Book Review

Ex-DO asks professionals to deliver ‘devolution’ dream


John Burugu’s The County: Understanding Devolution and Governance in Kenya is one of the books written about devolution and separation of powers between the national government and devolved units.

Burugu, a career administrator who once served as a District Officer, touches in-depth Chapter 11 of the 2010 Constitution.

Using historical references, he builds the story of how devolution is important in realising the Kenyan dream.

“The clamour for devolution in the country dates back to the colonial period where preparation for Independence by political parties took divergent views.

“Small communities in Kenya formed political parties that were to promote, protect and pursue their interest against perceived domination by the big tribe,” he writes.


The writer, who also served in the ministries of Local Government, Cooperative and Marketing, and Youth Affairs and Sports, endeavours in 170 pages to show how prudent use of resources backed by decentralisation of power can create wealth within the 47 counties and help the country to achieve an industrialised middle-income status by 2030.

The County strongly affirms that the spirit of devolution is to bring government functions closer for effective “service delivery and decision making”.

The author provides details of how common mistakes in devolved units can be fixed, and how other countries have excelled in similar quest.

Burugu highlights the greatest threats to devolution, including concentrating devolved powers in the hands of a few elite and failure to achieve second-order devolution, which is the transfer of power from county to lower levels.

He attempts a list of traits befitting leaders who can deliver devolution goodies. Self-confidence, achievement orientation, dependability, locus of control and dominance.

At the heart of reaping the fruits of devolution, the author says that leaders and ‘Wanjiku’ should work to promote development based on firm strategic plans that can span even up to 50 years.

“More professionals at the county and the national government levels must be seen showing the way forward to the society and local communities so that whatever initiatives are taken will be backed by empirical judgments,” Burugu writes. The author says there is a better future for Kenya and devolution, but only if everything is done as the framers of the 2010 Constitution envisioned it.

Originally published in 2010, the same year the new Constitution was promulgated, some of the book’s predictions have almost come pass, for example what he calls “second order devolution” and the role of professionals in delivering the baby safely.