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International Youth Day

Posted by on 12th August 2021

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Article 10 forms the bedrock for inclusion and with youth categorized as one of the marginalized groups under Article 100, their interests should be bindingly incorporated in all governance affairs.  As of 2019, youth (those below 35 years) make up about 75% of the Kenyan population.  Despite the demographic superiority, it is interesting to note that youth participation in the political and governance process has remained incommensurably low, with majority of the young people viewing politics as a venture that requires extreme wealth and political patronage. This has therefore led to the creation of a ‘marginalized majority’: leading to discontentment, out-of-touch policies and wastage of crucial resources.

It has been said time and time again that the youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow. But how true is this? Our Parliament (both National Assembly and Senate) has a total of 417 members. Out of this, Youth MPs, both elected and nominated, constitute a paltry 6.5% of the entire membership of Parliament. To further emphasize on this lamentable disproportionate youth representation, in the 11th Parliament (2013-2017), only 4 members were nominated to represent youth interests in the National Assembly. This number dropped to one only in the 12th Parliament (2017-2022). The situation is replicated in the Senate, with an initial number of six youth among the nominated which dropped to four in 2017.

Various challenges have been highlighted that face active youth participation in politics which, among others, include political parties’ preference for seasoned male politicians; the undeniable role of money, power and influence; apathy among the youth in participating in political processes. The high cost of politics has been brought out as one of the most prominent that requires immediate intervention.

For young women aspirants and leaders, the situation is even worse. They face the intersectionality predicament: being both youth and women. They are therefore left out in several nominative positions and face even greater hurdles than their male counterparts. This is due to challenges such as suppressed awareness, limited mentorship, inadequate support from political parties and cultural and patriarchal attitude.

Globally, only 16% of Parliaments have a caucus that focuses on young MPs. Kenya is proudly one of them. In partnership with the Kenya Young Parliamentarians Association (KYPA), Mzalendo Trust has been implementing a Virtual Youth Assembly initiative that draws its participants from political parties and allows for debating of youth-centric issues in a mock Parliament. Recommendations arising therefrom are then forwarded to Parliamentary Committee Chairs and Youth MPs. This promotes public participation of youth and inter-party youth dialogue in the governance process and strives to encourage proactive and performing members of Parliament to continue championing and advocating for public interest and youth issues.

So, what more can be done? Political parties should apply internal rules to promote the nomination of youth MPs, particularly women, by alternating the nomination list for women Senators between youth and non-youth women. This will cater for the inclusion of young women into political processes. Further, they should sustain full transparency in the nomination processes, including publicizing the criteria and the call for applications.

For the youth, deliberate effort should be made to shun the tokenism that has been seen in recent times. Additionally, there should be push for quality representation as opposed to focusing on quantity. Good legislative proposals that will meaningfully improve the lives of the youth will only come from those who understand their roles. There should also be proactive engagement and participation in political processes, including registration as members of political parties for effective and meaningful participation in nomination processes. The low representation should jolt the youth to the realities on the ground and push to ensure that they get representation from themselves and for themselves.

In conclusion, it is to put a twist on the quote. ‘The youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow……if we procrastinate.’ Why tomorrow? Why not now? For you, the youth reading this, the time is now. It is you who can understand what your fellow youth are going through, and it is you who can advocate for change in Parliament. The time is now. Do not wait for others to take up your spaces when you are perfectly capable and beyond qualified. Happy International Youth Day.

Expensive Politics could lock out Minority Groups from Leadership Opportunities

Posted by on 4th August 2021

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In the 2017 general election, it cost a Senatorial candidate an average of Ksh 35.5 million to contest for the seat. This is according to what respondents said in a report dubbed ‘The Cost of Politics in Kenya: Implications of Political Participation’ jointly commissioned by Mzalendo Trust, the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) and the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD). The report also states that it cost an average of Sh 22.8 million, Sh 18.2 million and Sh 3.1 million to run for the Women Rep seat, Constituency MP seat and MCA seat respectively. Political seats in Kenya do not come cheap or easy.

These figures combined what candidates spent from the party primaries to the general election. The report, however, found that candidates spent more on party primaries to win party tickets than they did on the general election. Reason being that by securing the ticket of a dominant party, one was almost guaranteed of a win owing to the popularity of said party or party leader during the general election campaign.

