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ARTICLE
Year : 2017  |  Volume : 15  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 400-413

Choices have Consequences: REDD+ and Local Democracy in Kenya


World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), P.O. Box 30677-00100, Nairobi, Kenya

Correspondence Address:
Susan Chomba
World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), P.O. Box 30677-00100, Nairobi
Kenya
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/cs.cs_16_109

Rights and Permissions
Date of Web Publication31-Jan-2018
 

   Abstract 


The extent to which the United Nations Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation programme (REDD+) addresses critical issues of governance is hotly contested. This article focuses on the local institutions chosen as partners by a prominent REDD+ project in Kenya and the implications of this choice for local democracy. The REDD+ project briefly partnered with state-appointed local authorities to represent local interests, bypassing elected ones. Shortly after, the state-appointed authorities were abandoned in favour of 'project-created' carbon committees and civil society organisations. The choice to recognise some institutions while excluding others, was justified by the levels of downward accountability and of corruption, and arguments that state-sanctioned institutions were overburdened and inefficient. However, the article contends that this preference for carbon committees and civil society organisations over state-sanctioned institutions, and particularly the aversion to democratically elected ones, was not conducive for long-term strengthening of local democracy. The analysis pinpoints a tension between setting up parallel models of authority that can act as exemplars of democratic practice, while undermining democratically elected institutions that, in Kenya, are struggling to exercise newly devolved powers. Explicit strategies are required to enable learning from parallel governance models and for their migration into mainstream local governance structures, if local democracy is to be strengthened rather than undermined.

Keywords: accountability, democracy, institutional choice, REDD+


How to cite this article:
Chomba S. Choices have Consequences: REDD+ and Local Democracy in Kenya. Conservat Soc 2017;15:400-13

How to cite this URL:
Chomba S. Choices have Consequences: REDD+ and Local Democracy in Kenya. Conservat Soc [serial online] 2017 [cited 2019 Sep 23];15:400-13. Available from: http://www.conservationandsociety.org/text.asp?2017/15/4/400/221951




   Introduction Top


Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) is a performance-based payment/finance mechanism, whose goal is to cut carbon emissions through forest-related practices in order to mitigate the effects of climate change. REDD added a 'plus', (REDD+) to indicate the inclusion of biodiversity conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of carbon stocks (Angelsen et al. 2012). Because forest management regimes have often marginalised local communities, scholars and practitioners have called on REDD+ stakeholders to avoid adverse impacts on local people and ensure the protection of their rights as embodied under international conventions (see Larson and Ribot 2009; Phelps et al. 2010; Sikor et al. 2010). Key actors in REDD+ have been urged to recognise the importance of safeguarding universally recognised democratic principles, including effective participation of local communities and marginalised groups, and ensuring their representation in decision-making processes (Larson and Ribot 2009; Sikor et al. 2010).

Democracy is not an explicitly stated objective of REDD+, but it is implicitly addressed under the Cancun agreement on social safeguards and safeguard information systems that require 'effective participation by all relevant stakeholder inter alia indigenous people and local communities' (UNFCCC 2011). This requirement raises two representation questions—1) How does REDD+ ensure inclusivity of all relevant stakeholders; who defines which stakeholders are relevant, and which stakeholders' goals and needs are recognised in forest conservation under REDD+? 2) By choosing to recognise particular 'relevant' stakeholders, how does REDD+ ensure inclusivity and avoid side-lining and/or weakening institutions that already have a mandate to promote local democracy?

Global agendas and conventions have perpetuated 'popular participation' as the means for achieving inclusivity and other democratic outcomes. These conventions include the Earth Summit, the Aarhus Convention, the Millennium Development Goals, the declaration on the rights of indigenous people and the Sustainable Development Goals (UN 1992, 1998, 2000, 2007, 2015). They envisage participation of communities in governance of environmental resources such as forests, as an important objective in itself, not only as a democratic and human right, but also as a prerequisite for achieving sustainable development.

In contrast, scholars have assembled evidence which shows that participation alone does not necessarily lead to democratic outcomes (Agrawal and Ribot 1999; Cooke and Kothari 2001). Schumpeter (1943) argues that democracy is not merely about popular/maximum participation by all; rather, democracy is about a competitive struggle for people's votes and legitimacy. Key to this struggle are the resources and power that both, the electorate and their leaders seek to control and draw upon as sources of authority and recognition (Lund 2016). Elected leaders use resources and power to respond to the needs and aspirations of citizens; while citizens seek access and control of power and resources through their leaders. Thus, power and resources are central to democratic representation. Between 2006 and 2014, approximately USD 9.8 billion was pledged, mostly by the public sector in developed countries, to support REDD+ in developing countries. An additional USD 1 billion is expected to come through the private sector over time (Norman and Nakhooda 2014). These resources have the potential to build or undermine local democracy and reconfigure local structures of authority, depending on which institutions are chosen as recipients and to represent local needs and interests.

The concept of 'institutional choice' (as appropriated from institutional economics by Ribot 2004, 2011) focuses on the local institutions that intervening agents choose as their partners. This article examines the implications of institutional choice for democracy and, in particular, for representation. Representation is the extent to which institutions, projects, or other interventions, become downwardly accountable and responsive to local needs (Przeworski et al. 1999). In natural resource governance, an intense debate persists over the types of institutions that will best ensure local representation. It would appear that elected local governments are an appropriate institution to represent local people because they are designed to carry the democratic mandate of a majority of citizens. Elections are also seen as key mechanisms through which citizens can hold their leaders accountable, thereby compelling them to be responsive to community needs (Oyono 2004; Ribot 2004). Yet, intervening agents often do not choose to work with them.

