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Plus ça change? County-level politics in Kenya after devolution

Journal article
Authors Agnes Cornell
Michelle D'Arcy
Published in Journal of Eastern African Studies
Volume 8
Issue 1
Pages 173-191
ISSN 1753-1055
Publication year 2014
Published at Department of Political Science
Pages 173-191
Language en
Keywords devolution, Governors, Kenya 2010 Constitution, Kenya elections, Kenyan political elites
Subject categories Political Science


For the first time on 4 March 2013, Kenyans voted for county governors. Devolution has significantly changed fiscal and administrative organization, but has it led to changes in politics? Has it enabled the emergence of new elites, the entrenchment of old ones or rebalanced power between the counties and the centre? These issues are explored, by asking, first, whether gubernatorial candidates were 'insiders' who had held public office before, or 'outsiders', and whether they were locals or not; and second, how national forces impacted on the gubernatorial campaigns. These questions are answered using original primary data on four counties: Nakuru, Kiambu, Mombasa and Kilifi, and aggregated data from all 47 counties. We find that the majority of winning candidates were 'insiders' who won using existing patronage networks, suggesting that the gubernatorial elections led to the entrenchment of existing elites and patronage networks. However, the lack of involvement of national leaders in crucial party primaries allowed for the emergence of powerful local insiders who may challenge national elites going forward. Overall, the first chapter of devolution reflected existing political dynamics in Kenya more than it changed them, although challenges to the resilience of national elites are clear. © 2014 Taylor & Francis.

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