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Abraham Muriu conducts pilot study in Kenya

From 1 August to 18 September 2015, doctoral fellow Abraham Muriu visited Kenya to conducted field research on the management performance of county governments in Kenya.

Experience of a pilot study on performance management1 in Kenya’s devolved governments

Interested in how Kenya’s (now 2 year old) county governments were facilitating effective service delivery in their areas, I set out for a field trip to Kenya. My interest was especially on their strategies for managing performance. This took place from 1st August-18 September 2015. Per the advice of my supervisors Prof. Proeller and Prof. Fuhr, I was to talk to as many people as possible and get a ‘real feel of the ground’. This would enable me structure my study much better. The weeks before the trip were spent establishing contacts and making appointments via email. Phone calls would then follow as soon as I arrived in Kenya (this turned out being the most effective way of making appointments).

The interviews were divided into two: first group included national level actors in government, international development agencies, researchers and civil society actors involved in the devolution process. The second group consisted of senior officials in two county governments2. The interviews began on 3rd August with the 24 national level actors all of whom were based in Nairobi3  including Government (9), Private Sector/Consultants (2), Development Partners (6), Academia/Researchers (5), Civil Society Actors (2). Using a snowballing technique, I was able to get names of further people to interview based on suggestions from those I had previously interviewed4.  These interviews revealed different perceptions of how county governments are operating. There was a consensus that it was still early to assess concrete performance of county governments but that a key aspect to assess was on institutional building and organizational learning for management. I received a lot of input on the performance management regime in Kenya and how things have developed overtime.

Most of my interviewees were not aware of any available literature on my study especially at advanced academic levels. As to why such a lacuna on studies on local performance management existed, one informed me that in the past the local authorities were closed to outsiders and that made studies on their internal management difficult. They see county governments as being more open and thus predict more studies focused on internal administrations. However one cautioned that this may take time as most of the staff in the county governments were inherited from the defunct local authorities and thus may try to sustain that culture of secrecy. I was also warned of the difficulty of getting sensitive data on human and financial resources. Another interviewee, a long time researcher on policy development in Kenya observed that he is noticing a ‘warlord mentality’ among county managers, especially governors. This is a where they wish to have absolute control over their jurisdictions and don’t want any systems that will keep them checked and accountable for their actions. That said, it did emerge that there is need for detailed documentation and analysis on the emergence of systems of management in the counties. That would provide a solid ground to future research work on management in county governments and hence conceptual/theory building work would be the best contribution of this study.

During my third week, I set out to visit the two county governments. During the planning stage I had identified my cases as Nakuru and Meru Counties. The rationale for choosing the two was that they are comparable on a number of dimensions such as population size and economic activities. They also had enacted management changes at the County Executive level in the past 6 months and that was of interest to me. On a practical note, since this was a pilot study and the time was of essence I needed counties that I could gain quick access. I had previously worked in Meru County on their Integrated Development Plan and I was born and live in Nakuru for my first 20 years. I thus had expected to make entry easily given that I come from there. That was not to be the case in Nakuru County as emails and phone calls went answered. I then turned to another comparable county named Kiambu but this also proved difficult. As a result I then had to drop Meru County and seek another pair of counties. Using past networks of my work, I was able to contact Laikipia and Baringo County Governments both of which allowed me access and granted me interview opportunities with their senior managers.

These counties are located in the former Rift Valley Province and share a boarder. The population of Laikipia is about 400,000 while that of Baringo is 550,000 while their land sizes are 9,462 and 11,015 square kilometres respectively. Both have arid and semi-arid zones and their greatest economic activities are in Agriculture, Livestock and Tourism – production and trading related to them. As a result they have also experienced human-animal conflict as well as resource based conflicts especially over water and grazing land between farmers and pastoralists. Of interest is that the governors had also made reshuffles in their County Executive Committee in the last six months. Each county government has an executive headed by the governor and deputy governor who appoints a County Executive Committee Members (CECM)5 of up to 10 persons with the approval of the County Assembly (CA). The CA is the House of Representatives made of members elected from wards within the county. Additional members are nominated to represented key groups such as youth and the disabled as well as ensure that no more than one third of the members are of the same gender. For example Laikipia with 15 wards has 23 Members of the County Assembly (MCAs) while Baringo with 30 wards has 48 MCAs. Administratively the county has four levels i.e. County, Sub-County, Ward and Village for rural areas and Cities, Municipalities and Towns for urban areas. The county assembly represents the people, makes laws and policies on all matters concerning the county and provides oversight to the county executive as they implement county policies.

I first visited Laikipia County whose capital, Nanyuki Town, is about 3 hours’ drive from Nairobi, during the week of 17-20 August. The county lays between Mount Kenya and the Aberdare Ranges Forest thus boasting an expansive tropical savanna that is home to a variety of wild animals. It has a number of rivers crossing from either mountain and thus ideal for agriculture and livestock farming. I was well received by my host Governor Joshua Irungu. Before his election as governor of Laikipia, he had worked for 5 years in government as an agricultural officer and for 12 years in different Civil Society Organizations. While he could not grant me an interview during the week I was there as he was travelling, his Chief of Staff made sure I had access to all the officers I needed to talk too6. In this county I managed to talk too 14 persons namely, the governor; the county secretary; the for Public Service and Internal Administration, Health, Agriculture and Trade; the chief officers for Finance and Health; the two directors for water, environment and natural resources; the speaker of the county assembly; the chairperson of the County Public Service Board; the County Development and Planning officer who is also incharge of the monitoring Performance Contracts; and the chief of staff in the governor’s office. Of this 3 were female and 9 were male. The sector specific perspectives were from the officers in Health, Water, Trade and Agriculture while the rest gave me an all of county government perspective.