Apart from elected local governments, there are a multitude of other institutions competing to exercise public authority. These may include multiple layers and branches of government, traditional authorities, civil society groups, user groups, private organisations and even fluid associations that fall between these classifications (Lund 2006). When external intervening agents, from central government or international Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), want to intervene in a locality, they have to make choices, in terms of who they work with, from amongst the panoply of local institutions that already exist, or they must create new institutions. The institutions they support may have differing legitimacy in the eyes of local citizens, and citizens will have varying means and capabilities to hold them accountable (Ribot 2004; Lund 2006). The ability that citizens have to hold institutions accountable is often shaped by the history of institutional evolution. In Africa, for example, colonial antecedents have often led to, even democratically elected institutions, being largely state-controlled and upwardly accountable (Manor 2004). External agents exert influence on democratic representation through elements of choice (which institutions are partnered with) and recognition (the acknowledgment conferred on institutions by being given powers and material resources). This is because choosing particular institutions empowers them, and also citizens are more likely to engage with and influence institutions that have the power or resources to respond to their needs (Ribot 2004). The implications are, that where non-democratically elected institutions are chosen over democratically elected ones, the former are empowered while the latter are marginalised and rendered powerless, undermining local democracy (ibid).

This article looks at the institutional choices made by the Kasigau Corridor REDD+ Project (KCRP) in Kenya and discusses the implications of these choices for democratic practice. The KCRP is a private-sector led project initiated under the REDD+ readiness phase, whose outcomes inform the national REDD+ process. The KCRP model has been heralded as a successful one for REDD+ (WW 2014), and the developer is in the process of expanding the project area and setting up similar projects across Africa and Asia. Researchers hold up the KCRP model as an innovative approach with important lessons for national-level implementation of REDD+ in Kenya and elsewhere (Bernard et al. 2014). These judgements are based on technical assessments of the feasibility of the project and its potential to generate carbon credits, but have not considered critical aspects of REDD+ governance.

The KCRP case study addressed three critical questions–1) which institutions did the REDD+ project choose to recognise and why? 2) How did local communities perceive the institutions in terms of their democratic representation, including downward accountability and responsiveness? 3) What were the implications of these institutional choices for local democracy?

Primary and secondary data were collected between March 2013 and April 2014 to answer these questions. Sixty-one face-to-face interviews and ten Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) were conducted with project officials, leaders of local institutions and key informants from communities in the five administrative locations where the project was implemented [Appendix A]. The aim of the interviews and FGDs was to determine the local institutional context, and then provide an in-depth understanding of which institutions were chosen at various times by the project and why. Interviews and FGDs also revealed the mechanisms of accountability and their frequency of application by the local community and project officials. Primary data were combined with an intensive desk review of published and grey literature, that provided a national-level history of the evolution of these institutions and their accountability before the project period, placing peoples' responses within a broader context. In addition, project officials and local institutions partnering with the project provided project reports and financial records to show how carbon revenues were allocated in line with their accountability and responsiveness to local needs.



Theoretical framework

This article uses the institutional choice and recognition framework which is based on the premise that intervening agents, such as those implementing REDD+ projects, exercise “choice” by partnering or transferring power and resources to certain institutions at the local level (Ribot et al. 2008). For instance, national governments, bilateral and multilateral agencies, private sector, or other actors implementing REDD+ activities, choose which local institutions to work with. Once an institution is chosen, it is recognised through transfer of various forms of resources and power. Following Faye (2015), the term 'derecognise' is used in this article to refer to the withdrawal of intervening agency support from formerly recognised local institutions. This withdrawal is often exercised as a sign of disapproval of policies and/or actions of the local institutions. Such choices, the framework posits, have implications on three principles of democratic practice— representation, citizenship and the public domain (Ribot 2007). The three components though interlinked, require substantial empirical inquiry. The present research focused on democratic representation as one of the fundamental pillars of democratic practice.

Democratic representation occurs when a government (or leader or authority) is both accountable and responsive to their citizens (Oakerson 1989; Ferejohn 1999; Przeworski et al. 1999). Accountability refers to the mechanisms used to sanction leaders both positively and negatively in response to their actions or performance (Goetz and Jenkins 2004; Bovens 2006). These actions could be political, financial or related to service delivery (Brinkerhoff 2001). Accountability is also theorised as comprising answerability with enforceability (Schedler and Plattner 1999; Brinkerhoff 2001). This signifies both the condition of being held to account for one's actions or inactions, and depending on the response, to be exposed to positive or negative sanctions (Oyono 2004; Newell 2008).

A leader or institution is responsive when they address the needs of citizens, or adopt policies that are signalled by the citizens (Przeworski et al. 1999). Responsiveness is largely induced by the presence of accountability mechanisms; that is, where citizens have at their disposal, both positive and negative sanctions that they can apply to make leaders or institutions act in their interests. Occasionally, leaders may be responsive without accountability, or the existence of sanctions, operating what is effectively termed as 'benign dictatorship' (ibid). But most importantly, for leaders to be responsive, they must have a domain of autonomy – with discretionary powers and resources, which they can draw upon in order to address the needs of citizens (Ribot 2004; Ribot et al. 2008).

To operationalise this framework, the parameters for public accountability described by Bovens (2006) are used, which broaden out beyond elections to include meeting leaders in public forums and questioning them, auditing of financial records and various forms of voice aimed at providing explanations and justifications of conduct. Sanctions, both positive and negative, are also examined including, passing of judgment through approval or disapproval of budgets, public condemnation or affirmation of behaviour, fines and other judicial measures, re-election or non-re-election of leaders and use of veto powers to block or amend decisions that leaders make (Oakerson 1989; Bovens 2006). On responsiveness, different means of response were analysed including, financial means, statutory and non-statutory structures of power and authority that leaders can draw upon to implement decisions (Oakerson 1989; Ribot 2011).

