KMT Water Research

The Global Water Benchmarking Study For Kenya: Governance

About This Study

Kenya Markets Trust (KMT) and Gatsby Africa (GA) undertook this study to capture examples of good practice from countries that have successfully transformed aspects of their water sector.

The purpose of the study is to provide a rich source of information for Kenyan water stakeholders to draw upon while developing strategies for strengthening Kenya’s water sector. The study will also inform KMT’s work and how we might bring new ideas and practical recommendations to our partnerships.

This study was undertaken between October 2020 and June 2021. Led by KMT and Gatsby, the study was supported by Aguaconsult, a leading international water consultancy with experience in Africa, South America and Asia. The project team included experts in urban and rural water service delivery and water resources management and called on additional experts with knowledge of the case study countries and specific themes such as sector financing.

KMT provided valuable input to the methodology and country selection led the engagement with sector stakeholders and donors and provided feedback and input into the country analysis and study reports.

Conceptual diagram showing the analytical framework used in the Water Benchmarking Study

Analytical framework used in the study

The framework used in this study considered the two main components, water service delivery and water resources management (WRM), as well as overarching governance that coordinates the two components and creates the enabling environment for the water sector as a whole. Important functions of the system, namely finance and data/ innovation, were also considered in the framework.


KMT would like to acknowledge the Kenyan water stakeholders for their involvement in the study, in particular for providing feedback on the specific issues to focus on and the country selection. This includes Kenya’s Ministry of Water, Sanitation and Irrigation, Water Services Regulatory Board (WASREB), Water Resources Authority (WRA), Water Service Providers Association (WASPA), Water Sector Trust Fund (WSTF) and Council of Governors (COG).

We thank Aguaconsult Ltd, the consultancy that undertook this study for KMT and the authors of this thematic report: Harold Lockwood and Dirk Schaefer.

Lastly, we wish to acknowledge Gatsby Africa, our partner and funder, who provided input into the study methodology and who continue to support our work in the water sector.

The study consists of 5 reports

3 thematic reports

Water Service Delivery
Water Resources Management

2 country case studies

Republic of Korea


As part of Kenya Market Trust’s (KMT) ongoing mission to catalyse the transformation of the Kenyan water sector, it commissioned an international study of countries that have successfully transformed parts or aspects of their water sectors.

Examples of good-practice and lessons from what has worked elsewhere will, it is hoped, provide useful insights as to how Kenya can continue to strengthen its water sector.

The benchmarking study looked at two in-depth country examples (Colombia and South Korea) and the two main sub-sectors of water resources management (WRM) and water service delivery, globally. Each of these two thematic studies consider governance and institutional coordination arrangements, both in terms of national intra-sectoral and intra-ministerial relations and the vertical integration between central and decentralised levels of government, particularly relevant considering the strong devolution process in Kenya.

Because of the critical linkages between WRM and the drinking water sector, particularly in governance at national level, this short paper examines the experiences and lessons from other countries in the way in which these two related sectors have been managed and coordinated.

Insights from Global Examples - Common Themes and Lessons

The benchmarking study looked at various examples of governance and coordination from a range of both more mature water sectors in higher income countries (including Israel, the Netherlands, Republic of Korea and Switzerland), as well as countries from middle income and lower-middle income groups such as Colombia and Vietnam. These cases illustrate important insights relating to the historical development of governance and coordination arrangements, including the factors that have driven their evolution and at what stage countries have responded to such challenges.

In terms of some of the solutions that have been arrived at, or are in their current state of evolution, it is possible to distinguish several outcomes from across these countries, which can be broadly grouped under the following:

The Journey of Changing Water Services Delivery in Kenya | Market Systems Development

Countries which have arrived at a formalised structure for coordination and governance, which are grounded in legislation (acts of parliament) or legally binding agreements and which include formal sanctions (and conversely incentives) for participation of a wide range of stakeholders involved in many aspects of water; these include Israel, the Netherlands and Korea;

Examples from countries, including Colombia and Vietnam, in which relatively robust and well- adhered to coordination and governance mechanisms have been developed around the need for investment programming and have become de facto mechanisms for decision-making at different levels, in spite of the absence of legally binding frameworks; and

One-off cases, such as Switzerland, which has no formalised mechanisms beyond the broader three-tier institutional structure of government (i.e. Federal, Canton and sub-Canton) and which, given its highly devolved nature, relies on encouragement from national government for coordination, rather than on mandatory or binding mechanisms1.

