industry           (x)


Association of Local Government Authorities in Kenya (ALGAK)
Accessed 7.5.2009

Beall, J. (2005) Decentralising Government and Centralising Gender in Southern Africa:
Lessons from the South African Experience, Occasional Paper 8, United Nations Research
Institute for Social Development

CIA World Fact Book
Accessed 7.5.2009

CLGF (Commonwealt Local Government Forum): Local Government System in Kenya
(sine anno)
Accessed 7.5.2009

Devas, N. and Grant, U. (2003) Local Government Decision-Making – Citizen Participation
and Local Accountability: Some Evidence from Kenya and Uganda, Public Administration
and Development, Vol. 23, No.4

Human Development Report 2007/2008, UNDP
Accessed 7.5.2009.
Accessed 8.5.2009

Kuusi Suvi (2009): Aspects of Local Self-Government: Kenya. North-South Local
Government Co-operation Programme, The Association of Finnish Local and Regional

Land, Gerhard van‟t, Jesper Steffensen and Harriet Naitore (2008): Local Level Service
Delivery, Decentralisation and Governance: A Comparative Study of Uganda, Kenya and
Tanzania Education, Health and Agriculture Sectors. Kenya Case Report. March 2008.
Institute for International Cooperation and Japan International Development Agency.

Peltola Outi (2008): Selvitys Suomen, Namibian, Etelä-Afrikan, Tansanian, Kenian,
Ghanan ja Swazimaan paikallisesta ympäristöhallinnosta. North-South Local Government
Co-operation Programme, The Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities.

Republic of Kenya (sine anno): Local Authorities Transfer Fund (LATF): Annual Report FY

Simonen Saara (2009): Women in Local Governance Kenya. North-South Local
Government Co-operation Programme, The Association of Finnish Local and Regional

UN-Habitat (2002): Local Democracy and Decentralisation in East and Southern Africa:
Experiences from Uganda, Kenya, Botswana, Tanzania and Ethiopia, Nairobi: UN-Habitat.
Accessed 7.5.2009.

World Bank: Kenya Country Brief

Accessed 11.5.2009


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