The institutional choice and recognition framework was used because it attributes agency to choices being made by intervening actors. So, rather than look at an institutional landscape as an organically emerging political field, where power relations dominate who works with whom, the framework establishes that there must be some logic (conscious or unconscious) in the apparent choices (Ribot et al. 2008). It supposes that actors' choices are logical – even if such logic is shaped by ignorance, happenstance, theoretical and strategic plotting, or structural constraints (ibid). The framework is used to analyse democratic representation of institutions that are recognised, derecognised or completely ignored, against the justifications or logic provided by the intervening agents. The responses from the intervening agents are then triangulated with those of local communities. This analysis is then supplemented by providing a historical analysis of institutional origin, mechanisms and flows of accountability in order to provide the context within which these perceptions and decisions are made.


   Background Context Top


Kasigau Corridor REDD+ Project

The KCRP is located in Taita Taveta County, South Eastern Kenya, approximately 150 km from the coastal city of Mombasa. The project area is situated between Tsavo East and Tsavo West national parks [Figure 1].
Figure 1: Map of the study area. Source: drawn based on local land use maps

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The project is implemented by Wildlife Works (WW), a private 'for profit conservation organisation' registered in the USA, and one of the world's leading carbon project developers (WW 2014). Wildlife Works delegates key functions to two of its subsidiaries— Wildlife Works Sanctuary (WWS), that sells the carbon on the international market; and Wildlife Works Carbon Trust (WWCT), whose mandate is to ensure participation of local communities and their access to benefits.

The project is being implemented in three phases. Phase I started in 2008-2009 covering approximately 30,000 ha of the privately owned Rukinga ranch 1. Phase II started in 2010-2011 covering approximately 169, 731 ha, constituting 13 other ranches with various forms of ownership. Phase III, which was still underway at the time of this research, was expected to cover and additional 190,000 ha. The project involves local communities contributing to the generation of carbon credits by shifting from deforestation, through reducing land clearance for agriculture and charcoal burning, among other activities.

Local communities in return, access a proportion of the revenue generated by the project from the sale of carbon credits, as well as approximately 400 job opportunities in an export processing zone run by the project on the site (Chomba et al. 2016). The communities that receive the carbon funds are spread across six administrative locations, but one of the locations, subject to boundary disputes, was not fully integrated into the project at the time of the research, and so only five were included on the study. In order to access these benefits, local communities are represented in the project through a community officer appointed by the project, and in each administrative location, a Location Carbon Committee (LCC) and one Community Based Organisations (CBO).

Between years 2011 and 2012, the project generated and sold 2 approximately 1.2 million carbon credits, earning approximately USD $ 6.3 million. Of this revenue, local communities in each of the five administrative locations received US $ 135,000 (Chomba et al. 2016). This article looks at which institutions were recognised by the project as interlocutors for these funds, which ones were excluded and why. It also examines the local perceptions of responsiveness and accountability 3 among recognised institutions. But firstly, the next section highlights the local institutional landscape that the project found in order to choose which ones to partner with or not. Doing so is important because it gives the background context within which choices were made.

Local Institutional Landscape

At the onset of the project in 2008-2009, the local institutional landscape constituted of the old provincial administration, comprising top-down appointed officials, led by chiefs and Local Development Committees (LDCs) at the local level. At the same time, there was the elected local government, represented by councillors at the local level. Following devolution under the 2010 Constitution and subsequent general elections in 2013, councillors were replaced by Members of County Assembly (MCAs) at the local level. The project cuts across these “old” and “new” institutional structures, marked as before and after devolution in [Figure 2]. The project also worked with non-state actors, LCCs and CBOs, as representatives of local communities.
Figure 2: Shows the parallel state structures before and after devolution, as well as the non-state actors that worked with the project. In this figure, solid arrows represent the flow of accountability, boxes represent levels of authority while broken lines represent relations in institutional functions. Source: author

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Which institutions did the REDD+ project partner with?

In 2011, the REDD+ project chose to partner with chiefs and LDCs in two locations— Marungu and Kasigau. Soon after, the chiefs and LDCs were derecognised. The project then facilitated the formation of single-purpose Location Carbon Committees (LCCs), which together with CBOs, were recognised by as the institutional partners at the local level. Chiefs and councillors were then integrated as ex-officio members within LCCs, but without voting rights.

LCCs comprised seven elected 4 members (voted in by villages in each location); and the respective chief and councillor. LCCs served a minimum of two-year and a maximum of three-year terms depending on the suitable period for local communities to conduct elections. The role of LCCs was to prioritise and approve community projects, ensure equitable representation of citizens (through village elections), safeguard equity in the distribution of funds and related benefits across the locations, act as signatories to financial transactions together with CBOs and to provide accountability checks on CBOs. CBOs on the other hand, were either selected 5 from pre-existing ones, or new ones were registered. They assumed the technical roles of implementing and managing community projects funded by the REDD+ project.

The following subsections describe the origin and composition of these institutions which is integral to the understanding of their sources of authority and mechanisms of accountability. It is also crucial in interpreting decisions of intervening agents with regards to which ones were recognised, derecognised or excluded.

Chiefs and LDCs – Administrative Authorities

Chiefs are state appointees, appointed by the public service commission. They fall under the provincial administration. The provincial administration became defunct after devolution, but the chiefs were retained. Chiefs are charged with a broad mandate, generally defined in the Chief's Act as “maintaining order” (GoK 2012). This is further broken down into roles such as prevention of crime, mediation of conflicts, restricting people from carrying firearms, prohibiting making and selling of illegal brews and any 'breach of the peace'. The LDCs are development committees appointed and headed by chiefs to coordinate development activities at the local level.

