Tuesday, July 9, 2013

New strategies for civil society towards Kenya's economic and social prosperity.

The last few weeks have seen the implementation of the budgetary provisions of the Constitution by the National and County governments. The renewed role of the National Assembly and County assembly in approving the budgetary proposals has been seen at work. It has ensured that the executive is kept in check and ensuring that finances are used for the benefit of the entire public. The powers and mandate of Constitutional commissions such as the Salaries and Remuneration Commission and the Police Service Commission has been tested with proposals to disband and reduce the powers of the two commissions respectively. The Teachers Service Commission is engaged in negotiations with the teachers union as public schools remain closed due to the teachers strike. Industrial actions by trade unions across all sectors now threaten to distabilise Kenya’s fragile economy. In the corridors of justice there is increased vigilance to enforce the provisions of the Constitution through tribunals and the courts.

Amidst all these challenges and opportunities, we have also witnessed the manifestation of the same old culture of misplaced priorities and potential misuse of resources. We have seen for instance Governors allocate resources to buying vehicles, building mansions, entertainment and hefty allowances. The shared functions between the National and County Governments have been widely ignored. We have therefore seen a manifestation of the such use of public resources in County governments is a worrying foundation for the new governance structure. The devolved system of government was introduced to ensure the resources are devolved to the grassroots. If devolved funds are channeled to recurrent expenditure and corrupt practices, County governments will not achieve their purpose.

This now brings me to the vital role of civil society. Civil society has been argued to become irrelevant with the self-implementing mechanism of the Constitution. However a vibrant civil society is needed both at the National and County levels of government to check the excesses of use of power and ensure that the law is obeyed to the letter. This is founded on the principal of public participation in the exercise of power. County governments must open themselves up to scrutiny so that there is a participatory approach to governance. Counties cannot address the challenges of devolution alone, they need input from the people through organized groups.

To begin with, i would propose that civil society first organizes a major Civil Society conference. This will be a conference for members of the civil society to carry out a stock taking on their contribution to the economic, social and political progress of our nation. With respect to the Constitution, in the aftermath of the General Elections and while Devolved governance is taking shape, they need to develop new strategies to champion their advocacy course. Embracing best advocacy practice organizations countries such as Ghana, South Africa and Canada will also give the industry more insight and wisdom in this regard.

Civil society risks irrelevance if strategies of the past are employed, protest marches are good but no-longer effective. Civil society should now invest heavily in Information Communication Technology (ICT) and social media campaigns while ensuring youth participation in its activities, such was the foundation of the arab spring that manifested the power of social media in bringing about a revolution.

To participate in this the general discussion should be business and community leaders, government leaders including members of the executive, legislature, judiciary and constitutional commissions. The idea is to have a forum to exchange ideas and formulate strategies that will inform Civil society’s activities and advocacy programmes from now hence forth.

Implementing and defending the Constitution is not a destination but a journey that all Kenyans must be willing and ready to participate.