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Can county-level energy planning give the people a stronger voice? Lessons from Kenya

A new study examines how county governments can achieve meaningful citizen participation to better understand and meet energy end-users’ needs.

Marion Davis / Published on 18 February 2016

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In 2010, Kenya adopted a new Constitution that devolved key powers and responsibilities to lower levels of government, aiming to bring decision-making closer to the people. In the energy sector, planning was devolved to the county level. The idea is that county officials will develop plans in close consultation with citizens, then feed the resulting insights back into the national energy master plan.

A new Energy Bill now before the Kenyan Parliament lays out key functions and procedures. But the logistics – including crucial choices about how to engage people in planning processes – still have to be worked out by the county governments, which may lack the necessary knowledge, tools or skills.

It’s a big challenge, but Oliver Johnson, deputy director of SEI’s Africa Centre, also saw an opportunity: a chance to help shape county-level governance by contributing scientific knowledge and practical experience. With funding from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), SEI and the NGO Practical Action teamed up to examine how best to implement participatory energy planning.

They focused on Migori County, in southwestern Kenya, which is home to more than 900,000 people. They reviewed the available literature on participatory planning, to understand the barriers to and enablers of citizen participation and the utility of different tools and approaches. They also examined energy consumption patterns, through a survey of 500 households, interviews, and focus groups.

The results, published this week, show both a huge need for improved access to modern energy sources, and a keen interest among citizens in being part of energy decision-making.

The household survey showed that 97% of rural households regularly used kerosene; 96% firewood, 72% dry cell batteries, and 67% charcoal; only 12% had electricity. Two-thirds of urban households had electricity, but 56% used candles and 39% used liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).

“It was notable that even urban households that were connected to the grid still used kerosene, candles and batteries for lighting,” says Anne Nyambane, a research associate at SEI Africa and co-author of the report. “This is a clear indication that it is not enough to extend the grid to reach every home, but to make sure there is actual power coming out of the sockets. Stand-alone solutions such as solar panels or building mini-grids may also be needed to meet local needs.”

In focus group discussions with women’s groups, community leaders, local government officials and youth, the team learned more about the challenges faced by households. Electricity connections are costly, yet the supply is unreliable and the suppliers are non-responsive when called upon. Collecting firewood involves a risk of snake bites, rape, and harassment from forest wardens. Cooking with wood or charcoal is smoky and harmful to people’s health.

Participants also noted a lack of community involvement in energy planning, policy-making and implementation. Yet 58% of urban and 84% of rural households said they would be interested in participating in energy planning, directly or through existing groups or community leaders.

“The willingness and capacity of people to engage in matters that affect them was very evident,” says Nyambane. “Most people were really interested in energy-related discussions, especially in the rural areas. They had clear ideas about the roles they could play, how they might use existing structures, such as women’s and youth groups, and how they might want community leaders to represent them.”

The research team also reviewed existing participatory energy planning tools to identify best practices for enabling effective participation and overcoming barriers. Six key activity types showed particular potential: stakeholder engagement and awareness creation; needs assessment; resource mapping; visioning and action planning; capacity-building, and implementation, monitoring and evaluation.

“There are a lot of interesting participatory approaches being developed that could be applied by counties in Kenya to help ensure that people’s needs are met,” Nyambane says. “But it is important to recognize that, without a concerted effort to enable broad-based and meaningful participation, it is easy for these processes to be shaped by the interests of the most powerful groups.”

The team developed several recommendations for both county- and national-level officials, which were well received at a workshop in Nairobi, Nyambane says. The study findings will be further disseminated and discussed at forums being organized by the SE4ALL initiative in various counties in Kenya.

“We are also working closely with the African Sustainability Hub, and want to propose a forum where energy directors from all the counties in Kenya can meet and exchange ideas and lessons learned,” Nyambane says. “And of course we will work more with Migori County, and with national officials.”

Read the full report »

Read a policy brief summarizing the findings »

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