47 Counties of 2010
Autonomous. Competitive. Vibrant
What's in a number?
The Constitution of Kenya 2010 provides for devolution of political and administrative authority to 47 semi-autonomous Counties. These Counties are what were known as administrative District boundaries up to 1992 under the former Constitution.
Are they Equals?
No County is like the other in size or shape, owing to the fact that these boundaries date back to 1962 - when the colonial government established 40 Districts largely on account of homogeneity of tribe - and by 1992 when 6 Districts were hived off from some of the 40. Some Districts are much larger than others in area and population.
What's the Future?
County boundaries will determine much of the direction and stability associated with local political issues where minorities are concerned. They will also affect inter-county relationships and regional ecosystems that have been around for the last 54 years of independence. Whether competing political temperaments will allow for boundary reviews in the future remains a matter of debate.
The Constitution of Kenya 2010 introduced the concept of political, administrative and fiscal devolution centered on a geographical unit known as the County. The table below gives the 47 Counties of Kenya as listed in the First Schedule of the New Constitution. They are clustered under the old 8 Provincial Administrative boundaries for clarity and historical perspective. Just like the Counties, the Provinces are a historical fact of post-colonial Kenya.
Table 1. The 47 Counties of Kenya
From Coast Province
From North Eastern Province
From Eastern Province
From Central Province
4. Tana River
From Rift Valley Province
From Western Province
From Nyanza Province
From Nairobi Province
24. West Pokot
26. Trans Nzoia
27. Uasin Gishu
43. Homa Bay
Figure 1. below shows the boundaries of the 47 geographical units of devolution or Counties of Kenya. From the figure, the reader gains a better perspective on the relative expanse and placement of each one of the devolved units.
Figure 1. County Boundaries
These boundaries are anchored in the Districts and Provinces Act, 1992, Chapter 105A of the Laws of Kenya from whence they are comprehensively defined.
NB. Detailed discussions on each and every County will be available on its respective link in Table 1 above - where details on the history, the peoples, the places, the government, and the economy of the Counties will be found. Therein will be captured every relevant data and pertinent information unique to each County so we can all gain a better understanding of what's going on in our respective County, and therefore, what the future holds for it as well.
What these boundaries portend in terms of political representation is given under the link Representation under the New Constitution.
The governments of the respective Counties essentially assume trust-ownership of public land within the County geographical area. Chapter 5 - Land and Environment:
62. (2) Public land shall vest in and be held by a county government in trust for the people resident in the county, .......
Public Land is discussed in detail in the link on the home page. That discussion examines the history, ownership and exploitation of land in Kenya; and going forward, interrogates the New Constitution's provisions on the whole matter of ownership, access and use of land in the Counties.
Deficiencies (of the boundaries so defined)
As we noted earlier, the manner and criteria initially used to determine the 47 County boundaries was solely based on historical facts and hence failed to incorporate modern scientific research and democratic theory that factors in such considerations as politics, economy, representation, cost, and population, etc. In other words, despite calls to do so, these boundaries were not delineated afresh as part of the constitutional-making process. They were simply pasted into the First Schedule.
Barely a few months after they were formed following the March 2013 elections, the two neighbouring Counties of Machakos and Makueni each laid claim to jurisdiction over the Konza Techno City, a national government Vision 2013 project on ICT, largely believed to be in Makueni. Although the Minister for ICT had placed the 5,000 acre technopolis in Machakos County, in August 2014, the Senate was left with no choice but to request the IEBC and the Lands Ministry to confirm the actual location of the project.
On the 29th September 2014, simmering tension between the Counties of Meru and Isiolo over part of their common border came to a head when an entourage led by the Governor of Meru was attacked by a mob over the location of a border point claimed by the people of Isiolo but used as a tax collection point by the County of Meru.
Quite a few other murmurs over county boundaries continue in different parts of the country. Many of them largely revolve around economic and social factors. For example, on numerous occasions, the people of the County of Murang'a have been heard to lay claim to Thika Town from Kiambu County, supporting their claims by pointing to the fact that they greatly outnumber the people of Kiambu in terms of investments in the town.
