Exploring policy perceptions and responsibility of devolved decision-making for water service delivery in Kenya’s 47 county governments

Author: Johanna Koehler

Improving water services is a well-rehearsed political instrument to win public support against a backdrop of a wide range of hydro-political realities in Africa. This paper examines whether devolution to Kenya’s 47 counties advances the constitutional mandate for the human right to water. Specifically, it examines which factors influence decision-makers’ perception of their responsibility for water service delivery in their counties. Drawing on interviews from all county water ministries, a sociopolitical risk model leveraging public choice theory is developed and tested. Information on election margin, climate risk, urbanisation, poverty levels, water budget and citizen satisfaction is modelled to explain variations in the policymakers’ perceptions of their responsibilities. Results reveal that county water ministries recognise increased political responsibility for the poor outside current provision areas across water quantity, quality, accessibility and non-discrimination criteria. Affordability is the most contested criterion, with only a limited number of counties accepting responsibility. High socioclimatic risks and narrow election margins are likely to boost devolved duty-bearers’ perception of responsibility for improved water service delivery. These variable factors demonstrate the interdependence of spatial and political dimensions during Kenya’s devolution process and promote the conclusion that independent and strong regulation is critical to realising the human right to water for the great majority of Kenyans living in rural areas and facing unpredictable climate risks.

This paper was published in Geoforum. You can access the paper by clicking on the button below. You can also read the open access Author Accepted Manuscript (this is not the final version as published in Geoforum), and a blog summarising the paper.

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