Having held interesting conversations in Laikipia, I crossed over to Baringo CountyKabarnet town, Baringo County headquarters, is about a 4.5 hour drive from Nairobi and home to the second President of the Republic of Kenya, Daniel Moi. It prides itself in having two freshwater lakes and the expansive Tugen hills. The governor of the county is Benjamin Cheboi who, prior to his election, was the Chief Executive Officer of the Higher Education Loans Board (HELB) for 12 years. Before that he was a deputy registrar at Jomo Kenyatta University of Science and Technology (JKUAT). I was not able to interview him in person or by phone as he had a very tight schedule throughout my stay in Kenya7. This could also have been attributed to the last-minute changes from my earlier plans (see discussion above). Unlike in Laikipia county, where I interacted with officials at previous engagements especially when developing their 5 year Integrated Development Planning, I had no previous contact to Baringo County. Thus, I relied on an introduction to the County Secretary made by Mr. Vincent Kimosop whom I had interviewed at the national level as one of the CSO representatives. He also happened to sit in the Baringo County Budget and Economic Framework (CBEF), which is established to facilitate public participation in policy planning and budgeting. I wrote an email to the County Secretary and she was kind enough to grant me permission after thorough scrutiny of what I was doing and why I was keen on Baringo County. This was rather different from Laikipia where I could directly talk to the governor.

I succeeded to get most of the appointments for the following day before I embarked on the long journey back to Nakuru. For the following day I hired a car from a taxi company as my first appointment was at 0800 and there was no way I would have relied on public transport vehicles. On 26 August I conducted 6 interviews and interviewed a total 7 officials in Baringo namely, the County Secretary; The CECMs for Agriculture, Water, and Health; the Chief Officer for Trade; The director for Agriculture8; The director for Revenue and Administration in the County Treasury (he is responsible for performance contracting in the county treasury and also chairs the County Performance Contracting Evaluation Committee that reports to the County Executive Committee)9. Of these 2 were female and 5 male. It was not possible to interview the speaker of the county assembly and the chairperson of the County Public Service Board despite follow-up calls and messages. 

After each interview I asked to be provided with key reports from each of the departments for the document analysis. Of the 7 interviews only two have since sent me the reports despite various follow up calls and emails. This has not come as a surprise, as I also observed that any time I asked sensitive questions, they would be brushed off. One such question was on what motivated the recent reshuffle in the CEC and no one was willing to comment on it. One just told me that there was need to improve performance.
What then did I conclude from this trip?

I concluded that a study of this nature requires sufficient time to make an inroad and build trust with the officials in the unit of. This would also make it possible to make participant observations such as being allowed to sit in the CEC/Cabinet meeting and observe how performance information is discussed and decided on.

I also determined that it is important to map the political economy of each unit to know who the key actors to talk to fast are. In both counties I found the right person who opened doors to the rest. Also it is of value to start from where the people under study are i.e. with concepts that they understand and are able to relate to their work.

While the focus is on management, it is inevitable that one has to look at the politics of it and also aspects of public engagement as this would explain why management behaves in certain ways.

None of my interviews, in government, allowed me to record the interviews (perhaps due to the same reason that they were reluctant to send me documents) and hence I have to prepare to take notes in the coming stage of the research, thus listen attentively and transcribe them later.

I observed that there was great interest especially from those in research and academia on this research project. Towards this end, work that seeks to advance theory development on performance management in local public sector would be a most welcome one.


1 This term is used interchangeably with Managing for Development Results (MfDR)
2 County Governments are the devolved units and are 47 in number. They have responsibility over a number of functions as provide in the fourth schedule of the Constitution of Kenya.
3 When in Nairobi I was hosted by the World Bank Office who gave me an office space.
4 It was not possible to interview 4 government officials, 2 Civil Society Actors and 1 Researcher as they were engaged during the period.
5 This entails the equivalent of a cabinet of ministers common in most governments. Infact in most county governments they are referred to as ministers. Each of the CECMs has a dedicated department derived from the functions of the county governments such as health, agriculture, water and environment etc
6 During this period all County Governments staff were having their annual sports tournament in Eldoret town in Uasin Gishu County and that is where the governor was going. I was able to interview him a couple of weeks later on phone.
7 Further follow up via phone until the writing of this article have not been successful.
8 I was initially set to interview the Chief Officer for Agriculture but he could not agree to it instead took me to the director who he said had more hands on experience. I got sufficient information from the director though at first it felt awkward to both of us to be put into a conversation we had not planned before.
9 I was to interview the CECM for Finance but after explaining my study focus he suggested I talk to his director for Revenue and Administration. His interview was conducted on phone a week later as he had a tight schedule at work.

Abraham Muriu