The provincial administration was inherited from the colonial administration, who had created it to oversee British indirect rule administration (Gertzel 1966). It consisted of a top-down hierarchy of appointed officials whereby the Head of State (president) appointed the Provincial Commissioners (PCs) and District Commissioners (DCs) in charge of provinces and districts respectively; then the public service commission appointed lower cadre officers, including Division Officers (DOs) and chiefs. This hierarchy ensured delegation of authority from the president to the PCs, DCs, DOs and chiefs, and accountability from the chiefs upwards to the president.

Citizens had no formal mechanisms to hold the provincial administration accountable, except to file complaints to the appointing authorities, which were mostly ignored. Chiefs gained legitimacy by being representatives of the state during and after the colonial era. However, this state-backed power, without formal mechanisms for citizens to hold them accountable led some chiefs to abuse their power and become tyrannical (Wamagatha 2009).

Kenya's first attempt at decentralisation and curtailing the powers of the executive and the provincial administration was under majimboism (regional governments). This was quickly thwarted by the ruling party after independence in 1963, in favour of a single party and a unitary state (Anderson 2005). The second attempt was under the Special Rural Development Programme, which established 'District Focus for Rural Development (DFRD) in 1983, a form of administrative decentralisation aimed at coordination and planning of development activities at the district level (Chitere and Ireri 2004). To enable its functioning, DFRD established committees from the district, to the lowest level of administrative unit. District Development Committees (DDCs) were headed by DCs and LDCs by chiefs. However, these committees were not given the resources or power to carry out development activities; instead, they coordinated activities from several ministries including health, public works, education and agriculture, in what was termed as 'deconcentration' of line ministries (Smoke 1993; Ng'ethe 1998).

Due to its inherent top-down structure, the provincial administration including PCs, DCs and chiefs, and their respective committees, were used by the executive, particularly during the 30 years of mostly single-party rule, to suppress democracy. They were used to oppress opposition leaders and deflect criticism around corruption, inefficiency, and lack of public accountability in government (Barkan and Chege 1989; Chitere and Ireri 2004). After the re-introduction of multi-party democracy in 1992, the provincial administration was maintained by the state and used to usurp the roles and powers of elected authorities. Against this history, chiefs and LDCs were portrayed as the antithesis of democracy and downward accountability at the local level (ibid). The constitution of 2010 was shy to abolish the provincial administration entirely and subsequent constitutional reforms have involved restructuring 6 and harmonising it within the devolved system of government.

Councillors – Elected Representatives

Prior to devolution under the 2010 constitution, councillors constituted the democratically elected representatives who represented citizens within the local government. The local government was divided into five different jurisdictions: county, rural, town, municipal and city councils. For instance, in the rural areas such as Kasigau where the project was located, the main authorities that prevailed were the county and rural councils.

The five local authorities were supervised by the minister for local government, appointed by the president. The minister had wide-ranging powers, including appointing commissions to oversee any of the local authorities or order investigations aimed at re-organising them (Ng'ethe 1998). Hence, by exercising power through the minister, the president had power over democratically elected local governments. Furthermore, local authorities were largely dependent on fiscal allocation from the central government, which in many cases failed to allocate sufficient funds and thereby prevented them from executing their functions effectively (Smoke 1993). Local authorities also operated under the shadow of the state-controlled provincial administration (and particularly DC's), previously described. Overall, the president could (and did) assert control over local authorities through the provincial administration and/or the minister for local government, implying that the local authorities had neither the discretionary space nor the resources to flourish prior to devolution. After devolution 7, councillors have been replaced by MCAs and the local governments have transitioned to County governments. In most cases, MCAs share common administrative boundaries with chiefs.

CBOs – Civil Society

CBOs refer to 'grass roots' or 'self-help organisations', which originate from the harambee8movement – popularised by Kenya's first president, where local communities pooled resources such as money towards development of schools, hospitals or water projects. The president remained the most sort-after guest-of-honour who would preside over the harambee (fund raising), and was expected to donate generously (Ngau 1987). This provided an opportunity for the state to use CBOs as forums for spreading its populist agenda, particularly under the Moi regime (ibid). It also gave the president opportunity to appear to be responsive to citizens' needs through his contribution, assert his political authority, downplay his political opponents and issue arbitrary presidential decrees such as the creation of new districts (Ngau 1987). Belonging to a CBO is based on membership (individuals or corporations) although their development projects cover issues of public interest. Mechanisms of accountability are normally exercised by members only. Since they depend on funding from government, private donations or external donors, their downward accountability, even to their own members can be distorted (Ebrahim 2003).


   Findings Top


In this section, primary data on the logic provided by various actors for recognition, exclusion and derecognition of various institutions are first presented. Then, the mechanisms of accountability and responsiveness exercised by LCCs and CBOs as emerging strategies for strengthening local democracy are outlined.

Reasons for derecognition of state institutions in favour of CBOs and LCCs

Interviews and FGDs revealed a complex set of reasons for derecognition of chiefs and LDCs, the exclusion of elected councillors, and their subsequent inclusion as ex-officio members within LCCs. Project officials indicated that LDCs were derecognised because they were not effective, that they had too much to deal with in handling other development projects that came through government ministries such as health, roads, education, agriculture and forestry, as well as initiatives emanating from other NGOs working in the area. For instance, a project official in charge of a community division explained:

“…we had to disengage with LDCs and work with CBOs and LCCs because LDCs deal with all manner of projects and partners in the location. They deal with projects [from different] line ministries such as health, infrastructure, education, etc. … we realized this was too much for them… and so far, they have demonstrated neither capacity nor efficiency in handling them.” (PO39, project official, July 18, 2013)

This explanation revealed how the project believed that LDCs and chiefs, having to integrate duties from five or more line ministries (as a result of the historical attempt at decentralisation under the DFRD), was a burden and an impediment to efficiency.