The more one spends, the more they’re likely to spend. Though this does not apply to women the same way, the report goes on to say. Findings in the study reveal that in most cases, women are spending more than men, but they are not enjoying much success as a result. The data demonstrates the prevalence and extent of a gender gap in the continuum of election spending, performance and results.

In summary, the findings of this report prove that political leadership has become elitist and a preserve of a few who can afford to splash millions to secure a seat. What does it mean for the minority groups who do not have access to such finances? What does it mean for a 30-year-old woman living with disabilities who seeks to effect change through leadership but won’t be able to gain audience from the public that she seeks to serve? How can this group of people be able to sell their agenda and compete fairly against individuals who wield more financial muscle?

During one of our training sessions with youth leaders in 2020, one common obstacle that emerged was the lack of resources compared to the more seasoned and senior competitors. Financial muscle has come to be such an important thing in the political space as witnessed with the voter bribery, intimidation of political opponents, bribery of electoral officials and securing of more media airtime to sell political agendas. In addition to this, money takes centerstage in buying of party delegate votes in a bid to win party nomination tickets. A fair playing ground, therefore, seems unimaginable and impossible for the minorities.

Politics has become less about service leadership and more about business and making returns on campaign investments. Youth like Enock Onkoba, a participant of the Youth Parliament Initiative by Mzalendo Trust and KYPA, have endured intimidation, party primaries rigging, prolonged resolution process by the IEBC and even death threats in his bid to secure an MCA seat. He says that despite his popularity among the voters, his political opponents who were senior and had more money used any means possible to ensure his name was not on the ballot. They succeeded. If young people like Onkoba, with his constituents’ interests at heart, are not granted an opportunity to serve then change and development through leadership will remain a dream.

Implementation of campaign finance laws gives all political candidates a fair chance at competing for elective positions. They also give new entrants a chance to beat incumbents who can access several privileges by virtue of the position they hold. It will be remembered that in the 2017 campaigning period, former Mombasa Senator Hassan Omar accused his competitor, Governor Ali Hassan Joho for hogging billboards. A level playing field is not limited to matters of finance but equal opportunity to sell a personal political agenda.

As we head into the 2022 campaigning period, laws and regulations should be implemented to the letter to ensure that money does not take center-stage in the politics but issue-based conversations do. That way Kenyans can vote in people based on merit and in turn hold them accountable during their tenure.

World Youth Skills Day 

Posted by on 20th July 2021

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Celebrated since 2014 on 15th July, World Youth Skills Day is a day that seeks to celebrate the strategic importance of equipping young people with skills for employment, decent work and entrepreneurship. Since then, World Youth Skills Day events have provided a unique opportunity for dialogue between young people, technical and vocational education and training (TVET) institutions, firms, employers’ and workers’ organizations, policy makers and development partners. 

This year, World Youth Skills Day paid tribute to the resilience and creativity of youth through the crisis. Indeed, what a year it has been. With the onset of Covid-19 pandemic, most systems and processes across the world came to a halt. This situation affected the youth in different ways. In Kenya, the situation was no different. Kenya confirmed its first case on 13th March 2020 and immediately, a series of decisions, regulations and requirements came into effect. 

The education sector was among the first to experience total disruption. Following a country-wide shutdown of learning institutions, students were forced to go back home for an inordinately long period of time. While private school students had the privilege of attending their classes online, the same could not be said about those in public schools. Lack of affordable internet, access to technology hardware and access to internet connectivity was a huge challenge for learners in underprivileged areas. The resultant effect was that there was a rift in the education sector as those in public schools were left behind while the Government scrambled to find a solution. 

This situation was replicated in higher education institutions with students in public universities lagging behind in their studies while their counterparts maintained studies through virtual classes that were embraced slightly later by the public institutions. With the opening up of the country and loosening of Covid-19 restrictions, schools are currently back in session but the students are still under immense pressure to complete their syllabuses within the originally stipulated time frames. This, however, should not be an excuse to lower the quality of education that the youth in school receive, as they require these crucial skills in the future. 

