The prospect of devolved county government has been met with particular enthusiasm in Kenya’s former Coast province since the passage of the new constitution in 2010. Many see devolution as offering a panacea for decades of the Coast’s perceived marginalization and underdevelopment by the central state. The Coast’s communities welcomed the opportunity of a new robust local county government system that they hoped would have the resources and authority to accelerate job creation and investment.
The introduction of county governments has also coincided with a period of renewed interest in large-scale, state-led infrastructure and energy projects in the coastal region. These schemes, which include the LAPSSET transport corridor, Lamu coal plant and Nairobi-Mombasa standard gauge railway, have brought both expectation and anxiety to the region’s communities.
Initial hopes that these investments would catalyse job creation and local revenue sharing have been dampened by the experience of county governments, which have been mostly excluded from decision-making processes. Whilst both devolution and mega-projects offer the potential for the coastal region’s communities to share in public and private investment, the fear that locals will be locked out and left behind runs deep.
In December 2016, the Rift Valley Institute held a series of public forums in Mombasa and Lamu in partnership with the Kwani Trust, the Kuza Project, Adam Smith International and the Human Rights Agenda (HURIA). Attendees included members of the public, government, scholars and civil society, who together debated the coastal regions’ past and future within the Kenyan state. The three forums considered the unique coastal identity and history and how this related to contemporary political and economic transformations.
Read the three meeting reports below: