I had a very interesting conversation with a friend of mine who works at the county level on issues of resource governance. I always tell her that her county gives hope to the constitutional importance of devolution. Despite the challenges that the county has, and the complaints citizens raise about the performance of their leaders at that level, a visit to the county demonstrates progress that has been realized since the introduction of county governments.
Our conversation demonstrated the importance of the level of empowerment that has happened to citizens and why leaders at both the county and national level need to take note and avoid treating citizens casually. My friend shared with me an instance where the county governor went to local radio stations to present the state of the county address, detailing progress the county had made.
In response citizens called the radio station demanding their regular programmes. In their view they did not want to listen to the issues being raised in the address. What was interesting is not non-interest in the speech but the explanation for the lack of interest. They pointed out that they were tired of being taken for a ride and given make believe statements that had no relationship with reality.
Consequently, they preferred to wait for the next elections and in the meantime let those in office serve their term but not try and lie to them that they were delivering services when the reality was the opposite. In addition, they pointed out that they were reaping the results of their voting decisions.
The story by friend demonstrates the kind of change that is required in this country. In too many parts of the country, leaders continue to engage in manipulating processes to wood wink the citizenry that they are delivering services and serving the public when in reality they are engaged in acts of self-aggrandizement.
Expecting that leaders will out of their own volition change course and start doing the right thing is to transfer citizens’ power to leaders and hope for miracles. Yes, miracles still happen, but they are few and far between. What will help is for citizens to recognise that sovereign power belongs to them and change tact in how they handle leaders who do not deliver.
The Cabinet Secretary for Education last week spoke of a practice that is prevalent in many parts of the country. Every January, there is proliferation of initiatives to issue bursary funds to support needy but bright students to access education. On face value this is a commendable initiative since access to education is a constitutional right and part of the international commitments under the Sustainable Development Goals.
However, as the Cabinet Secretary decried there are multiple and overlapping initiatives on bursaries. The danger is that the duplication that arises results in many deserving cases missing support, a situation that could have been avoided if the initiatives were harmonized and proper structures out in place on the identification of beneficiaries and distribution of the money.
Unfortunately, the duplication is condoned by the leaders for it reduces transparency and hence ensures lack of accountability. This way one can report to their electorate that they have been able distribute bursary in support of the needy, when in reality the bursary they are referring to was from a completely different kitty and distributed by an entity distinct from themselves.
Against such reality, it is refreshing to hear citizens who are connecting their plight to the quality of leadership they have. More rewarding is when such citizens admit their role in getting the leadership in place. What such statements demonstrate is that all is not lost. The first step in solving a problem is to admit its existence and accurately diagnose its cause.
When citizens recognise that they contribute substantially to the poor state of governance, one feels vindicated that Kenyans are not as meek and malleable all the time as they are painted. The many years of civic education and engagement that has taken place across the country has planted some seeds of empowerment. The levels of empowerment may differ across the country, but it exists.