After a long spell of description and prescription, the study of local government in the English speaking Third World has begun to find a historical context (see, for example, Mawhood, 1983; Okpala, 1982; Rowat, 1980, 1983; Bonney, 1982). This is not surprising given the reality of the decline of local government everywhere. That local government escaped rigorous analysis for so long is due in part to the grounding of the study of local government in administrative practice; practitioner-scholars were committed to the principle of local government, and thus the questions asked revolved around how to make it work, rather than around its precise nature in the colonial and postcolonial context.
The purpose of this article is to explore the ideologies and political practices which illuminate the structure of local government in Kenya, and which in turn are rendered intelligible by that structure. Underlying this effort is the development of a new framework within which local government may be conceptualized: one that goes beyond the description of structures and the chronicling of events (often with little analytical link between the two), to contribute to a more comprehensive political economy of the post-colonial state. Such a political economy view the branches of the state, including local government, as sites of class competition: hence it considers knowledge of “subnational” political processes, and in particular of the local central competition manifest in local government politics, to be necessary for an understanding of class formation in the post-colonial state.