Nairobi, Kenya – Local governments from six of the East African Community (EAC) countries – Burundi, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo – have collectively urged the East African Community to actively engage local governments.

These stakeholders include Permanent Secretaries from Ministries of Local Government and East African Community (EAC) Affairs, representatives from umbrella bodies of counties and local government associations, donors and civil society partners convened on 22-24 April 2024 at the East Africa Local Governments Forum (EALGF) retreat in Kenya, to strengthen national and local cooperation, advance on devolution and bolster integration efforts within East Africa.

EALGF Retreat Group Photo (Reproduction/EALGF)

Panelists discussing how to leverage partnerships to promote devolution and the EAC integration (reproduction/EALGF)

Panelists for Kenya and Uganda sharing on the role of local governments associations in the EAC integration process (reproduction/EALGF)

Launched in 2013, the EALGF brings together ministries of local government and national associations to advocate for strong local governance across the East African region. It aims to establish governance frameworks that include constitutional and statutory devolution of powers to local and regional government, and also provide a vibrant regional forum that effectively represents its members and contributes to improved service delivery.

In her keynote speech, Hon. Peninah Malonza, the Cabinet Secretary for the Ministry of EAC, Arid and Semi-Arid Lands, and Regional Development in Kenya, observed the close nexus between devolution and integration, highlighting their common goal of empowering people at the grassroots: “This optimal relationship should, thus, deepen devolution by ensuring the representation of subnational governments in EAC policies and decision-making”. The Cabinet Secretary also committed to advocate for the inclusion of the Arabic language within the EAC.

The host, Hon. Teresia Mbaika, the Principal Secretary of the State Department for Devolution in Kenya, described the gathering as “an opportune moment to reflect on the prospects for devolution in Kenya and a platform to share challenges and lessons with counterparts in the region”. She confirmed the commitment of the Kenyan Government to supporting the economic transformative agenda of counties by leveraging digital technologies to ensure effective service delivery to citizens. Ms. Mbaika also highlighted the improved relationship between counties and the national government, adding that discussions were underway to devolve the remaining functions to county governments.

Ms. Jeannette Nyiramasengesho, Chairperson at EALGA – East African Local Governments Association, commended the Kenyan leaders for their hospitality, and the partners, British High Commission in Kenya and UNDP Africa, for supporting the meeting. She also acknowledged the contribution of other partners, including CLGF-Commonwealth Local Government Forum, Strong Cities Network, UNCDF, and UN-HABITAT.

EALGA Secretary General, Ms. Gertrude Rose Gamwera, explained that the EALGF retreat was designed to integrate local governments into EAC structures, and have them working as partners with national governments for people-centered development. She added that this objective could be effectively realized by fully implementing the Memorandum of Understanding signed between EALGA and the East African Community in February 2022 in Arusha. The memorandum aims to leverage the joint efforts of EALGA and the EAC to facilitate the inclusion of local governments and promote their key role in fast-tracking the EAC integration agenda, thus bringing its benefits and message closer to the citizens.

The EALGF Nairobi retreat ended successfully as EALGF members and various development partners engaged in discussions about key issues that are crucial to realize the Sustainable Development Goals, such as local government financing, disaster risk reduction, sustainable housing, effective devolution and good governance, prevention of hate, extremism and polarization.