Exploring policy perceptions and responsibility of devolved decision-making for water service delivery in Kenya’s 47 county governments

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Improving water services is a well-rehearsed political instrument to win public support against a backdrop of a wide range of hydro-political realities in Africa. This paper examines whether devolution to Kenya's 47 counties advances the constitutional mandate for the human right to water. Specifically, it examines which factors influence decision-makers’ perception of their responsibility for water service delivery in their counties. Drawing on interviews from all county water ministries, a sociopolitical risk model leveraging public choice theory is developed and tested. Information on election margin, climate risk, urbanisation, poverty levels, water budget and citizen satisfaction is modelled to explain variations in the policymakers’ perceptions of their responsibilities. Results reveal that county water ministries recognise increased political responsibility for the poor outside current provision areas across water quantity, quality, accessibility and non-discrimination criteria. Affordability is the most contested criterion, with only a limited number of counties accepting responsibility. High socioclimatic risks and narrow election margins are likely to boost devolved duty-bearers’ perception of responsibility for improved water service delivery. These variable factors demonstrate the interdependence of spatial and political dimensions during Kenya's devolution process and promote the conclusion that independent and strong regulation is critical to realising the human right to water for the great majority of Kenyans living in rural areas and facing unpredictable climate risks.

Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Pages (from-to)68
Number of pages80
Publication statusPublished - 2018


The author is a DPhil Scholar supported by the Oxford University Clarendon Fund , working in the Water Programme of the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment. We acknowledge financial support from the UPGro Programme on ‘Groundwater Risk Management for Growth and Development’ (NE/M008894/1) funded by the UK Natural Environment Research Council , the UK Economic and Social Research Council and the UK Department for International Development, the ‘Mobile payment systems to reduce rural water risks in Africa’ Project ( ES/N000137/1 ) funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council, as well as the ‘REACH: Improving water security for the poor’ Programme ( 201880 ) funded by the the UK Department for International Development . An anonymous version of the data is available from the author on reasonable request after the end of the grants. The views expressed and information contained in this paper are not necessarily those of or endorsed by these funders, who can accept no responsibility for such views or information or for any reliance placed on them.

FundersFunder number
Oxford University Clarendon Fund
Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment
UK Department for International Development201880
Economic and Social Research CouncilES/N000137/1
Natural Environment Research CouncilNE/M008894/1

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