While there is now acceptance for the involvement of various stakeholders in any governance process, the challenge still remains with translating this into practice.
As the country continues to deepen its engagement and reforms in the extractive sector, it pays to reflect on the levels of stakeholder engagement with a view to enhancing real dialogue. The country can borrow some lessons from the East African Community.
The Treaty for the Establishment of the East African Community captures the reasons for the collapse of the original co-operation between Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania as lack of political will and lack of active participation and involvement of the private sector and civil society, amongst others.
To ensure that the new EAC did not suffer these problems, the Treaty directed that the people would henceforth be at the centre of the integration process, with the voice and interests of the private sector also being considered highly in decisions on integration. In short, the EAC integration was to be people-centred and private sector-led.
To ensure that these directives were adhered to, the Treaty included provisions for establishment of a framework for dialogue, to be convened by the secretary general of the EAC, between the civil society, private sector and other interest groups with appropriate institutions of the community.
Although these provisions were part of the treaty as adopted in 1999, its operationalisation took a very long time. Instead, he community continued to rely on provisions for observer status to involve private sector and civil society, despite its limits in not giving space for voice and views of both civil society and private sector to be heard.
This past weekend I visited the East African Community Secretariat to bid farewell to a lady with whom we have worked over the past two three years on giving meaning to the dialogue process.
We spent the day reminiscing about the progress in the dialogue process in regional integration.
In November 2012, the Council of Ministers of the EAC adopted a Consultative Dialogue Framework, to provide for a structured process for consultations between the East African Community, private sector organisations, civil society organisations and other interest groups within the context of the East African Community Treaty.
The dialogue is so as to ensure that the integration process proceeds with the involvement of East Africa citizens and is undertaken in the context of multi-stakeholder partnerships.
The dialogue process involves consultations at the national level, participation in EAC activities in accordance with the EAC calendar and culminates with an annual secretary- general’s forum.
The agenda for the meetings are prepared by a regional dialogue committee comprising the dialogue parties.
The secretary-general of the EAC is the convenor of the forum which is chaired annually by a representative from the partner state holding the chair of the EAC and a representative from private sector, civil society and other interest groups in a rotational basis.
Since its operationalisation, three such fora have been held with impressive outputs.
The above dialogue process offers useful lessons for stakeholder engagements in the extractive industry. It demonstrates that to ensure that the country harnesses the potential of the sector, it must take to heart the prerequisites of genuine dialogue and partnership. Such partnership requires mutual trust, cooperation, constructive criticism and consensus building.
Government, civil society and private sector have to realise that by nature their perspectives may sometimes be different. Secondly, that plurality of ideas is not a disadvantage. What is required is to regularly consult, share ideas and try to reach compromises.
The future of the extractive sector and the extent to which it helps the country to realise the dictates of Vision 2030 will be determined by the quality of engagements amongst the various stakeholders in the country, from the professionals to the mama mboga.
The example of the East African Dialogue Framework is one worth considering for the Kenyan extractive industry.
Dr Odote is a senior lecturer Centre for Advanced Studies in Environmental Law and Policy, University of Nairobi.