Sustain civic education for growth

The need for objective non-partisan information for the voter is necessary to ensure that their choices in the electoral process is informed. PHOTO | FILE
The need for objective non-partisan information for the voter is necessary to ensure that their choices in the electoral process is informed. PHOTO | FILE 

Elections are less than three weeks away. The campaigns have reached fever pitch.

Voters are being given all manner of promises by the political class. One hopes that their choices will be informed and objective.

In the past, by this stage, the country would also be awash with voter education materials from State and non-State agencies. This time I see more of campaign messages from the political class than voter education provision.

The need for objective non-partisan information for the voter is necessary to ensure that their choices in the electoral process is informed.

Elections will end in a short while. The need for education for the citizens is, however, a continuous one.

Last week, I was glad to attend a meeting to launch the Kenya National Integrated Civic Education (K-NICE) programme. Launched by the Attorney General, it is geared towards providing a framework for sustained and integrated civic education to the citizenry in Kenya.

It is a successor to a 2011 programme.

In the past, civic education was viewed as foreign-funded, undertaken solely by civil society organisation and seen largely within the limited lense of governance and civil and political rights.

K-NICE was designed to move away from this approach to a more unified one.
As K-NICE got relaunched, it provided an opportunity to reflect on the status of civic education.

Just like voter education, civic education too has not been as heightened over the last five years as it was in the past. A few years ago, I listened to a conversation that there was already enough civic education in the country.

If one looks at the reduction in focus on civic education, it may seem that this is in line with the feeling that sufficient civic education has been provided. However, this is not an accurate.

The launch of the K-NICE strategy is useful. It demonstrates that contrary to the above assertion, civic education is still needed.

It is a continuous process to ensure that citizens are aware of the critical issues in society, engage in the process and improve the governance processes of the country.

Public participation is now a critical part of our democratic governance. For participation to be meaningful, citizens require information. Without adequate and relevant information, realising public participation would be difficult. This underscores the place of civic education in the country.

Secondly, civic education needs to move to cover all aspects of societal life. It is gratifying to note that the strategy rolled by the AG includes areas such as road safety and disaster response and management.

To ensure that the process is successful, there are certain underlying issues that have to be resolved. Civic education requires resources.

In the past those resources have largely come from external donors, otherwise known as development partners. This is not sustainable.

Even as government launched the strategy, real progress will require allocation of sufficient resources. Countries like Germany set aside resources for this.

Resource allocation makes it possible to undertake activities. It also is a sign of commitment that the country considers civic education a core component of its efforts to continually improve its democracy.

As provision of civic education is made, it is necessary to ensure that the envisaged collaboration between State and non-State actors.

This will ensure that we avoid civic education being either an exercise in public relations or an exercise in political campaigns for sides in an electoral contest.

This latter issue must be left to politicians so that civic education focuses on non-partisan information.

We also have to make sure that civic education is not provided only a few months to elections. There is a real danger that such kind of approach will not be sustainable. They will be episodic and coloured in electoral campaign environment.

With the increase in social media platforms, methodology for delivery also has to be diversified so that we reach the majority of the population, which are largely youth. The over-reliance on printed pamphlets and books must be avoided.

Sustained civic education will ensure that the process of transforming our country is realised.

COLLINS ODOTE lectures at the University of Nairobi