Despite the devastating effects of the pandemic, the period has been a means for the youth of Kenya to show and prove their innovative nature and resilience. On 11th April 2020, just within weeks of the announcement of the 1st Covid case within Kenya, 16 youth innovators at the Kenyatta University were at advanced stages of the development of ventilators and swabs to easily detect the virus. The Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Trade and Industrialization had pledged support for the procurement, adoption and use of the kits. However, almost one year later, this has yet to materialize.  

Further, in a bid to evade the devastating effects of Covid-19 on the economy, many youth started businesses to earn some income to sustain their livelihoods. While there were somewhat friendly business policies and regulations in 2020, 2021 has brought with it harsher taxes that are affecting small business owners, a majority of who constitute the youth. This also applies to those who are salaried. 

To boost youth skills in the country, the Government needs to create an environment that encourages innovation and allows the thriving of businesses. This will eventually have a positive net effect on the economy. Additionally, the increase of TVET institutions across the country should be a priority. These institutions should be equipped with state-of-the-art equipment and should strive to recruit qualified trainers so that trainees can receive quality training and relevant skills. The students should be given capitation through KUCCPS and access to loans through the Higher Loans Education Board (HELB).

The Ministry of ICT and the State Department for Youth Affairs also have a vital role to play. Noting that technology is the way forward, the Ministries should leverage ICT to ensure inclusion of the youth in opportunities across the world and to capitalize on the brilliant minds that Kenya has. The Youth Enterprise Development Fund housed under the Ministry of Public Service, Youth and Gender is another way the youth can be supported. It seeks to create employment opportunities for young people through entrepreneurship and encouraging them to be job creators and not job seekers. It does this by providing easy and affordable financial and business development support services to youth who are keen on starting or expanding businesses. It has been operational since 2007 but we call for greater transparency and accountability in the disbursements of funds to youth to ensure that no youth is left out, particularly the women and persons with disabilities. 

The youth make up almost 75% of Kenya’s population. They should be armed with the vital skills necessary to propel the growth and development of this country. This can only be done through concerted efforts. 

THE MAPUTO PROTOCOL TURNS 18: The Legislative and Policy Measures Safeguarding Women’s Political Leadership in Kenya

Posted by on 13th July 2021

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African Union Member States committed that by 2020, there will be universal ratification, implementation and domestication of Maputo Protocol. Kenya ratified Maputo protocol in 2010 which partly sought to address issues of gender equality in political leadership.

The National Legislative measures that safeguard women in politics and protects them against all forms of discrimination are; The Constitution of Kenya 2010 whose Article 27(8) provides that the State shall take legislative and other measures to implement the principle that not more than two-thirds of the members of elective and appointive bodies shall be of the same gender.” Article 81(b) adds that “The electoral system shall comply with,” among others, the principle that “not more than two-thirds of the members of elective public bodies shall be of the same gender’’.

The National Gender and Equality Commission Act 2011 aims at ensuring that there is gender equality, impartiality and gender equity. The Political Parties Act 2011 was also enacted for the reasons that political parties hold the key to women’s entry and effective participation and leadership in politics in the country.  The Political Parties Primaries Bill 2020 also sets out the requirement in Chapter 4 (3) that in making the appointments to a party organ, a political party shall ensure that at least one-third of the members of each party organ are of the opposite gender. Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission Act Part 4 (25b) observes the principle that not more than two-thirds of the members of elective public bodies shall be of the same gender. While the Election Act 2011 provides measures for affirmative action in line with the provision of the constitution on gender equality.

Kenya has performed well in domestication and implementation of the provisions stipulated in the Maputo Protocol with the goal to increase women’s leadership and political participation. On looking at the Administrative measures and budgetary steps that have been put in place by the Kenyan government to promote women’s political leadership, the answer is in the affirmative actions by the government. Additionally, one of the conditions for political parties to secure public funding is to have not more than 2/3rd of the elected officials being of one gender. According to the Registrar of Political Parties, there is a provision for other financial advantages to encourage gender equality in political parties. The funds are earmarked to promote gender activities within respective counties.

