Mandela Washington Fellow empowering young people on governance matters
By Lilian Kaivilu
University life for many students is a busy experience. There are assignments to complete, community activities to engage in and for the working students, it is a tough call to balance between work and academics and work. As a student leader, the responsibilities can be overwhelming.
But for Dorothy Njagi, her term as a student leader in Moi University in Kenya exposed her to the glaring gaps in the grasp of governance matters particularly among the youth in her country. She would later serve in the Public Relations and Protocol Department in the Kenya National Assembly between 2010 and 2012. This was a significant time in the history of Kenya as the country was in transition to a new Constitution that was promulgate din 2010. “This provided a good opportunity for me to engage the youth in recognizing and appreciating the notable changes in the 11th Parliament. It was during this time that I released majority of the citizens are not well informed about the undertakings of the government and how they can meaningfully contribute to decision making,” says Njagi.
This compelled Njagi to start Wananchi Waseme, a sub-initiative of the Citizen Advancement initiative that seeks to expand civic participation in policy and development agendas in Kenya. With few young people actively involved in governance matters, Njagi created a platform to promote a system of public engagement by encouraging popular participation in the socio-political process. According to her, this can only be attained by involving marginalized groups in the decision-making process, to elicit government responsiveness to public opinion and contribute to the improvement of public service delivery.
At a time that Kenya is looking at a looming constitutional reform through the Building Bridges Initiative, Njagi, an International Studies and Diplomacy graduate from University of Nairobi emphasizes on the need for young people to be actively involved in the governance process.
“Young people have a negative perception about governance issues hence do not actively pay attention to even the very matters that concern them.” Many of them, she says, perceive governance as a preserve of the old people in power or trained lawyers. Njagi, however, cites a gap from the government in effectively carrying out civic education and utilizing strategic communication approaches like new media to engage the youth.
So far, Wananchi Waseme has reached over 1,000 youth in civic education particularly in institutions of higher learning where the team held interactive workshops on civic education and community service. In addition, the organization has held regular training and capacity building sessions to equip the youth with skills on interaction between them and the public sector. Together with her co-founder Benard Meda, Njagi has conducted a media campaign titled “vote wisely, forget the 6-piece ballot”; a campaign that was meant to persuade citizens to vote wisely and not on party or ethnic lines.
Wananchi Waseme has we contributed to the African Union Youth Envoy strategic plan that is nested on the One million by 2021 initiative themed “Africa unite for youth, bridging the gap and reaching African youth”. This is an initiative intended to stimulate and popularize discussions and share opinions, facts and pledges on collective commitment to youth issues. It further aims to amplify the youth voices and provide them with content to engage with each other and other stakeholders. By 2021 through this initiative development of youth opportunities in education, employment, entrepreneurship and engagement will be improved exponentially.
In Kenya, the organization is working with the Kenya National assembly to create new media platforms for engaging the youth. “We have so far submitted a prototype for a mobile application for public participation for their consideration. The remarkable thing is that in Kenya this new model of communication is being championed by the Members of Parliament giving an indication of the goodwill and the commitment of the Members of Parliament,” she says.
Although there has been notable progress in the grasp of governance matters by Kenyan youth, Njagi says there is persistent negative attitude towards civic leadership by many young people. Many young people say that they don’t love politics and I often have to remind them that that means not loving your country, life and the life of future generations. Others say that they will never vote and I often remind them that” if you cannot vote, then you cannot complain,” says Njagi.
The 2019 Mandela Washington Fellow from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln says the Young African leadership program helped her polish her leadership skills and learnt a lot on civic engagement best practices that can be implemented in Kenya in the continued efforts of promoting civic engagement. “I was privileged to engage the Nebraska State Senator Adam Morfeld on advocacy and leadership within the context of local government,” says Njagi. Senator Adam is also the Founder of Civic Nebraska a non-profit that instills civic leadership skills in youth through engaging them in meaningful ways to build informed community leaders, and eventually have democratic institutions that are nonpartisan, accessible and modern.