Listening to citizens puts public participation at the center of service delivery

October 25, 2019

Taita Taveta County has an enormous mining potential, especially in gemstones. However, most of the mining activities are in small scale and not as profitable, in remote areas where infrastructure is either lacking, or in a deplorable state. Photo: Allan Gichigi/UNDP Kenya

Of Kenya’s counties, Taita Taveta is among the most picturesque — and biodiverse. The bustling markets of Taveta on the Kenya-Tanzanian border stand in contrast to the flat sisal plains of Voi and lush, green forests of hilly Wundanyi, whilst Tsavo West and Tsavo East national parks are home to the world famous red Elephants — the only ones in the world. Some 150km from the coast, the County is also well connected to the Nairobi-Mombasa corridor by both rail and road; unsurprisingly, its population is one of Kenya’s fastest growing.[1] However, despite all this, Taita Taveta is recognised as a marginalised County: with some of the highest poverty and food insecurity rates, community land conflicts are a key issue, as is human-wildlife conflict.

The Tsavo West and East national parks are home to the world-famous red elephants — the only ones in the world. Though found within a protected game reserve, it is a common for the Elephants to venture out to nearby farms, exacerbating the human-wildlife conflict in the County. Photo: Allan Gichigi/UNDP Kenya

"Much of [Taita Taveta] land has been taken by the National Parks or private ranches and farms. This creates a vicious cycle of poverty because we only get revenue from the little land we have." – Isaac Makange, Chief Officer Service Delivery, Industrialisation, Energy and Research

The fact that a large portion of its landmass is outside of County control, combined with an estimated growth in population of c.20% since 2009, has put a strain on the County’s resources.[2] Much of Taita Taveta is semi-arid, and good farming land comes at a premium. Limited public funds and a marginalised population means the County Government has to think innovatively to prevent conflicts over scarce land and deliver high quality public services.

Mr. Victor Mzame’s case is typical. Having struck a deal to buy a plot of land, Mr. Mzame says he saw this deal reneged on by the seller who allegedly resold the same plot to another party soon after, having received a higher price. As filing a civil claim could be a difficult, costly and protracted process — especially given that the seller disputes Mr. Mzame’s version of events — he decided to file an official complaint at Mwatate Sub-County Complaints, Compliments & Information Centre. On the day we visit the centre, he has come to discuss the situation with the seller through a participatory mediation process mediated by Jackson Maka, the Sub-County Administrator. Mr. Mzame says he is in good spirits and is confident a settlement will be reached.

Jackson Maka, Sub-County Administrator (right) with Mr. Victor Mzame (left) at the Mwatate Sub-County Complaints, Compliments & Information Centre. Photo: Nicholas Wilson/UNDP Kenya

“We’re very busy by the way… when you’re elected you are elected to serve the public, but how can you do that if you don’t know how laws and projects are affecting people? This office is where we listen.” — Jackson Maka, Mwatate Sub-County Adminstrator

With support from UNDP, 16 county government officers in Taita Taveta were trained on information management and Complaints, Compliments & Information Centres were set-up at the Sub-County level in order to bring government closer to people to serve them better. Complaints are filed and dealt with locally by a dedicated Complaints Officer, who refers the issues to the relevant department or person. The process is overseen by a Chief Officer at the County level and Complaints, Compliments & Information Centres form one part of a wider County Citizen Service Charter.

Mwanakombo Nzale Ali, Complaints Officer in Voi Sub-County. Photo: Nicholas Wilson/UNDP Kenya

Mwanakombo Nzale Ali, Complaints Officer in Voi Sub-County, tells us that since the system was set-up in November 2015, Voi Sub-County has received 556 complaints — all of which are noted in the Complaints and Compliments Book and also stored electronically. Like Mwatate, most complaints in Voi relate to land issues, though Ms. Ali says people also seek help regarding domestic disputes, university funding, job security, corruption and local services.

Pascal Keke, 39, is one of those complainants. The small-scale trader and father of two was tired of being harassed and even bitten by stray dogs in his neighbourhood in Kaloleni Ward. At a baraza, a town hall meeting where the Sub-County administration engages the local community, he heard about the Complaints, Compliments & Information Centre and decided to visit in order to do something about his problem. After two weeks he began to notice the number of stray dogs was falling — and a week later they were barely noticeable.

"The dogs had all disappeared… Indeed the office is functional and great help to us: before, we had nowhere to turn to and we could be tossed form one office to another.” — Pascal Keke, Voi Sub-County Complainant

The potential for the Complaints and Compliments function to improve people’s lives is great, and Mr. Maka tells us representatives from Mombasa and Laikipia Counties have already visited to learn from Taita Taveta’s progress. Good governance is built on best serving the public interest: to gauge that, the first step is listening to the people.


[1] Kenya National Statistics Bureau: Taita Taveta County Statistical Abstract 2017

[2] County Government of Taita Taveta: County Annual Development Plan 2019–2020


About UNDP in Kenya:

Under the Country Programme Document (CPD) 2018–22, UNDP leverages innovative approaches working under three pillars of: Governance, Peace and SecurityInclusive Growth and Structural Transformation; and Environmental Sustainability, Climate Change and Resilience.

UNDP has supported public participation in Taita Taveta County through the Integrated Support Programme to the Devolution Process (ISPDP) in Kenya, which aims to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of the devolution process and to give grassroots stakeholders a voice in the delivery of services by the devolved governments. ISPDP is a joint project run by UNDP Kenya (with other partners including UN Women) and implemented by the Ministry for Devolution and Planning. The project is principally funded by the governments of the United Kingdom through DFID, the United States through USAID, Sweden through SIDA and the Royal Government of the Kingdom of Norway through the Norwegian Embassy in Kenya.

Disclaimer: This story is based on first person reports and interviews conducted during a visit to Taita Taveta County in July 2019. The opinions expressed in this story are solely those of the interviewed individuals and do not necessarily represent the views of affiliated donors or organisations.

Edited by: Ngele Ali.