What Happened to the Civil Society Movement in Kenya?

Ever wondered what happened to the vibrant Civil Society of early 80’s and 90’s?

Well your answer may be as right as mine; these organizations fizzled off in terms of consistency and vibrancy. The coming into power of NARC government in 2002 seemed to have killed and usurped the power of the civil society movement and that is why couple of years down the line the ideals that Kenyan people stood for in the dark days of Moi era are still far from realization.

The corruption, the inequalities gap and high standard of living in a state with no constitutional order has become the Kenya that we have and know. On the other hand the Civil Societies manifesting themselves in NGO’s, CBO’S and Societies have rapidly increased in numbers existing in almost every village in this nation but their impact are yet to be felt by Kenyans, bringing their commitment for change in question.

When the government fails her own people, and parliament lacks an opposition to champion for the aspirations of the people, the next best friend to a common man is the civil society. History records of great leaders and nations that have been able to make formidable steps towards expansion of democratic space of their people and nations.

Great leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Steve Biko, Pio Pinto Gama, Dr. Willy Mutunga, Davinda Lamba and Kepta Ombati are just but a few who through their respective peoples’ movements enabled to move their respective nations a step further in the quest for equality and justice.

The existing Civil Society organizations though intermittently have voiced their concerns over national issues, the culture of impunity has neither been tackled nor have cases of corruption been addressed. The government has shown that the existing Civil Society, unlike the NCEC of 1997 can be successfully emasculated.

Some of the reasons fronted to explain this inconsistency are not convincing enough; among them is the stringers and condition of donor funding and the gap created when the champions in the Civil Society movements are elected into parliament. Before their elections into parliament the likes of Martha Karua, Kiraitu Murungi, Kivutha Kibwana, Ababu Namwamba, and Cecile Mbarire among others were vibrant leaders in the Civil Society Movement, who could tread across the country like a colossus. While these leaders have not lived true to the ideals in which they stood for, the gap they left in the Civil Society Movement is yet to be filled.

Back to the current type of Civil Society Organizations, it is crystal clear that most of them are powered by professionalism and not passion. Most of these organizations have become a career and just another form of employment as opposed to the Civil Society of that time that was engineered by convictions of people who wanted to pave better ways and life in this country and therefore prefer the comfort of board room operation as opposed to connecting with the masses on the streets and the toiling peasants of this nation.

The Civil Society has to learn that most of its undoing is in the ways of its operation. They react only to the issues that are current in a reactionary manner tantamount to a fire fighting endeavor. Consequently they have failed to trigger an agenda for the nation at large leave alone the legislature as an institution. On the hand the CSO have failed to institute means and ways to sustain these agitation over a meaningful period of time. The calling off of the KNUT strike and subsequent agreement to the deal they had earlier rejected, just show how vulnerable these organizations have been.

Unlike the Civil Society of the past, the current crop does not auger well with the people on the ground; they lack community contacts and advocacy machineries to market and publicize their ideals. Equally, they issue statements and threats which in most cases fail in their implementation as they lack popular will of the masses

The general feeling about the Civil Societies Movement is that they have become talk shops, ever barking dogs that hardly bite and an extension of representation of donors interest wrapped in few peoples urge to have jobs, own NGO’s and create platforms for pursuing self interest. While this may not necessarily reflect the truth, it does not by far contradict some aspects of the unbecoming behavior expected of these organizations.

But all is not lost; these organizations can as well re-organize themselves to the level of dictating terms to their respective donors and not vice versa. They need to adopt new approaches; of recent we have seen some remaining true to their call. When prices were rising in Kenya and Kibaki administration failed to act, Kenyans themselves and organizations operating under the banner of Partnership for Change stood out to agitate for peoples desires.

The CSO’s should also incorporate use of IT, with aim of enrolling new members and embracing new ideas, reaching many people and raising significant civic awareness of many. Passion to serve humanity should be their basic requirement in recruiting and engaging their employees and volunteers; for this shall guarantee them consistency even when the donor funding is not in the picture.

These organizations should also consider establishing strong sources of funding including investing in business to create jobs for the youth as they attain their own financial independency enabling them to discord themselves from donor dependency.
Teamwork will also be a tool for their advantage; the civil society must purpose to forge a common unity among them in order to marshal the national support of the Kenyan people.

But above all, they must also put in place a transitional system within these organizations that will promote the participation of the youth and the younger generations. Good example has been set by some organizations like the Youth Agenda, a national civil society organization that through its tailor made programs, have been able to prepare and empower young people for leadership consistently for the last 10 years. Mars Group, Partnership for Change and Bunge la Mwananchi are also doing wonderful work to and with the people of this country.

I am also present to the fact that many young people out there are also doing great job in their personal or organizational level, and they too need to be supported, encouraged and be believed in. In most cases, the young activists find it rough from their elder counterparts who instead of mentoring them find them as potential competitors.

Kenya is our country, and when any one out there form an NGO, a CBO or any organization, they need to remain true to the reason upon which they were founded. Money, wealth and survival should not be the supporting backbone of the existence of our civil society movements.

Time is therefore ripe for Civil Society organizations to wake up from their deep slumber, move out of boardrooms and big hotels, roll up their sleeves, race to the grassroots for recruitments and serious agitation and grab this opportunity of restoring hope in the Kenyan population by selling their agenda to the people of Kenya. And since this nation deeply desire for some degree of inspiration, and these are the signs that the Civil Society must read and offer leadership on, in order to remain relevant to the people of this nation, time to change on their part and their ways of operation must be brought into re-evaluation.


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