Opinion and Analysis
Civil society must be transformed
Posted Monday, July 30 2012 at 20:58
The 2013 General Election will likely be transformative because of the activities of many people and organisations.
These include the “civil society organisations” (CSO) and NGOs, which have become permanent features in Kenya’s political landscape.
As wheels of socio-political change, they are tools of multiple domestic and international forces.
They claim to be transformative, but they suffer internal challenges and need constant self-assessment and self-transformation to remain relevant. CSOs became prominent in roughly the last 25 years and at times questions arise as to how they should be contextualised within the state.
They arose because other state organs , failing to address public concerns adequately, left a structural as well as ideological vacuum to be filled by other actors.
They, however, tend to be amorphous with no clear line as to who or what can be considered a CSO. This lack of clarity gives credence to claims that they are simply instruments of political manipulation irrespective of whether the manipulators are domestic or “international”.
CSOs also face conceptual challenges, deciding whether they are part of, or external to, the state in which they operate. Should they see themselves as being external to the state, and answering to forces beyond rather than within, doubts can and should be raised about their usefulness to society.
Since this implies that the well being of the people is not at the centre of whatever they do, they are dangerous and a source of chaos. If, however, they see themselves as partners with other organs then it is likely they would be playing supplementary roles in the promotion of the well being of the people. These two types of CSOs appear to be active in Kenya.
It is the two types that create confusion as to their purpose. While the CSO fraternity/sorority amuses observers with their in-fighting as to who gets credit and funding for what project, the question is whether the in-fighting has become part of the CSO culture? If so, how deeply has their disunity in purpose, competing visions, and open politically partisan, dented their credibility and ability to deliver?
There was a time in the 1990s, particularly 1997, when civil society appeared to threaten the power base of the political parties, Parliament, and “elected leaders”.
These three entities had discredited themselves with internal wrangles and failure to deliver and so the public seemingly transferred legitimacy to unelected CSO activists.
When they called people to the streets, they showed up and seemingly threatened power interests. It was to undermine their growing power base, that “elected leaders” in Parliament, whether in government or opposition, ganged up to create the IPPG, promising constitutional reforms, but mainly to avoid a “revolution.”
Something went wrong and adversely affected the image of the CSOs and it needs fixing through serious self-examination.
Various organs of state, including CSOs and the media, largely failed to act honourably and were thus responsible for the 2007 election chaos, and yet there has been very little self-examination as to the role that each individual, party, organ or institution played in the fiasco.
There has, however, been a lot of finger-pointing in all directions, except the one of self re-examination, which is a form of escapism.