Regionalism and Decentralization

Regionalism and Decentralization
Regionalism and Decentralization

Regionalism and Decentralization


Decentralization is a longstanding but still developing concept that is yet to find a coherence definition and measurement model. The lack of mutual definition of decentralization and a measurement model makes it difficult to implement it and monitor the outcomes of the same in countries that have adopted it. This explores the concept of decentralization, with particular interest in Kenya which recently adopted devolution in its new Constitution of 2010.

The first part of the paper deals with the definition of decentralization. While the definition of the decentralization is still an issue, the paper defines it as the transfer of power and resources away from the central government. The concepts in this definition include ‘transfer’ and ‘decentralized system’. The second part of the paper deals with objectives.

The concepts under this subheading include; definition, measurement, and effectiveness. The third subheading is types of decentralization. This is a very important part of the paper as it distinguishes between the various designs and their effectiveness. The concepts under this subheading include; delegation, deconcentration, devolution, fiscal decentralization, political decentralization, and administrative decentralization.

The fifth subheading is on measuring decentralization. Concepts include ‘interrelated’ and ‘confirmatory factor analysis’. The paper has explored literature from various authors on the subject. The definition and types of decentralization are based on theoretical framework, while measurement is based on empirical studies.

Definition of decentralization

Whereas developing governments such as Kenya are shifting to decentralization as a way of promoting service delivery, the definition of decentralization remains an unsettled issue. In essence, there’s no mutual agreement in regards to the definition of decentralization and the manner in which decentralization should be measured. Nevertheless, most scholars refer to decentralization as the transfer of power and resources away from the central government (Schneider, 2003). A decentralized system is one in which a central authority plays a lesser role in one or all these dimensions.

Kenya is an elaborate developing country that recently adopted a devolution policy in its 2010 Constitution. The Constitution provides for fiscal, administrative and political decentralization through the creation of a new layer of county governance. The sweeping policy changes in Kenya have resulted in a new regime of governance comprising of a national government and 47 county governments (Boex & Kelly, 2011).

The 2013 elections marked the official launch of decentralization, which resulted to the election of 47 governors and county assemblies. This system of decentralization has presented both benefits and limitations in governance. The aim of decentralization in Kenya is to promote public participation in governance.


This paper looks into decentralization with a keen eye on its definition, types and measurement models. The aim of the paper is to establish the effectiveness of decentralization in developing countries with a close interest on Kenya’s context. This paper demonstrates that decentralization is neither bad nor good when it comes to macroeconomic stability, equity, or efficiency, but rather is outcomes highly depends on institution-specific model (Litvack, Ahmad & Bird, 1998).

Types of decentralization

Care must be observed when defining decentralization since it takes different dimensions and forms. There are varied institutional restructurings encompassed in the term, decentralization, thus highlighting the possibilities of many variants operating simultaneously in a country or even a sector. When establishing different types of decentralization, it is important to distinguish among devolution, delegation and deconcentration (Litvack, Ahmad & Bird, 1998).

Devolution involves the transfer of management, financial and decision-making authority by the central government to quasi-autonomous governance units. Kenya has a devolved government, in which responsibilities for services have been transferred to county governments. County governments have power to make investment decisions and raise their own revenue.

Delegation, on the other hand, refers to a form of decentralization in which public administration functions and decision-making responsibilities are transferred from the central government to local units of government. Although these units are not entirely controlled by the central government, they have an ultimate accountability to it. In this design, the local government acts as an agent of the central government and thus aims at fulfilling the interests of its principal.

The third type of decentralization is deconcentration, which involves the transfer of certain central government responsibilities to regional units. This type does not involve the transfer of authority to local units, implying that there will be minimal limitations or benefits of decentralization to be realized.

Schneider (2003) suggests three core dimensions of decentralization: political, administrative and fiscal decentralization. These dimensions determine the degree to which intergovernmental relationships are devolved, deconcentrated or delegated (Litvack, Ahmad & Bird, 1998). Political decentralization involves the transfer of political functions of governance from the central government to regional governments.

Political decentralization theories deal with aggregation, contestation, participation, articulation, organization, and mobilization of interests. According to Fox and Aranda (1996), a decentralized political system is one in which local political issues and actors enjoy partial independence from the central authority. Administrative decentralization involves the transfer of autonomy from the central government to regional governments.