On the other hand, local community respondents regarded LDCs as nepotistic and corrupt, as one of the villagers, a former civil servant stated:

LDCs were working well after their formation in the late 1980s and early 1990s. As time went by, some LDC members turned the institution into a cash cow, demanding bribes and failing to attend meetings to approve projects if the bribe was not paid. If any member of the LDC was seen to be working with the NGOs without requesting for a bribe, or was vocal about real issues that affected the community, the core leaders [chiefs] would drop them from the committee and not call them to attend subsequent meetings. LDCs were later referred simply as 'leaders meeting' so that if any excluded committee member was not invited and made an inquiry why, he would be told it was just a 'leaders meeting.” (MT4, village elder, July 23, 2013)

Other interview respondents corroborated the evidence above and noted how chiefs, and sometimes assistant chiefs, appointed their relatives and friends as 'core leaders' in LDCs, in order to benefit from per diems and other allowances from development projects in the community. These core leaders reserved the right to appoint other village representatives to form the 'ordinary committee members', who would often be excluded from meetings and benefits if they did not act according to the interests of the core leaders.

A majority of the interviewed respondents supported the decision by the project to minimise the powers of chiefs by engaging them as ex-officio members within LCCs. They also observed the risks of retaining chiefs, especially powerful ones, in cases where the LCC was weak, as summarised by this quote from one of the elected leaders:

”...the great thing about retaining chiefs as opinions leaders but without voting rights in LCCs is that their opinion can actually be disregarded. The risk of retaining them however is that if the other members of the LCCs are too weak to restrain chiefs, they would end up being dominated by the chiefs...” (SA1, elected leader, October 5, 2013.)

Elected councillors on the other hand were never mainstreamed into the leadership of the project, but some respondents (and only one out of the four councillors) indicated that they were consulted at the onset of the project.

Some project officials and chiefs attributed the exclusion of elected councillors to the desire by the project to separate itself from political party politics and interference. They believed that councillors would politicise the project. For instance, they pointed that councillors would use the project as a campaign instrument, drawing political mileage during elections or sowing divisions among participating communities along political party and/or ethnic lines. One of the chiefs pointed out:

“…if a councillor facilitates the implementation of a project, such as the construction of a school using the project funds, would they reveal to the community whether it is from carbon funds or from his political party? If his goal is deriving political mileage for his party, he will claim the money comes from his political party….” (MW1, local chief, July 21, 2013.)

Putting politicians at the centre of the project, project officials argued, would also undermine the goal of inclusive participation, which the project sought to establish with the communities. They noted how diverse ethnic groups often voted along ethnic lines, and that an elected leader was largely viewed by the community to be in favour of their own ethnic group, or the people that elected them. These divisions could in turn, reinforce views of exclusion among groups within the project area, for instance, migrants who did not have strong political representation. Community respondents also cast doubts on the ability of politicians (councillors), who were often seen as divisive along party and ethnic lines, to unite all community groups to support the project. Further, FGDs revealed that unlike chiefs who had structures such as offices and committees (LDCs), councillors did not. This prevented them from running projects effectively. Due to their short political terms, usually five or ten years in the case of re-election, councillors rarely established functional development committees; and when they did, the committees lacked continuity as newly elected councillors tended to form separate ones comprised of their own associates.

The FGDs also revealed that lack of mechanisms to hold councillors accountable, once they were elected and became powerful, led to corruption, which was a key impediment to development in the impoverished project area:

“…we attended a recent leaders' meeting in Wundanyi, and found that on [an] average, a classroom constructed by parents and NGOs costs Ksh 850,000 [approx. US $ 10,000]10. The same classroom constructed by elected local authorities or MPs using the constituency development funds, with material sourced from comparable distances with that of parents and NGO funded ones, cost an average of Ksh. 2.7 Million (approximately US $ 31, 765) … these people [councillors and MPs] are in collusion with the contractors to squander public money…” (MA5, CBO chairman; FGD9, July 18, 2013).

Councillors on the other hand recounted how they lacked sufficient funds to carry out development projects in their jurisdictions, which made local citizens perceive them as inept. For instance, all four interviewed councillors mentioned lack of funds as the main barrier to carrying out development initiatives requested by their constituents, as pointed out by one of them in the quote below:

In my first year as a councillor, I received a budgetary allocation of Ksh 35,000 [approx. US $450] annually to carry out development projects in the entire location. What development projects can you implement with that kind of money for a whole year? The figures increased gradually upon our [councillors] complaints. The following year it was doubled to 65,000 [approx. US $ 765], and so on, during our last year, we received Ksh 2.5 Million (approx. US $ 29,411). Eventually, I put it into the construction of the community social hall….” (MA3, previous elected leader, July 19, 2013.)

The project therefore prioritised chiefs over elected councillors at the onset of the project, but later curtailed their powers as ex-officio members, without voting rights in LCCs. Including chiefs at the outset appears to have been aimed at eliciting their cooperation, as well as that of the general public, in the project.11 As one of the project officials stated:

I doubt whether the project would be successful if we totally excluded chiefs. Who would call people for barazas [public meetings]? Would the people recognize any alternative [forms of] authority?... I doubt it would work.” PO4, project official, October 5, 2013.

Retaining them as ex-officio members of LCCs on the other hand, appears to be in recognition of their formal authority and legitimacy vested upon them by the state.

Overall, different actors provided divergent perspectives as to why chiefs and LDCs were de-recognised, and councillors excluded at the onset of the project. Project officials publicly justified de-recognition of chiefs and LDCs and exclusion of councillors on the basis of overburdening and avoiding political interference respectively; while other respondents perceived and regarded them as corrupt and/or inept. Councillors on the other hand associated their lack of responsiveness to local needs to insufficient budgetary allocations, which compromised their ability to deliver on development projects, and the public to perceive them as inept.

