SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER

Executive should embrace civil society

It has a lot to offer this country.

In Summary

• The Executive has forgotten that had it not been for civil society’s efforts to enhance democracy and accountability, they would not be in the positions they are in currently.

• From the mid-90s to date, civil society has been speaking to state operatives with a view to expanding the democratic space that we enjoy presently.

Kenya’s civil society is today one of the most vibrant and professional in Africa and probably the world. We have leading human rights, anti-corruption, legal, public health, humanitarian and information technology institutions. And these institutions are served by some of the most qualified individuals in the country.

The sector has professionals with the highest educational qualifications, including professors and PhD holders, lawyers and journalists, medical doctors and anthropologists. At the same time, it also has some of the most experienced individuals in their field with vast knowledge and expertise on topical issues, including countering violent extremism, legal reforms, international human rights, good governance and anti-corruption, media as well as humanitarian and public health work.

Undoubtedly, Kenya’s civil society has a lot to offer this country – if only the Executive would embrace it.

For years, civil society has been holding the state and its officials in check. Highlighting state excesses and following up to ensure those who violate the law and abuse their offices are brought to book. The Second Liberation, including the push for real multi-party democracy and a new constitutional dispensation, were midwifed by civil society.

From the mid-90s to date, civil society has been speaking to state operatives with a view to expanding the democratic space that we enjoy presently. In the process of doing our work to critique government and ensure it improves services for the common mwananchi, the Executive has adopted a negative perception of the sector and considers it an enemy.

As a matter of fact, if civil society was to run the country, in a few years’ time we would make huge developmental strides. However, the sad situation in Kenya is that nothing can truly be fully implemented unless it’s done through government.

The Executive has forgotten that had it not been for civil society’s efforts to enhance democracy and accountability, they would not be in the positions they are in currently.

Many in the Executive, particularly the top officers, including Cabinet secretaries, consider civil society as a thorn in the flesh. Where they can, they would always avoid it and when an opportunity arises to attack the sector, then they take it up vigorously. Often when the Executive visits different parts of the country, they do not seek out the sector because they are afraid of being criticised.

They feel that engaging civil society is tantamount to embracing the enemy who is always criticising them, when the truth is that that criticism is actually meant to improve their performance. The work of civil society all over the world is to act as the public watchdog and in Kenya, we take up that responsibility to ensure the state delivers on its mandate. At the end of the day, civil society want the best for Kenyans. Never the opposite.

In the process of avoiding civil society, the Executive and government in general, loses out on the input of some of the most qualified and experienced brains in the country. This is a sad situation because the ones who end up losing are Kenyans. Civil society organisations, in the dispensation of their duties have collected vast information and knowledge on what would help communities realize success and improve their livelihoods.

As a matter of fact, if civil society was to run the country, in a few years’ time we would make huge developmental strides. However, the sad situation in Kenya is that nothing can truly be fully implemented unless it’s done through government. When the government is not ready and/or willing to sit down and listen to the views and opinions of civil society, then as a country we all lose out.

In moving forward, the Executive should rise above their negative perceptions and embrace civil society. As a sector, we have valid, workable proposals that can take the country to the next level. Shrinking the space for civil society is not only detrimental to good governance and democracy, but the Executive as well.

As a sector, we have proven time and again that ours is a commitment to the people of Kenya. We will guard our independence jealously and protect our mandate of being the public watchdog. This should be taken positively by the Executive and used to invite views and opinions that are different. It is only by doing so that we will truly succeed as a country.