Public administration theories focusing on decentralization deal with modern bureaucracies. In the Kenyan context, the Constitution provides for devolution, which gives autonomy to the county government to exercise control and power over their territories. There are great hopes that decentralization will impact positively on service delivery, job creation and governance.

However, Kenyan citizens are not in a proper position to participate fully in governance due to difficulties encountered in accessing basic information about project implementation, expenditures, budgets, policies, and local development priorities.

 Fiscal decentralization involves the transfer of fiscal impact from central government to regional authorities. Fiscal federalism theories focus on maximization of social welfare, with the ultimate goal of promoting distributive equity, allocative efficiency, and economic stability. Critics of fiscal federalism argue that fiscal decentralization focuses majorly on demand efficiency while ignoring supply efficiency (Prud’homme, 1995).

In addition, fiscal federalism assumes certain hypotheses that are not applicable in developing countries. For instance, whereas fiscal federalism assumes that taxpayers in all jurisdictions express their interests through their votes, this is not what happens in Kenya. Voters in Kenya usually cast their votes in line with their political party, tribal, or personal loyalties.

Measuring decentralization

Efforts towards measurement of decentralization are still in their formative stage (John & Chathukulam, 2003). This is because of the lack of common standards for measuring decentralization and also the little agreement concerning the very meaning of decentralization (Vengroff & Salem, 1992).

Vengroff & Salem (1992) adopted a hypothesis that decentralization leads to quality governance in developing countries. For purposes of providing an empirical ground for a comparative evaluation, the authors established a model based on the commitment, intensity and scope of decentralization in a country. In their comparative assessment, the authors found that decentralization in Tunisia resulted to good governance.

Further studies on measurement of decentralization were done in the early 21st Century by John and Chathukulam (2003) and Schneider (2003). According to Schneider (2003), the three dimensions of decentralization are closely interrelated. Nevertheless, it is not clear as to the extent to which these dimensions are interrelated. This ambiguity may cause confusion when measuring the outcomes of each dimension in a system such as Kenya where all dimensions are applied.

Schneider (2003) proposes a measurement model for decentralization. The author, however, cautions on the shortcoming of this model in regards to the likelihood of one dimension simultaneously picking up elements of the other dimensions. Confirmatory factor analysis was utilized in testing the hypothesis that all the dimensions consist of measurable indicators. Indicators for political decentralization include state and municipal elections.

Indicators for administrative decentralization include transfers and taxation as a percentage of subnational revenues and grants. Indicators for fiscal decentralization include county revenues and expenditures as percentage of national revenues and expenditures respectively.


Effective decentralization can be achieved if there are sufficient resources and powers from the central government, and measures are implemented to enhance accountability of bureaucrats to elected representatives and accountability of representatives to the citizenry (Manor, 1995).

Accordingly, a properly balanced decentralized system can produce such benefits as reduced absenteeism by local government officials, reduced corruption, enhanced two-way information flow between the government and the public, increased public participation in governance, and greater responsiveness (Speer, 2012). On the other hand, decentralization has such limitations as the inability to promote poverty alleviation.


Boex, J., & Kelly, R. (2011). Fiscal Decentralization in Kenya: A Small Step or Giant Leap?.

John, M. S., & Chathukulam, J. (2003). Measuring decentralisation: the case of Kerala (India). Public Administration and Development, 23(4), 347-360.

Fox, J. A., & Aranda, J. (1996). Decentralization and rural development in Mexico: community participation in Oaxaca’s Municipal Funds Program. Center for Global, International and Regional Studies.

Litvack, J. I., Ahmad, J., & Bird, R. M. (1998). Rethinking decentralization in developing countries. World Bank Publications.

Manor, J. (1995). Democratic decentralization in Africa and Asia. IDS bulletin, 26(2), 81-88.

Prud’Homme, R. (1995). The dangers of decentralization. The world bank research observer, 10(2), 201-220.

Schneider, A. (2003). Decentralization: conceptualization and measurement. Studies in Comparative International Development, 38(3), 32-56.

Speer, J. (2012). Participatory governance reform: a good strategy for increasing government responsiveness and improving public services?. World Development, 40(12), 2379-2398.

Vengroff, R., & Salem, H. B. (1992). Assessing the impact of decentralization on governance: a comparative methodological approach and application to Tunisia. Public administration and development, 12(5), 473-492.

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