Although the government has taken systematic steps towards addressing gender discrimination and inequality through the enactment of pro-women’s rights legislation, there remain significant challenges and gaps that are still a barrier to full implementation of the Protocol.  Kenyan women have and still continue to struggle to enjoy their Constitutional rights and entitlements following laxity in implementation of necessary mechanisms and measures by the duty bearers. The Resource Gap for Campaigns and Support Representation Activities remains limited; the Violence Meted on Women Parliamentary Aspirants During Campaigns and in their line of Duty as Parliamentarians remains a challenge; manipulation of Political Parties’ Membership Lists remains an issue as the nomination list of women is a highly guarded affair and subject to patronage; and there is lack of Political Good Will in the implementation, or lack thereof, of the not more than 2/3 gender representation rule.

The Government and citizenry should prioritize and enact the necessary legislation to enforce the 2/3rd gender representation rule as a matter of urgency. Political Parties should take full measures to attract, recruit, support and promote women in party leadership and elected positions and to support women among their ranks. Furthermore, political parties should establish mechanisms to effectively enforce among their members the political party and electoral codes of conduct, focus on expanding and supporting the number of women and young people participating as candidate agents. State agencies like the Office of the Registrar of Political Parties (ORPP) need to ensure that all parties receiving state funding comply with the legal requirement that at least 30 percent of funds support programs for women. 

All Key-Stakeholders-including political parties, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, civil society, media and the security sector need to come together and urgently work towards removing obstacles that hinder the full participation of women in all aspects of the electoral process. Finally, the state at large, inclusive of both private and public organs, should endeavour to live up to the provisions of the Constitution by not waiting for a 2/3rd gender representation laws, but acting as directed by the Constitution. 

For Parliaments to remain effective champions of democracy, transparency, inclusivity and accountability must be safeguarded. 

Posted by on 1st July 2021

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This week, we released the Annual Parliamentary Scorecard, our flagship report that highlights the performance of members in the Plenary.  The scorecard is one of the tools that Mzalendo, like many other parliamentary monitoring organizations (PMOs) across the globe, uses to measure the performance of members and parliament in general, in terms of legislative development.  As a legislative transparency measurement tool, it is not unexpected that it elicits mixed reactions from members and the public in general, given its focus on one parameter of the role of Members.  As a measurement tool however, it is a key ingredient to enhancing accountability, transparency and responsiveness. 

Coming against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic and the fast shifting political realignments, the 2020 Scorecard was expected to reveal certain dynamics. Firstly, the 4th Session recorded the highest number in record of MPs who failed to utter a single word in the plenary. A total of 31 Members of the National Assembly did not speak at all, compared to 21 in 2019. In the Senate, the number of silent members rose marginally by two, to three, compared to one in 2019. In a way, the scorecard mirrors the challenges that have faced legislatures during the pandemic across the globe.  

The scorecard also comes in the week that the world commemorated the International Day of Parliamentarism (IDP) (World Parliament Day) on 30th June, 2021. The day, established by the United Nations (UN) in 2018, seeks to centre the place of parliaments as the cornerstone of any functioning democracy. Its significance, notes the UN, is partly attributable to the fact that ‘people are losing trust in political institutions and democracy itself is facing challenges’.  Building this trust requires parliaments to work with stakeholders to restore, maintain and sustain parliamentary independence.  The day also comes at a time when, exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, unequal relations between the legislative and executive branches of government are being witnessed. 

To commemorate the day, we, in partnership with other PMOs from across Africa held an event dubbed “Watching the Watchers: Parliamentary Monitoring Organizations Why Citizen Parliamentary Oversight Matters.” The event sought to deliberate on how well PMOs can leverage their numbers and diversity of focus to enhance their place as oversight actors over parliaments, or more aptly, their mandate of “watching the watchers.” At a time when the Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU), identifies public scepticism, power disparity between executive and legislative branches of government and inclusion as some of the challenges facing parliaments, the role of PMOs can no longer be considered an option but a responsibility. 

The forum acknowledged the need to secure legislative accountability, openness and transparency. When safely secured, these pillars would ensure that parliaments are steered within the path of public service, addressing the democratic yearnings and aspirations of the general public. Beyond, focus remains on inclusion as an ingredient of making real the promises of democracy and attaining genuine governance ownership by all.  It is no wonder then that the Theme of the IDP day this year is “I say Yes to Youth in Parliament.”  

