Ascendant recentralisation: the politics of urban governance and institutional configurations in Nairobi

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This paper draws from two experiences with decentralisation in Kenya to illustrate the different ways through which the central government has sought to bolster its power at the expense of the local government in the country’s capital, Nairobi during periods of vertically-unified authority. In the first instance, it examines the years between 1983 and 1992 during which the central government appointed a Commission to replace the elected Nairobi City Council. The second period that is examined is between 2017 and 2022 when certain devolved functions were transferred from the elected Nairobi City County Government to a newly established institution appointed by the President, the Nairobi Metropolitan Service. During both periods authority was vertically unified with the ruling parties also being in control of the city. Drawing on a series of interviews with various stakeholders and inhabitants of informal settlements, the paper argues that contrary to what much literature suggests, recentralisation of urban governance not only occurs in situations of vertically-divided authority but can also occur where authority is unified. Some of the conditions that enabled these power consolidation moves together with the outcomes that these generated are also examined.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)363-383
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Eastern African Studies
Issue number3
Early online date17 Oct 2023
Publication statusPublished - 9 Nov 2023


  • Kenya
  • Nairobi Metropolitan Service
  • Urban governance
  • decentralisation
  • managerialism


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