Our colonial history also plays a part in the boundary disputes according to the Commission on Administrative Justice CAJ, echoing our earlier sentiment that boundaries ought to have been reviewed in tandem with the constitutional review efforts:
"....... disputes (based) on the allegation that the current boundaries are unfair since they are based on historical injustices........ The controversies have the potential of not only undermining the objects of devolution, but also national security." (CAJ, 2014).
Moreover, over the years, administrative districts were never really marked out using beacons, or their jurisdiction strictly enforced with regard to how the people of the regions interacted with the government through the provincial administration. Thus, residents living in border areas would seek services from the District headquarters that was either closest, or convenient, or had the service they needed at a particular time.
Fortunately for Kenyans, their Constitution does give room (while laying out the scope) for future reviews if and when need arises. Excerpts from Chapter 11 - Devolved Government, Part 4 - The Boundaries of Counties:
188. (2) The boundaries of a county may be altered to take into account— (a) population density and demographic trends; (b) physical and human infrastructure; (c) historical and cultural ties; (d) the cost of administration; (e) the views of the communities affected; (f) the objects of devolution of government; and (g) geographical features.
Only sub-clause (c) was considered - perhaps by default, when county boundaries were copy/pasted into the New Constitution given that the criteria used was simply the old 46 Districts and Nairobi's borders as the basis for County boundaries, and ironically, the said history as we have seen, only dates back to the colonial dispensation rather than to a much longer period to the times of our fore-fathers.
Notable legislative efforts to address the whole question around county boundaries did not begin until 2015, and it was not until the tail-end of 2016 that a County Boundaries Bill was published in the Senate. This bill seeks "........ to provide for county boundaries; to provide for a mechanism for the resolution of county boundary disputes; to give effect to Article 188 of the Constitution by providing for the procedure for alteration of county boundaries; to provide for the establishment of an independent county boundaries commission; and connected purposes." (County Boundaries Bill 2016).
The Bill, however, does not address itself to the economic viability of the boundaries so defined and so even if it is passed as it is, Kenya will still have to apply its collective social and political will to the severe and almost fatal variations and inequalities that exist within and between counties as constituted. As we have pointed out, political (coupled with a social sense of urgency), rather than modern, scientific and democratic expediency was what largely informed this adoption of boundaries. "Perhaps the weakest aspect of the Constitution with respect to devolution, however, was the failure to rationalize the number of counties beyond the 47 statutory districts, which vary widely in area, natural resource endowments and population size. Yet, the recourse to history rather than determining the counties afresh was understandable given the underlying interests that were at play in attempts to block the review process." (Nyanjom, 2011).
Indeed public discourse on the economic viability of some of the Counties was well underway in the early years of the CoK2010. "The ability of counties to create wealth and enhance welfare outcomes of their citizens will depend on how well they are able to leverage their endowments, natural and otherwise, within the prevailing national, regional and global operating contexts." (Aligula, E, 2012).
As Counties began to settle down after the 2013 General Elections, the first joint economic community plan was launched in May 2015 by 10 Counties that border Lake Victoria. The plan, known as the Lake Region Economic Blueprint, recognised the need to forge strong regional partnerships that tap into larger (population) markets for faster economic development. "One great benefit of the creation of sub-national regional blocs such as the Lake Region Economic Blueprint, ...... is that it allows small, economically challenged individual counties to leverage economies of scale." (Lubembe E, 2015).
On the other hand, other experts were also of the view that many of the Counties did not have substantial GDP levels to write home about and would be hard-pressed to generate significant internal revenues especially in the first few years after their coming into being to meet setup costs and have anything left for development. Such Counties need not lose out. "A regional focus allows counties to use the strengths of neighbouring counties to garner sufficient clout and significance to mobilise substantial investment.
"By uniting economies and populations, sub-national blocs can create customised incentives that make particular sense to their region and attract investment that once seemed viable only in larger cities." (Lubembe E, 2015).
Despite well-intentioned calls for caution on the part of Counties to walk circumspectly, political machinations would inevitably distorted the debate on how much of National Revenue should be allocated to the sub-regional governments. Some Counties were steadfast in demanding higher allocations yet the truth was that they lacked adequate internal revenue and human resource capacity to effectively administer their share of funds, let alone capacity to meet collection targets of internal revenue.
Further to that, there was the nascent fear that such Counties were likely to be easily turned into centers of corruption by the local political elite and well-connected mafia-style groups.