Globally, the number of young people in Parliament remains relatively low, even when “youth” is defined as those under 45.  In Kenya for example, young MPs constitute only 6.5% of the members of both Houses.   It is for this reason that we highlight the contributions of young and women parliamentarians, to not only showcase their work but to encourage young people to lead, run for office and vote in young leaders as well.  This cannot, however, happen without the necessary legislative interventions necessary for a critical mass of young and women leaders.  Prioritizing the passage of legislation on Article 100 would therefore be a great legacy for the 12th Parliament.

To remain effective, Parliaments must foster a culture of accountability, inclusivity and transparency.  Parliamentary Monitoring Organizations remain an important bridge and facilitators of these principles.  Rather than being adversaries, the two actors should work together to enhance citizen awareness and participation in legislative affairs, while holding each other accountable.  

World Blood Donor Day 2021

Posted by on 15th June 2021

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On Monday June 14th 2021, Kenya joined the world in observing the World Blood Donor Day that aims to raise global awareness of the need for safe blood and blood products for transfusion and of the critical contribution voluntary, unpaid blood donors make to national health systems. The day also provides an opportunity to call to action to governments and national health authorities to provide adequate resources and put into place systems and infrastructure to increase the collection of blood from voluntary, non-remunerated blood donors. 

This call is of particular importance to Kenya’s blood donating agenda that has been riddled with a number of challenges among them blood shortages and illegal sale of donated blood to neighboring countries like Somalia. Calls for blood aid, mainly through social media, have become common among Kenyans seeking to save the lives of ailing loved ones. One of the causes of this shortage has been inadequate funding of the blood outreach programme that facilitated the collection of blood. In an article done by the BBC last year, Lamu Women Representative, Ruweida Obo highlighted the country’s over reliance on donor funding for such initiatives as a catalyst to the quagmire that caught the Kenyan government flat footed. 

It is through the Kenya National Blood Transfusion Service Bill, 2020 that Murang’a Women Rep seeks to guarantee the availability, quality and safety, access and affordability, and appropriate use of blood and blood products. The proposed law also wants to coordinate efforts between authorities and stakeholders to implement measures necessary to achieve the goals envisioned in the bill. With the implementation of the law, a proper framework will be put in place to ensure accountability of the blood service at national and county level. 

This coupled with proper implementation of the Universal Health Coverage (UHC) could see an improvement of blood collection at county level and further enhancement of the capacity of county health facilities. The bill also seeks to provide for adequate financing of the blood transfusion system as highlighted in Clause 20(a) that mandates the National Assembly to appropriate funds towards it. If this Bill comes to fruition and the National Assembly faithfully oversights the Blood Transfusion service, its implementation will turn around blood donation for the Kenyan populace. 

The bill will also address the other challenge of safety of the blood being donated through best practices adopted by medics and the donors. This will be achieved through proper blood storage, setting up of laboratories in counties and sensitization of those who volunteer to donate their blood to the service. Transparency in the operations of the service will also instill faith in the public and encourage more volunteers, particularly first-time donors, to come forward and assist deal with the blood deficit that faces the country. It is therefore incumbent of the National Assembly to expedite the passage of the law in this current House to avoid further delays in putting this framework in place. 

Prayer without Action is Pointless!

Posted by on 25th May 2021

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Kenya will be holding the annual national prayer breakfast on Thursday, 27th May 2021 at the Parliament Precincts marking the 18th year anniversary of a tradition that began with Retired President Mwai Kibaki. The prayer breakfast is expected to bring together political leaders from different sides of the divide, representation from the three arms of government and religious leaders from diverse faiths to pray for the betterment of the nation. 

The annual event has, however, come under question over its relevance and impact to the Kenyan society. Critics have called out political leaders for putting up a charade that has little to no output that is of significance to wananchi and termed the event as a display of hypocrisy. If one may recall, during the last national prayer breakfast, President Uhuru Kenyatta’s message was anchored on national unity, reconciliation and a collective effort against bad governance and corruption that continues to bedevil Kenya’s development. 

While the intent is noble, not much has been done to end the vice and Kenyans still are treated to headlines on looting of billions of taxpayer money. It’s only in January this year that the President said that upto Sh 2 billion is lost to corruption everyday. Such admissions and the lack of convictions of corrupt individuals give the impression that change is still a long way from happening. Additionally, focus on these socio-economic challenges during the prayer day make it seem that all other avenues, policy and legislative, have been exhausted and that the only solution is divine intervention. Which isn’t the case. 

