Kenya’s new constitution faces toughest question yet: “Now what?”


Three decades, two constitutions and one “Committee of Experts” later, the people of Kenya have voted on a document to govern the country.  Piece of maandazi (like cake, but better), right?  Now all that’s left to do for peace and stability in the east African country is…well, all of it.

Kicking off the spring 2013 Conflict, Security and Development speaker series, NYU Wagner Professor Paul Smoke let us in on just a few of the challenges Kenya faces in its efforts to achieve state reform.  Kenya’s government and authority structure is redesigned. The newly decentralized system empowers county governments and relies more heavily on these localized structures for service delivery.  What could possibly go wrong?

Well for one, argues Smoke, the counties in Kenya’s new system have disparate levels of functionality. Some work; many don’t. This divide begs the question: should the national government invest its limited resources supporting those counties it knows to be capable of actually dispersing these resources to its people?  Or, should it spend more on the counties in greatest need in the name of equity (which the new constitution explicitly promotes)?

If the question of federal resource distribution doesn’t bend your brain, then consider the new internal structure of the counties themselves.  Most of the financial resources in this county system are generated in urban areas, while the seats of government power and decision-making lie in the hands of the rural populations.  Smoke offers a hypothetical illustration: “It would be like Baltimore being sucked up into Maryland; Maryland is now entirely responsible for all of the operations of the city.  The problem is, Maryland has no elected officials, no resources of its own, and it would have to vote funds away from itself to keep Baltimore going.”

“But wait,” you’re thinking, “didn’t we just say that all the money is coming from Baltimore?”  Why, yes.  Yes we did.  Now you see why the business of implementing an entirely new constitution that calls for an entirely redesigned system of government might not be as quick and painless as you thought?

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 12, 12:30 PM IN RUDIN, Mark Foran, assistant professor of Emergency Medicine at the NYU School of Medicine, will discuss on the nascent field of Information and Technology in Humanitarian Action, and provide an inside look at the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ new flagship publication about the role of technology in global humanitarian efforts.

– Ashley Nichole Kolaya

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