Mitigation (to the boundary deficiencies)
In its Advisory, the Commission for Administrative Justice CAJ, noted that, "....... the first measure should be determining the actual boundaries of the counties and placing visible beacons. Indeed, this exercise should be undertaken for all counties as a matter of priority."
In the absence of visible beacons, as defined by the Districts and Provinces Act, 1992, or civil education exercises conducted countrywide to sensitise residents on actual borders, it is near impossible to separate genuine boundary concerns from those that are frivolous or arising out of misinformation.
Any well-intentioned proposals to amend the Constitution of Kenya 2010 with a view to rationalise and optimise the present County boundaries listed in the First Schedule ought not to be viewed with suspicion by Kenyans as such proposals would have factored-in every sub-clause of Article 188. (2), repeated here for the reader's convenience:
188. (2) The boundaries of a county may be altered to take into account — (a) population density and demographic trends; (b) physical and human infrastructure; (c) historical and cultural ties; (d) the cost of administration; (e) the views of the communities affected; (f) the objects of devolution of government; and (g) geographical features.
Perhaps clause (c) was just a polite acknowledgement of the fact that the ushering of a new constitution would not in itself for example, halt cases of frequent cultural inter-community acts of aggression in the Northwest of the country commonly referred to as cattle rustling. Furthermore, the border between Baringo and West Pokot Counties renders a section of Pokots in Baringo as minorities in the county, a situation that leads them to cry of being marginalised, raising community tensions.
Nonetheless, the beauty of any border reviews in the future is such that the exercise will be shielded from political gerrymandering by the political class, as it will be exercised by an independent commission and voted for by the people's representatives both at the national and county legislative assemblies:
(1) The boundaries of a county may be altered only by a resolution–– (a) recommended by an independent commission set up for that purpose by Parliament; and (b) passed by–– (i) the National Assembly, with the support of at least twothirds of all of the members of the Assembly; and (ii) the Senate, with the support of at least two-thirds of all of the county delegations.
As if on cue, in 2015, the Senator for Makueni began pushing forth the County Boundaries Bill 2015 mainly to address the confusion and tensions that have arisen around County boundaries since the CoK 2010 was adopted. The reader may recall that delimitation of County boundaries is outside the mandate of the IEBC (which only reviews constituency and ward boundaries); a different independent body must be set up for that purpose. In this case, the proposed Bill seeks to create the Independent County Boundaries Commission to address and resolve county boundary issues.
Necessary as they are, future County boundary reviews must incorporate careful management coupled with a huge dose of delicate balancing acts so as not to upset cultural and community interests.
Optimists are however confident that major boundary reviews will not be necessary if the latent wealth and potential of these 'weak' counties is exploited forthwith. They aver and point out that those counties which lag behind in development have the greatest untapped tourism and agrarian potential (via irrigation). And, as was noted previously, leveraging on regional economic blocs is sure to foster growth in those Counties whose take-off would likely be delayed unless they integrate their near and long-term strategic plans.
Focus will invariably remain trained on the Commission on Revenue Allocation CRA whose mandate is to advise on the allocation of revenue and of the Equalization Fund, as well as as at the National Assembly and the Senate as they jointly and differently,develop policy, guidelines and laws to manage these near-term challenges of County entities as presently constituted.
1. The Constitution of Kenya, 2010. National Council for Law Reporting. The Attorney General.
2. Nyanjom, O (2011). "Devolution in Kenya's new Constitution." Constitution Working Paper Series No 4. Society for International Development, SID.
3. Open Data at www.opendata.go.ke. Retrieved October 2011.
4. Aligula, Eric (2012). "It will be survival for the fittest in counties offering quality places." Daily Nation retrieved on 26 November, 2012.
5. Lubembe E (2015). "Regional blocs the way to go for counties." Daily Nation online of May 27, 2015. Retrieved on 29 May 2015.
6. "13 counties unveil joint economic plan." Capital Digital Media. Capital Group Limited. Retrieved May 29, 2015.
7. Districts and Provinces Act, 1992, Chapter 105A of the Laws of Kenya. National Council for Law Reporting. The Attorney General.
8. Advisory on Boundary Disputes between County Governments. Commission on Administrative Justice. Retrieved September 2015.