Mechanisms of accountability and responsiveness exercised by LCCs and CBOs

By the time this study was carried out, the project had allocated US $ 50,000 and US $ 85,000 in years 2011 and 2012 to the each of the five locations, giving a total of US $ 135,000. These funds were mostly spent as follows: education bursaries took close to 50% of the allocated funds in all the four locations; construction of classrooms and equipping the classrooms with furniture took a majority of the remaining proportion in two locations; one location that had severe water shortages used about 38% of their revenue in constructing rain-water catchments [Table 1]12.
Table 1: Community level carbon revenue expenditure in (US $) across four locations. Source: Financial records with CBOs and LCCs

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Local communities proposed the projects to be funded during barazas. Barazas therefore provided the public forum to deliberate and voice out communal needs on which carbon funds could be spent. These proposals were then submitted to CBOs and LCCs. LCCs debated, prioritised and approved some of the projects, and in conjunction with CBOs, implemented them. CBOs kept financial records of expenditures in computers systems that could be audited by both the project officials and the state registrar of societies. Some CBOs displayed their budgets and statements of expenditures outside their offices.

Local communities also used barazas to hold LCCs and CBOs accountable after they read out the budgets and statements of expenditures. Baraza s, as well as other methods of accountability summarised in [Table 2], offered communities mechanisms for sanctioning LLC and CBO leaders, who in turn feared being subjected to public embarrassment or even violence if the figures budgeted in the beginning of community projects did not correspond with the statement of expenditures.
Table 2: Accountability mechanisms exercised on LCCs and CBOs by the community and project officials

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Communities could also hold LCC leaders accountable through elections, but being barely two years since the first LCCs had been formed, most locations had only started preparing for these elections. For instance, at least three villages had replaced all their LCC representatives during the elections at the time of this research for various reasons including: failure to attend meetings, failure to provide villagers with financial records when requested, and what some respondent termed as 'display of arrogance as a result of being in power'.

Furthermore, interviews with ordinary community members revealed that the registrar of societies hardly ever visited their villages to see community projects, nor the CBOs offices to audit project records; and therefore, rarely applied their sanctioning powers. All CBOs indicated that auditors from the REDD+ project audited their accounts regularly (at least twice a year), but they were rarely audited by the registrar of societies. Sanctions applied by the REDD+ project auditors varied depending on the magnitude of malpractice(s) identified. For instance, a REDD+ project official noted that they could withhold funds in cases of corruption to compel the communities to elect new LCC leaders, or change the CBO they partnered with. In one of the reported cases of corruption however, only a verbal warning was issued. In extreme cases of corruption, CBOs could be deregistered by the registrar of societies, but the monitoring and auditing by the registrar remained weak. Overall, CBOs and LCCs were perceived by both the project and the local communities as more accountable and responsive to local needs than state-sanctioned institutions (chiefs, LDCs and councillors).


   Discussion Top


The empirical evidence presented in this article illustrates institutional choices that have been classified as recognition, derecognition and exclusion. It elaborates how institutional recognition and exclusion was informed by structural as well as practical justifications, including lack of downward accountability, corruption and overburdened state institutions. It also reveals how previous allocation of insufficient funds to local elected governments had led to the development of a perception that they were inept and incapable of carrying out their democratic mandate resulting in them being ignored by the project. Instead, the project set up single purpose (carbon) committees and recognised community-based organisations, and transferred resources and power through them. The project used innovative methods to promote accountability of recognised institutions which offer critical lessons for REDD+.

The article also presents a historical evolution of institutions that sets the stage for different institutional choices by the project. In the following section, I discuss how the historical factors relate with and inform the present justifications, while introducing a new dichotomy between what I see as the structural versus practical justifications for these choices. But a cautionary note is in order here, because, as one reviewer observed, what is construed as a structural factor at one level could be a symptom of an underlying factor from a higher level. In maintaining this dichotomy, therefore, the analysis is limited to local and national levels.

Structural factors are embedded in the very nature of the institutions; the reasons behind their formation and the mechanisms of accountability embedded within them. They influence local deficits of democracy and accountability, particularly within the state-sanctioned institutions. For instance, the lack of accountability within the provincial administration and by extension the chiefs, stems from the top-down nature of appointments and the flow of authority (Smoke 1993). With the top-down appointment, the appointees were upwardly accountable (eventually to the head of state) rather than downwardly accountable to citizens. The provincial administration, adopted from the colonial system whose objective was to entrench British indirect rule, unsurprisingly represents the antithesis of local democracy. Its persistence within the past and present systems of governance, despite various attempts at devolution, appears to be motivated by the desire to strengthen the executive, weaken elected arms of government and to subvert democratic gains (Barkan and Chege 1989; Chitere and Ireri 2004). It is important to note that the provincial administration —and chiefs in particular—in Kenya, or elsewhere in Africa, are not downwardly accountable even where they symbolise traditional authority (Berry 2001). Mamdani (1996) distinguishes between customary chiefs and state-appointed administrative chiefs such as those in Kenya, and observes that customary chiefs were eventually integrated into state administration. Therefore, chiefs represent colonial antecedents of statecraft, that integrates the 'customary' into what Mamdani (1996: 37) refers to as 'decentralised despotism'. This produced hybrid chiefs whose responsiveness to local needs, if and when it occurred, was largely based on a benign dictatorship, or a Weberian administrative model, not on direct mechanisms of downward accountability.