Kenya certainly is a peculiar country that has a history of turning to God for man-made problems. In 2017, the second lady Ms. Rachael Ruto led a praying team on the Salgaa blackspot that has claimed many lives in road accidents yet experts have noted that this can be solved by a redesign of the road. It’s the scripture itself that talks about faith without action being dead. A heart’s desire remains just that if deliberate and strategic action is not put in place to actualize it. 

Leaders need to stop using prayers as a cover for incompetence. The parable of the talents is evidence that the Higher Power does not condone laxity where one has been delegated responsibility. As is our case, Kenyans have delegated responsibility to their representatives who should be working in Wanjiku’s best interests. Therefore, the leadership will eventually have to rise to the occasion and serve mwananchi lest they lose these positions for failure to deliver. 

Religious leaders on the other hand have a bigger responsibility than legitimizing this event through their attendance. It is time to revive religious activism and call out leadership whenever they fail to fulfil the promises they commit to, especially during such national events. Considering the role and impact of religious formations in Kenya, religious leaders ought to take the lead in educating the masses on their rights, standing against laws or actions that threaten these rights and seeing to it that their congregants have access to justice. Failure to which, politicians will continue using religion to subdue and manipulate the citizenry as has been the case over the decades. 

As leaders gather in prayer on Thursday, let them remember to act in a manner that matches their words. For a man, without his word is nothing. 

Open Government Week: Enhancing Openness in the Governance Ecosystem

Posted by on 20th May 2021

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This week, the world commemorates the Open Government Week, a period that seeks to creatively train focus on the need for embracing openness in the governance ecosystem. It is a period that is broadly undertaken under the aegis of the Open Government Partnership (OGP), a ten-year-old initiative started in 2011 that brings together State and Non-State Actors to co-create commitments aimed at securing open, accountable, transparent, inclusive and responsive governance. Thus far, the OGP has 78 member states, a number of local governments and ‘thousands of civil society organizations’.

Kenya is a founding member of the OGP, having joined the platform in 2011. As part of execution, OGP requires member states to co-create a National Action Plan (NAP), a set of commitments to be implemented over a period of two years. Actors involved in the process include government, civil society organizations, private sector, academia, institutions of higher learning among others. 

Recently, Kenya concluded the co-creation process of its fourth NAP that is set to be implemented between 2020-2022 (NAP IV 2020-2022). In compliance with OGP’s founding aspirations, the year-long co-creation process saw robust engagement with and by diverse actors across the governmental and non-governmental stakeholders. 

The co-creation and implementation of the country’s NAP IV falls within a challenging context, but one with opportunities too. First is the COVID-19 pandemic. Kenya reported its first case of the pandemic in mid-March 2020. Ever since, official records show that confirmed cases have risen to 165,465 with 3,003 deaths as at 17th May, 2021. The pandemic has occasioned unprecedented challenges, at least in recent times, to the country’s political, economic and social systems. Its implications have, in fact, been directly felt within the OGP space, with the co-creation process having had to adapt to the disrupted space. Originally scheduled for March 2021, the official launch of the NAP IV had to be put off indefinitely due to the surge in the number of cases around the same time. 

Secondly, the NAP IV coincides with the country’s ongoing conversation around reforms, largely under the auspices of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI). Officially birthed on March 9th 2018, the process was designed to inform interventions aimed at securing the country’s long-term political, economic and social stability. Incidentally, the BBI Report, officially unveiled in October 2020, made particular reference to the OGP as a platform for intervention. Specifically, it identifies OGP as an actualization strategy to the prudent use of resources, noting that effort should be made toward full implementation ‘at both National and county levels of government, the Republic of Kenya Open Government Partnership National Action Plan including open contracting and transparency in public procurement and other policies..’ Thirdly, the implementation phase of the NAP IV coincides with the country’s 2022 electoral cycle during which period intensified political activities tend to largely distract from a dedicated implementation focus.

