The challenges and opportunities of decentralized political systems:lessons for Kenya from India and Nigeria
Decentralization has been increasingly seen and adopted worldwide as a guarantee against discretionary use of power by central elites as well as a way to enhance the efficiency of social services provision by allowing a closer link between public policies and the desires, needs and aspirations of people at the grassroots. Over the last few decades a growing number of countries have moved to decentralize their governance systems by devolving significant governing authority down from the centre to lower levels, or at least decentralizing some significant elements of government responsibility down to local levels. Increasingly decentralization has become a fundamental democratic principle. Good democracy requires that people are able to elect their own local leaders and representatives, and that these local governments have some real power to respond to the needs of the people. In short decentralization is increasingly being demanded from below, through pressure from grassroots, and is embraced for its potential to enhance the depth and legitimacy of democracy. Indeed, decentralization can strengthen democracy and enhance its stability by helping to hold the country together by giving each group some control of its own affairs. It may also help to sustain the political system by distributing power among a wider array of political parties, each of which finds that it has some tangible stake in the the system. And it speaks to the aspirations of people and communities who simply want government to be closer and more responsive to their needs. The clamour for constitutional reforms in Kenya core driviving force was decentralization of government which was highly centralized and oppressive. The Kenya‟s constitution 2010 entrenches devolved government by guaranteeing minimum unconditional transfer of power and resources to the counties under the new dispensation. Consequently, there are great opportunities and enormous challenges waiting Kenya and occasioned by the new dispensation, which will determine the fate of the country politically, economically, and socially after the recent elections which kicked off implementation of devolution and anticipated benefits in the years ahead. Despite the new devolved constitutional dispensation and coming in of two tier governance system a lot of teething problems have been experienced in the coursr of implementation of the new system. The politics of devolution currently being experienced in Kenya explain the high intensity hopes, and expectations that have been pinned on it. It also means that there are high risks if not handled and implemented properly. The teething problems being experienced in implementation of devolution in Kenya is the core driving force which informed the quest for this study to be able to understand the experience of other countries on the same. This study examines the challenges and opportunities of decentralized political systems with special reference to Kenya‟s new devolved political structure. The study also attemps to assess the decentralized political structures of India and Nigeria to derive lessons for Kenya. The project argues from both a positive and negative angle and the lessons leant will go a long way into shaping Kenya‟s devolved system which has experienced a lot of initial teething problems in the early stages of its implementation.