Considerations for Kenya

It is notable that at the onset of the reforms in 2002, Kenya took progressive decisions which provide a sound basis for governance and coordination, particularly considering the relative development of the sector at the time. These include decisions which some countries only arrived at years or decades later and partly still struggle to implement. One of the most critical decisions is to have one ministry at national level which consolidates the mandate for both WRM and water services, as has been the case only more recently in Korea. Secondly, Kenya went down the pathway of professionalization of utilities and not allowing urban water services to be provided by municipal departments (this is also what happened in a de facto manner in Colombia over a period of time, through a regionalisation,

or consolidation process). This is one major way to ensure effective regulation of service providers and to move towards professional and efficient service delivery. By contrast, a number of country examples illustrate that once power is devolved to municipal authorities the water sector will find
it very difficult to effectively regulate and that these municipalities are likely to reject merging of service providers into larger, more professionalised operational units (i.e. as the experience from South Africa, Israel and Korea shows).

However, in spite of these positive reforms and policy positions, Kenya still faces significant challenges in operationalising the coordination of water sector and decision-making frameworks that cut across different levels of government and the competing demands of different water users. The following considerations are provided to inform the on-going dialogue among sector stakeholders in Kenya about how to resolve some of the bottlenecks to improved coordination and decision-making:

Sector policy setting out governance and coordination on its own is insufficient; legislative and/or regulatory backing is required to ensure that the ‘rules of the game’ and associated mechanisms are respected and adhered to. Where coordination works across different institutions at national level (i.e. competing ministries) and between different hierarchies of government (i.e. where there are significant levels of devolved power), cementing governance and coordination protocols in law and backing them up with regulatory instruments governing particular areas (for example surface water management, water quality management etc.) are essential measures for success.

To overcome competing powerbases, governance and coordination protocols and mechanisms need to be sanctioned by high level political authorities (e.g. the office ofthe President), but political participation in the day to day functioning of the governance structures is not necessary, and indeed is not desirable. As such political control over the governance processes should not be vested in a single line ministry (i.e. it should not be led by the Ministry of Water, Sanitation and Irrigation).

Representation on governance bodies must include all parties with a major stake in the water sector (including agriculture, health, finance etc.) and very importantly all levels of government must be able to participate, not only central (i.e. Counties and sub-Counties). Ensuring all voices are heard and can meaningfully participate in governance and coordination mechanisms on an equal footing is critical to long-term buy-in and success of governance decision-making. Guaranteeing full representation should not, however, come at the expense of efficiency and a pragmatic balance is needed, and may be achieved for example via some form of accountable representation arrangements.

With apex political cover in place, coordination bodies making decisions about water resource allocation and use should rely predominantly on technocrats with deep knowledge of respective sectors. Debate and decision-making over critical water resources and service delivery must be based on technical knowledge, evidence and data, which all should be made available to inform strategic decisions that align with overall government policy directions (e.g. promotion of green agenda, response to climate adaptation etc.).

Governance and coordination processes should, wherever possible, include explicit mandates and incentives for participation and progress where participating bodies have different political and policy objectives. Such incentives may include financial transfers to support investments relating to water resource protection or water service delivery infrastructure.

Both the Korea and, to an extent the Dutch, examples promote basin-level governance and coordination platforms; this is a growing trend more broadly and is supported by international norms such as integrated water resources management. However, in many countries work is ongoing and outcomes not yet fully clear.

Imposing basin-wise arrangements has often generated greater complexity, especially where it occurs alongside decentralisation of government more generally. However, there is the need for water (resource) governance to be based
on hydrological principles which introduces additional, water-specific coordination challenges.

Horizontal and vertical coordination challenges are common to most other sectors, including water service delivery, and national entities have a key role to mitigate these challenges.

In water resources management, they also need to incentivise cooperation between political- administrative (county/ sub- county) and decentralised water management bodies (basin water resource committees; water resource users associations). This requires adequate fiscal, administrative and legal provisions for coordination of administrative entities within and across basins, and mechanisms and incentives to encourage this.

A child drinks safe clean water from a cup | Market Systems Development

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The Global Water Benchmarking Study For Kenya


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After years of successfully working together as partners with a shared mission of transforming sectors in East Africa, Gatsby Africa, Kenya Markets Trust and Msingi East Africa have decided to integrate and become one entity as of April 01, 2022.

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