Policy Influence in Kenya

By Tess Wandia
iHub Research
  Published 12 May 2017
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In Kenya bills undergo a process before they eventually become law i.e

  1. First Reading
  2. Second Reading
  3. Third Reading
  4. Presidential Assent
  5. Commencement

Parliament ensures publishing of bills in the National Gazette as well as online in form of a bill tracker that can be found here and a resource to keep abreast of house business here. Often you will also find proposed bills available online, cross posted on different government managed websites. This definitely locks out a great percentage of the population for reasons ranging from: internet access, literacy, disposable income as well as citizen apathy which greatly limits awareness of parliamentary proceedings. Moreover, opening up public participation to the greater public (without focus on particular stakeholders, organisations or citizen groups) would make managing the process too large a task and almost impossible for objective and valuable feedback.

Met with these challenges inhibiting effective public participation here is a summary of methods the government has proposed to mitigate these challenges. These include appropriate timing to ensure constructive feedback, giving opportunity for all no matter how divergent the views are, ensuring a representative demographic participating in the process, counties creating a customised strategy to manage the structure of public participation. While these are fantastic ideas, the onus lies on the 47 counties in Kenya to ensure they are enforced. However, the question still remains amongst a public that is apathetic who is keeping them accountable?

In a paper outlining public participation in Kenya, Wanga Obora clearly outlines the role of civil society organisations not only act as watchdogs, but also an influence on public opinion in terms of supporting or being against local government policies and practices. They often initiate the formation of watchdog committees and citizen advisory groups and facilitate their activities.

Civil society organizations have for long played a significant role in enhancing a culture of participation across the world.

While appreciating the important role that civil society groups are playing in policy influence via bill amendment processes, it’s crucial to also note how social media has increased citizen participation in this process beyond traditional initiatives such as barazas (Local meetings convened by local government officials such as Village Elders, Assistant Chiefs, Chiefs, DOs, DCs, County Commissioners among others. In most cases, baraza refers to meetings convened by the first three). Social media platforms in Kenya especially Twitter and Facebook as well as platforms such as Google Docs are being used to provide feedback to parliament regarding bill proposals.

Taking the example of the ICT Bill proposed in 2016, this was the perfect illustration of how the internet was and is currently being used in Kenya to enhance civic engagement. Using the hashtag #KillTheICTBill Kenyans on social media shared their opinion and feedback on the bill that was proposed. Using co created documents on Google Docs we could also see individuals having an easier method to contribute their voice to the bill.

However, even with these opportunities for individuals to participate in the process, civil society groups still have a bigger voice mainly attributed to the fact that they have access to resources and contribute an aspect of already established ‘organised’ public participation that individual citizens have not yet mastered. Moreover, county governments heavily rely on Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) to provide initiatives focused on increasing citizen participation. It’s important to note however, most of these CSOs are reliant on donor funding which presents a huge risk for sustainability.

Some statistics (2015)

“Only 5.7 percent of Kenyans have participated in citizen consultation forums at the county level in the past one year. Only 17 percent of Kenyans are aware of how much funds have been allocated to their counties. Sixty-eight percent of Kenyans have major concerns regarding the way local governments are run. However, 72 percent of them believe that as individuals they can only do little or nothing to influence Government,” Cornelus Oduor, CEO of the Centre for Enhancing Democracy and Good governance read out.

This clearly depicts a gap in understanding of the responsibility as well as power that rests in citizen groups, that in turn affects effectiveness of citizen participation in Kenya. To mitigate this, a consortium of civil society groups pledged almost $100 M to strengthen public participation in county governments.

It is clear CSOs are at the centre of enhancing public participation in both national and county governments.

“Real citizen participation is about the ability to influence outcomes,” said Wanjiru Gikonyo, head of The Institute for Social Accountability, “and it’s both beneficial to the county governments and to citizens; it’s the root of success.”

How far are we from realising this as a reality in Kenya? To what extent are citizens influencing policy today? What has evolved in the past 2 years (since 2015) to enhance citizen participation? What are the current good case practices in counties to enhance public participation? What is locking out widespread public participation in most counties?

These are questions we hope to answer as a result of the work of our study trying to understand how policy is influenced in Kenya.

The question of devolution also brings in an interesting shift in how the legislative process plays out in Kenya. Under the devolved system of government, we now have the Senate and National Assembly at the national level and the County Assemblies at the county level as the primary legislative organs. Has the devolved function of legislation impacted development and ensured harmony between laws developed at the county level as well as the national level as was expected of devolution?

Stay tuned as we ask and eventually answer these questions.

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