KENYA: Civil Society Urged to Change Tack to Fit New Political Dispensation

Africa Files

Ms Florence Jaoko has urged Civil Society Organizations to change tack in order to remain relevant in addressing issues that affect the people of Kenya. She compared the civil society groups and the constitution to new wine in old wineskins.

“We are still using the tactics and strategies that we have used over the past 20 years, we are still in the mode of attacking and bashing the government but without clear information… in terms of holding the government accountable, we have to move from the position of just talking, we are dealing in a digital age whether we like it or not a lot of people in the government are techno savvy they know exactly what they are doing even if they deal in corruption they will do it with the finesse that is required so if you don’t have similar finesse you are not going to catch them and you will be left on the sidelines, you must be able to present concrete information and evidence that they cannot refute, if we have to hold government accountable,” she said.

“We are in a new dispensation, we have a new constitution that completely changes the paradigm from which we operate… the constitution there was no clarity on the role of civil society, but with the constitution we have we know that there is more clarity , ultimately the main objective is to hold the government accountable to the citizens,” she added.

She noted that the first regime of Jomo Kenyatta did not have a lot of traditional civil society engagement.

“It was former president Moi’s regime that we started seeing ourselves as organized civil society groups as having agendas that we wanted to carry the day, and of course the Kibaki regime expanded the space most for civil society engagement,” she further said.

She told the gathering that it is important for the civil society to understand the mindset of the government regimes of the day.

“During the Moi regime, there were so many oppressive things for us to fight for and the citizens were on the side of the civil society all the time, civil society had quite an easy task in terms of selling their agenda: and we had big issues, constitutional issues, governance issues and it was not difficult for civil society to rally people around issues.”

She also noted that in the Kibaki regime there was some healthy competition in the coalition which was a bonus for the civil society as the government had opposition within the government; the issues that would have been addressed by the civil society were checked from within.

“Finally we have a constitution, finally we have institution in place, citizens are supposed to be happy because services are closer to them but there is a lot of noise but no constructive discussion and citizens are confused… Civil Society must do better than the citizens, they have a focus on what they are doing and they get funding to do certain things, then we must be the ones who take the responsibility of breaking things down in a way citizens will understand.”

Mrs Florence Jaoko was speaking at the 5th Civil Society Week held in Meru Kenya.

While officially closing the Civil society week, Mr Alfredo Texeria urged the Civil Society Organizations to become sustainable, “more often than not Civil Society organizations are over dependent on external donors for funding, this often makes programming unpredictable, often times, opportunity for making change are lost. As the civil society in Kenya matures, it’s important that you start raising resource locally for foundations and other local enterprises, contributions from individuals or investing in income generating initiatives. This would not only make your programmes predictable but it would also enhance local ownership of initiatives. In the long run the sustainability of the Civil Society intervention will depend highly on engaging local communities and having a steady source of income.”