In Kenya, decentralisation aimed at institutionalising democracy appears to have been subverted in several ways. Under the DFRD, it resulted in various line ministries being represented by various committees at the local level, without any matching resources (Barkan and Chege 1989; Ng'ethe 1998; Crook 2003). The constitution of these committees through appointments also perpetuated the course of the state to consolidate its local bases of power and created space for nepotism and corruption (Barkan and Chege, 1989). Furthermore, there were no formal mechanisms to hold appointed authorities such as chiefs and members of various committees, including LDCs, accountable by citizens. This turned chieftaincies and LDCs into overburdened, inefficient and sometimes completely inept institutions which were in turn deemed unsuitable to work with directly, by the REDD+ project.

On the other hand, structural factors that made democratically elected councilors turn out to be inept, corrupt, ineffective and unaccountable may be attributed to lack of sufficient fiscal allocation by the state and lack of alternative accountability mechanisms beyond elections. Historically, lack of autonomy—or oversight of former councils by a powerful minister, appointed by the president also undermined their discretionary space for decision making (Barkan and Chege 1989; Ng'ethe 1998), rendering them inept. Unlike chiefs, however, councillors were elected via universal suffrage, and represented the will of the local people. They were elected every five years, and therefore elections provided one of the major accountability mechanisms. But, as this case demonstrates, elections alone without substantive resources and additional accountability mechanisms, were insufficient to hold leaders accountable and reduce corruption. Resources and power may improve accountability over time by inducing greater engagements by citizens.

However, corruption in local government is not unique to Kenya, and has been revealed in local governments elsewhere (Fisman and Gatti 2002; Bardhan and Mookherjee 2006). Some authors suggest that corruption tends to decrease with devolution, or when it persists, it is still a lesser problem because these funds are invested locally, as opposed to central government actors who may transfer resources oversees (Bardhan 1997). A decrease in corruption is shown to occur when devolution is safeguarded through national legal systems and when multiple accountability mechanisms are applied (Fisman and Gatti 2002). To reduce incidences of corruption among LCCs and CBOs, the REDD+ project applied several accountability mechanisms, including public reading and display of budgets and regular auditing of records held by the CBOs. Yet, extreme monitoring of these institutions and application of sanctions, without providing them with discretionary authority, can represent excessive control; hence there is a need to strike an appropriate balance. Elected councillors were also ignored by the REDD+ project on the basis of avoiding political interference despite the fact that democracy is supposed to be political. These choices can be interpreted— materially and discursively, as anti-politics, a way of rendering political factors irrelevant so that they don't ultimately lead to the failure of otherwise technically feasible projects (Ferguson 1994; Chhotray 2007).

Against the background of what they saw as incapable state-sanctioned institutions, the REDD+ project officials opted to craft new institutions that only focused on carbon and also selected some CBOs to partner with at the local level. The chosen institutions worked parallel with state-sanctioned institutions in delivering the objectives of the REDD+ project, i.e. reducing deforestation and promoting forest conservation; as well as representing communities through access and use of carbon revenues for local development projects. With their singular focus on carbon funds and projects, they were more efficient than the multifunctional state-sanctioned institutions. The choice to empower such parallel institutions can also be attributed to the level of control that the REDD+ project could easily exert on them by setting rules of engagement and sanctioning them. For example, the REDD+ project could withhold funds or require them to elect new leaders when project rules were not followed. This level of control would be difficult to exercise on state-sanctioned institutions without wide-ranging ramifications.

These parallel institutions that were recognised, apart from falling short of carrying broad-based representation, were perceived to be largely responsive and accountable, and not surprisingly, also perceived favourably and supported by local communities. Their accountability and responsiveness can be attributed to the supply of resources by the project that enabled them to address local needs; as well as the existence of multiple accountability mechanisms employed by the local communities, the REDD+ project and once in a while, by the state registrar. Other studies have pointed out the importance of allocating financial resources to local institutions as the basis for holding them accountable (Agrawal and Ribot 1999). Financial resources provide the basis upon which local people would be willing to forego their chores, attend meetings, and deliberate on how to influence their leaders. It is on this basis that democratic proponents argue, that failing to partner with elected authorities (and transfer resources through them) leaves them languishing at the side-lines, while competing for authority with parallel institutions (Manor 2004; Ribot 2004). Manor (2004) further posits that single-purpose committees formed primarily to serve the objectives of projects do not provide long-term institutional mechanisms beyond the lifecycle of the project that forms them.

The Kenyan constitution recently included provisions to transform elected local governments into powerful institutions, referred to as 'counties'13, each with a devolved county assembly. The assembly holds significant legislative and fiscal powers. The constitution also provides citizens with a sanction mechanism, including legal recourse, for removing elected county representatives from office in case of gross misconduct. Although they are far from being perfect, county governments are transitioning into credible institutions for representation of citizens. Excluding them from REDD+ and transferring resources through other parallel institutions, such as appointed authorities or carbon committees, undermines their ability to fulfil their democratic mandate. One might argue that the forests in this case study, because they are under various forms of ownership (Chomba et al. 2016), do not fall primarily under the mandate of county governments. However, REDD+ readiness initiatives such as the one under study aimed to provide implementation lessons as REDD+ transitions into a nationally led process.


   Conclusions Top


This study found that institutional choices under REDD+ in Kenya are unlikely to generate democratic outcomes. The choices are explained by complex sets of structural and practical factors. Striving to analyse and interpret these sets of factors can be a daunting task, but is a critical step in understanding why REDD+ choices may be made against expected democratic principles. These insights also provide a basis for challenging such choices.

Prior to devolution, the elected local government in Kenya, however corrupt and inefficient they may have seemed, had never been given the opportunity to flourish. In this case, the REDD+ project chose to work outside the realm of state-sanctioned actors, including local governments. The adoption of parallel governance structures for REDD+ risks perpetuating a view, that existing local governance structures are incapable of dealing with local needs.

