Kenya: We Need a Debate On Devolution of Education

Perhaps our greatest achievement in 50 years is the 2010 constitution, which vests sovereign power in the people of Kenya.

It is we the people, who delegate authority to the legislature, the executive at national and county levels, and to the judiciary.

What level of government should carry the greatest responsibility for preparing our youth for the future?

The time for debate is now.

Dr. Awiti, Director, East African Institute & Assistant Professor, Aga Khan University

Alex Awiti-Devolution of EducationBy Alex O. Awiti. Published Monday, December 22, 2014

For more than 50 years, our education system has been embedded in the political economy of a hegemonic state. Today access to quality education, outcomes of human, cultural, social and economic capital mirror the patterns of political patronage and the ethnic zero-sum game of competition for and distribution of the so-called national cake.

The Kenyan state, through successive regimes since Independence, has failed to allocate in an inclusive manner the critical educational resources that would enable equitable social mobility. Just like roads, water, electricity and health services, vested political interests of powerful Nairobi elites have always determined who enrols, whether they complete and how much our children learn in school.

We must now re-think the role of the national government in education. The role of the distant state authority needs to be re-examined in the context of devolution.

What we have seen in the past 50 years in the education sector is an inordinate burden of bureaucracy, politicisation and capture by special interest, inefficiency, and the hubris of one size-fits-all, which has led to unconscionable inequality in educational outcomes.

Devolution of education is a plausible remedy. Fundamentally, education is about building relevant human capital, which is then deployed to drive cultural and economic capital for development. Counties are in the best position to articulate the fit between education and urgent local needs. By re-defining accountability we can prevent capture of the delivery of education by vested political interests. Moreover, decentralising education could make it difficult for schools to ‘game’ the system when performance and accountability standards are not set at the national level and include critical parameters like social inclusion and local human capital formation.

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About Alex O. Awiti

Alex O. Awiti is the Director of the East African Institute, a policy research, analysis, capacity building and public engagement platform of the Aga Khan University. As an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, he also leads the curriculum design for one of the most innovative liberal arts based undergraduate programmes in Africa

Prior to joining the Aga Khan University, Awiti was a postdoctoral fellow at the Earth Institute at Columbia University in New York. He was also an adjunct assistant professor at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs.

Awiti is the Africa editor for Environmental Development, the Transdisciplinary Journal of the Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE). As public intellectual he writes a widely read weekly column for The Star, a Kenyan daily.

His research focuses on education, conservation, agriculture and food systems, population health, climate change, urbanization and natural resource governance.

As one of very few resilience experts in Africa, Awiti sits on the Board of the Resilience Alliance (, a research organization comprised of international interdisciplinary scholars, including Nobel laureates.

As a public intellectual, Awiti maintains an active blog ( and writes regular op-eds for leading East African newspapers. He was one of the speakers at TEDx Nairobi 2013.

Mr. Awiti holds a PhD in Ecosystems Ecology from University of Nairobi and is an alumnus of the prestigious Earth Institute Fellowship of Columbia University in New York.


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