In deed the totality of the context did inform the shape of the NAP IV, including the commitments and respective milestones. In total, 8 commitments were adopted: Beneficial Ownership; Open Contracting; Open Data for Development; Public Participation and Legislative Openness; Improving Public Service Delivery Performance; Access to Information; Access to Justice; Building Open Government Resiliency. Emerging issues around COVID-19 pandemic related to accountability, particularly issues on procurement, influenced the choice of the transparency and accountability related commitments; Beneficial Ownership and Open Procurement. Acknowledging the centrality of public participation as an anchor principle in our governance, and the challenges it is facing to secure its meaningful sense was key in ensuring its inclusion in the NAP. Enhancing meaningful public participation requires information, hence the deliberate move to incorporate an access to information commitment. 

As the incorporation of the OGP in the country continues, this fourth phase of the NAP seeks to further entrench the initiative by way of institutionalization. The objective of the deliberate move is to partly insulate it (OGP) from the shocks largely associated with transitional tumults. Stakeholders are keen to push for establishment of OGP desks at the three branches of government: Legislature, Executive and Judiciary. But beyond that, actors in the space are alive to the country’s devolved governance system as ushered in via the Constitution of Kenya, 2010. As such there is growing interest in incorporating the devolved units into the initiative. Excitedly, the signs are very encouraging. Thus far about 5 of the 47 devolved units have joined OGP: Nairobi, Nandi, Elgeyo Marakwet, Makueni and Vihiga. Some of them are at an advanced stage in so far as setting up their respective Local Action Plans (LAPs) is concerned.

It is with this in mind that the Open Government Week emerges as a period of supreme significance to the open government enthusiasts. As the current Civil Society OGP lead, Mzalendo Trust seeks to exploit the week to raise the profile of the OGP and accord an opportunity for engaged stakeholders to amplify their voice. This we seek to achieve by facilitating and coordinating the commitment-focussed activities, all of which should culminate in a big tent Multi Stakeholder Forum (MSF) on 21st May, 2021.

Kiswahili Is a National Language Too, Let’s Use it to Our Advantage

Posted by on 11th May 2021

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Tanzania’s President Samia Suluhu Hassan made history on Wednesday, 5th May 2021 by being the first female President to address  Kenya’s joint Houses of Parliament, National Assembly and Senate. The cherry on the cake for this historic moment was her powerful, eloquent and uplifting speech delivered in the beautiful language of Swahili. The speech that captured a rejuvenation of the Kenya-Tanzania relations was also delivered with anecdotes that had Kenyan legislators and viewers at large hooked throughout its delivery..

During her speech, President Samia made light of the moment Senate Speaker Kenneth Lusaka struggled to read out a year in Swahili. She went on to express her fondness for  Kenya’s Parliamentary proceeding, particularly the debates that had members contributing in the ‘interesting’ Kenyan Swahili. Unlike Kenya, Tanzania’s larger population communicates in Sanifu Swahili, something that is mostly common in Kenya’s coastal region. This is largely attributable to the cultural similarities between that  Kenya’s coastal region and Tanzania.

Kiswahili is provided for as both a national and official language in the Constitution, unlike English, which is only official. Besides Members of Parliament (MPs) from the coastal region, majority of the legislators struggle to articulate their thoughts and ideas in Kiswahili as they easily would in English, something  their Tanzanian counterparts do with so much ease. President Samia’s ability to articulate matters on policy, development and trade between Kenya and Tanzania posed a great challenge to our leaders.

At  institutional level, Kenya’s Parliament recently translated the Standing Orders to Kiswahili, itself a step in the right direction. However, legislations are only available in English. On the other hand, their counterparts in Tanzania have started the process of translating over 400 laws to Kiswahili following guidelines that the Ministry of Constitutional and Legal Affairs issued in March this year. To that extent, our neighbors Tanzania have given themselves an edge in the pursuit of a more inclusive democracy. Through the translation of these laws, their citizenry is bound to have a more effective engagement with the law-making process.

The language barrier has also played out during the public participation processes conducted at national and county level. Gazette notices are published in English and the public hearings mostly conducted in English by the government officials. This has made it difficult for Kenyans to submit substantive contributions owing to fairly complex language  that characterizes legislative proposals.

The importance of having  sector lead stakeholders share views on laws pertaining to their respective fields cannot be downplayed. However, the ordinary citizen ought to have an opportunity to understand the implications that these proposals have on their everyday lives. Consideration of such views gives law and policy makers more perspective and, in turn, better informs the proposals they formulate to ensure they speak to the public’s needs.

