A few weeks ago, I was late to follow a TV discussion on one of the local channels. Or should I say I was not lucky to have known about this particular panel discussion beforehand. Nevertheless, as I touched the dial to that discussion, one statement from a lady I could not place a title on caught my attention. “Public Engagement in Kenya is just getting lip service,” the lady said.
For a moment I thought she had just read my mind. Unfortunately, this was her parting shot on the discussion that had been on for an hour. “Had I just missed the most relevant and intriguing discussion in my professional life?” I murmured.
Yes. Public engagement has been my area of interest for a long time now. My interest spans particularly from my training days at the Kenya National Assembly where I also volunteered for fifteen months. My volunteer service was so gratifying as this was during the transformational phase just after the promulgation of the constitution. It was a very optimistic moment for Kenyans that brought a tide of hope around decentralization. There was also an abstract realm around equity, accountability, transparency and bottom up approach in governance especially with the birth of counties.
Kenyans could not hide the enthusiasm during the promulgation ceremony. There were jubilations, excitements and triumph as the former president flaunted the most special and respectable book in any sovereign state. In all honesty, the book provided a considerable number of people driven agendas in a very well laid out structure.
Fast forward, nine years down the line, are Kenyans as excited as they were that particular day? Have their aspirations been met? Are the decentralized units producing the anticipated results? Or have they become the latest breeding grounds for comical corruption stunts from towels meant for dam projects to wheelbarrows worth millions of tax payers money?
Notable progress has just been on paper and even with a number of policy frameworks developed, they are yet to be implemented. The frameworks which are anchored on the Constitution include:
- County Constitutive Act 2012
- County Public Participation Guideline 2016
- Constituency Development Act 2013
- Public Finance Management Act 2012
- Urban and Cities Act 2012
- Intergovernmental Relations Act 2012
- Public Finance Management Regulation Act 2014
- Guidelines on Performance Contracting in County Governments
- Guidelines on County Integrated Monitoring and Evaluation System. (CIMES)
- Hand book on County Performance Management Systems
- County Integrated Development Plans (CIDP)
- National Capacity Building Framework (NCBF)
- Elections Act 2012/17
- The African Charter on Democracy, Elections, and Governance
- Reports from respectable both state and non-state actors, among other guiding principles
My resolution based on this analysis is that a number of leaders are not embracing civic engagement. The very citizens that voted for the constitution are not being involved in making critical decisions. Therefore, the are not following the progress being made. In the past month we have witnessed some resistance from citizens in taking up some new government initiatives due to lack of civic education. The National Integrated Identity Management System (NIIMS) popularly known as ‘huduma number’ has seen citizens oppose it as they are unclear on its significance and more so safety of their data. The digital integrated record of citizen data received disapproval from members of the public upon introduction which has seen a considerable number take long to get registered.
In addition, the housing levy has been received as a shocker by many Kenyan citizens given the high living standards and high taxes being experienced. The housing levy is set to have Kenyans get a deduction of 1.5 percent from all employees both in public and private sector beginning May 2019. With one month notice of the levy deduction, this has received sharp criticism from both employers and employees.
These are just a few recent examples on the glaring gaps in civic education in Kenya nine years after the promulgation of the new constitution. Civic engagement allows for diverse perspectives to be discussed on one platform. It should be done prior to making the final decision to allow for acceptability, ownership and sustainability of projects or initiatives by the community.
However, all is not lost as the only grim of hope is that there is one county walking the talk. Makueni county is embracing this model of governance and the outputs are anchored on civic engagements is so evident. Remarkable enough is that the county has in place a public participation in governance bill, 2014.