The project implementer was in this case a private-sector actor. Such choices would raise greater concerns if it was made by a multilateral public-sector agency, such as the UN-REDD or the World Bank. By partnering with carbon committees and CBOs and directing resources through them, the REDD+ project denied state-sanctioned institutions and particularly elected local governments, the opportunity to fulfil their mandate of representing local citizens. These choices appear to contradict the REDD+ safeguard principle of ensuring full and effective participation of all relevant stakeholders, instead, circumventing some actors in the interest of efficiency.

Addressing the democratic deficit created by such project choices requires both short-term and long-term strategies. In the short term, REDD+ initiatives working with parallel institutions ought to gradually consolidate them under the authority of elected governments. That way, decision making can be integrated into and can support elected local governments – even if done with project-imposed checks and balances in the form of public meetings, audits and other public accountability mechanisms. As a result, communities involved would learn critical lessons on how to address their needs through elected leaders, and to hold them accountable. To institute long-term democratic governance however, REDD+ needs to bestow both resources and discretionary powers to democratically elected governments. As countries transition from REDD+ readiness to implementation phases, the national led process is more likely to work with state institutions. This presents a significant opportunity for REDD+ to channel resources and authority through democratically elected governments, helping to transform them into meaningful vehicles for local democracy. Empowering parallel institutions would be a missed opportunity.[52]


   Acknowledgements Top


I would like to greatly thank the two anonymous reviewers who gave me constructive comments that made me rethink, revise and clarify many issues in this manuscript. The entire RFGI team, and particularly James Murombedzi, Jesse Ribot and Melis Ece are deeply thanked for their comments on earlier versions of this manuscript. Similarly, I am grateful to Iben Nathan, Fergus Sinclair and Mwangi Githiru for comments to earlier versions of the manuscript. Funding for this research was provided by the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) through the Responsive Forest Governance Initiative (RFGI), jointly implemented by the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA), the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign (UIUC) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). I would also like to thank the University of Copenhagen for providing the financial support through the ordinary LIFE PhD scholarship. The map was produced with the help of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nairobi. The phrase “choices have consequences” was popularised in Kenya following its use by Johnnie Carson, the then U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs in 2013.


   Notes Top


  1. A ranch is a land use type that relies predominantly on livestock grazing and management. In KCRP, ranches were established under a government sponsored programme in the 1960s and 1970s but commercial livestock keeping has largely been abandoned since then.
  2. Due to fluctuations in demand and carbon prices, only a fraction of the total credits generated in those two years were sold. However, as of November 2016, the International Finance Corporation issued a bond worth US $ 152 Million, that would purchase carbon credits from the project.
  3. The accountability of WW and its subsidiaries as the main project intervener is also relevant for future research as pointed out by one of the reviewers, but for this research, I will focus on recipient institutions.
  4. The elections took the form of voters bowing heads, raising hands while chiefs counted the hands raised for each candidate or item being voted for at the baraza. Respondents interviewed in the election barazas expressed concern that the method may not be as desirable as the secret ballot because voters had to trust that the chief was unbiased in his counting of voters' hands; that other voters were not tilting their heads to see who was voting for who in order not to influence each other; and only candidates able to attend the baraza at a specific time of the day could vote. But respondents also recognized that communities did not have the financial and technical resources required to conduct voting by secret ballot every time they needed to elect leaders, hence the method was deemed an acceptable compromise.
  5. The selection criteria for CBOs was set out under the project's standard operating procedures of the project, and was geared towards ensuring various forms of accountability. For instance, each CBO had to be registered with the registrar of societies for internal and external auditing; it had to demonstrate adequate technical capacity such as bank accounts, computers and staff members capable of accounting and monitoring projects; conduct regular elections as per the rules set by the registrar of societies; enable public access to minutes from the CBOs meetings and public access to the list of its office bearers. CBOs were however at liberty to operate under their respective constitutions and other bylaws governing them, as well as source for funding from other donors.
  6. Consequently, provincial commissioners have been recalled by the state and deployed elsewhere; district commissioners and officers have been renamed county commissioners but largely retain their functions; and chiefs remain largely intact at the local level.
  7. Under the new constitution of 2010, all councils now fall under the county government, headed by a democratically elected governor. County governments are different from the former county councils in that they are more autonomous have more discretionary powers by not being under the authority of an appointed minister. The Constitution devolved 14 functions from the central government to the 47 Counties. The constitution also called for restructuring of the provincial administration within five years to fit into the new devolved governance system; where former councillors would become MCAs under the Counties (GoK 2010). Counties are also entitled to a share of the national revenue as enshrined in the constitution and determined by the national commission for revenue allocation
  8. In Kiswahili, the word harambee is translated to “let's pull together”, but it traces its origin to a religious chant used by Indian railway workers brought in Kenya by the colonial government calling their gods “har” and “mbe” to come to their help as they did the hard labour of constructing the railway.
  9. Names of respondents have been anonymised.
  10. Currency conversions were based on World Bank LCU exchange rates for 2013.
  11. Indeed a senior project official questioned how successful the project would be without engaging the chiefs. Based on the fact the entry to the village for research, immigrants or other external agents, at least before one becomes a familiar figure in the villages was through the chief, the chief does hold an important role, anchored on legal frameworks (Chief's Act), enjoys local legitimacy and in cases where he is respected, he becomes an opinion leader.
  12. Only four locations shared their financial record while the fifth did not citing lack of consolidation of accounts.
  13. The country is divided into 47 Counties (sub regional governments), each headed by an elected governor; and further divided into wards that elect a member of county assembly. The county assembly represents the local and most significant unit of devolution in the country.




 
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