Worth-noting is an attempt by Busia Senator in 2018 when he sponsored a Public Participation Bill that compelled authorities to publish and distribute documents in a language and form that can be used by the public, in this case Kiswahili. The Bill further proposed that authorities provide an interpreter for those participants who wish to make their remarks in their local language. If enacted the Bill could set the stage for transformative public participation by Kenyans.

President Samia’s excellent delivery in the national language proved that it is in fact possible to discuss, in detail, governance issues in Kiswahili. Many would attest that the ongoing conversation on a potential referendum has locked out a significant portion of the population that would have benefitted from the legal expertise, had it been delivered in Swahili. Given its national stature, coupled with the fact that majority of Kenyans understand it, embracing Kiswahili by Parliament in legislative processes would conceivably open up Parliament further to a wider public. It would likely excite public’s engagement with parliamentary processes to the benefit of public participation. It (public participation) remains a missing link in governance processes generally, and parliamentary engagements in particular, given its sub-optimal implementation.

Parliamentarians should also push for the enactment of policies/laws that would compel public offices and state organs to use Kiswahili in their decision-making responsibilities. The civil society, such as the Civil Society Parliamentary Engagement Network (CSPEN), should continue to double their efforts it ensuring that this becomes a reality.

Media: The Alternative Voice that Needs to be Protected at all Costs.

Posted by on 4th May 2021

Categories: Uncategorised

Kenya, on Monday, joined the globe in celebrating the World Press Freedom Day that is observed annually on 4th May with this year’s theme being “Information as a public good”. The 2021 theme proves relevant and timely for Kenya given the circumstances we find ourselves in.

Besides battling the Coronavirus pandemic, Kenya is currently operating in a very busy political environment owing to the conversation on amending the Constitution and the general elections that are just 15 months away. Both of which require the citizen’s involvement. Which then brings in the crucial role the fourth estate plays especially in the era of misinformation.

In Kenya’s fight against Covid-19, media has played a key role in educating the masses on the virus, highlighting violation of human rights by law enforcement, holding leadership accountable and unearthing corruption in relation to Covid-19 funds. This, however, has not been a walk in the park as journalists have been faced by a myriad of challenges in their quest to expose ills committed, especially by authorities.

For instance, information on Kemsa’s procurement was not readily available until the President gave a directive to the Ministry of Health to avail this information on Kemsa’s website for the public to access. This is despite Kenya having passed an Access to Information Act (ATIA) in 2016 that compels public entities to disclose information, including that which concerns contracts. Journalists were also subjected to harassment by police in their line of duty as was witnessed during the early stages of the enforcement of the 7pm nationwide curfew last year. Media also played a key role in dispelling misinformation that posed a great threat in the country’s efforts to fight the virus.

These challenges continue to stand in the way of the freedom and independence of media that is provided for under Article 34 of the Constitution. Recently, the country watched in shock as an expose revealed how police officers are in the business of hiring out their equipment to thugs who rob from and even kill Kenyans. As expected, the Citizen TV feature story caused an uproar among Kenyans who called for accountability among the police service. Surprisingly, the Director of the DCI, Mr George Kinoti came out to disown the firearms used in the expose, saying a ballistic examination showed that they didn’t belong to the police. He added that the Citizen TV crew did not consult the police before airing the story. This however could have amounted to interference of journalistic work especially since Kenyan media isn’t new to intimidation and harassment from authorities.

Shortly after the expose, there were reports that the police assigned to Royal Media Services, the mother company to Citizen TV, were withdrawn. As to whether or not this was linked to the expose, it brings another aspect of risk related to investigative journalism. This presents the need for the enactment of a whistleblower protection law that will provide a proper framework to protect journalists who risk their lives in the course of their work. Current Nyali MP and former KTN investigative journalist, Mohamed Ali aka “Jicho Pevu” had on several occasions been forced to flee to foreign land over threats on his life following damning exposes. Unfortunately, other journalists both locally and internationally were not lucky enough to escape with their lives.

Owing to the history of intimidation, harassment and killing of journalists, the state ought to provide a conducive environment for the media to operate in optimally. This can be actualized by enactment of laws that protect them and the full implementation of certain existing laws like the ATIA that allow media to execute their duties to satisfaction. It would be a tragedy if the media were subdued into silence when the citizenry and civil society heavily depend on them for an alternative voice.