On 07.07.2020 Kenyans took to the streets and exercised their democratic right to protest. The right to peacefully protest is enshrined in article 37 of the Kenyan Constitution. Which outlines that Kenyan authorities should allow peaceful demonstrators to proceed without fear of attack, and respect and support their rights to assembly and expression. The protest successfully went ahead despite state violence that was meted against protestors by intimidation, tear gassing, brutalizing and arresting us, but we were determined and remained unbowed. Saba Saba this year marked it’s 30th anniversary. The struggle for fighting against the brutalizing, dehumanization and disregard for Kenyan lives and the constitution continues. In the past couple of years under the current regime, it has been evident that the country is steadily reverting back to authoritarian ways, with criminalization of poverty being at an all-time high while the real perpetrators of violence and graft in the country remain securely perched in positions of power and leadership in the country.
Acts of Protest.
Protest exists and is exhibited in many forms. As we may very well know, in Kenya there is still an insurmountable amount of stigma towards ‘street protest’. I remember very well, bystanders during the Saba Saba March being exceedingly hostile towards protestors, this was coupled with the police force tear gassing and brutalising us. Protest can also be exhibited online as was the case with the #SabaSabaMarchForOurLives and #StopPoliceBrutalityKE hashtags on Twitter. Both online and offline forms of protest are valuable and work hand in hand.
The Internet, Protest and Freedom of Expression.
Kenya, a country still subject to occasions of power blackouts, with some locations devoid of the requisite infrastructure to power communities with electricity, is still struggling to consistently and effectively connect to the internet. Social media platforms and messaging applications such as Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp and Telegram prove essential for community organizing. The world over, #BlackLivesMatter protests happened every other day speaking up against police brutality. Social media and messaging platforms were awash with phone data and physical safety advisories useful while protesting, meeting the urgent need of citizens looking to be informed on how to protect themselves against state machinery that doesn’t value human life. Several virtual meetings were also held to raise awareness and mobilise against state injustices, especially as a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic, which has hampered physical meetups for large groups.
On the day of the protest Boniface Mwangi, a Kenyan photojournalist, politician and activist involved in social-political activism, was via Twitter, reported to be arrested while sitting at a café, while merely awaiting the release of fellow comrades who had been arrested by the police. If it wasn’t for mobile phones and the internet, we need to ask ourselves how would Kenyans be made aware of the injustices in the country? If you follow Boniface on his social media, you will see that he uses his platform to share occurrences sent to him via his private messages, sometimes using the hashtag #SemaUkweli. These stories narrate injustices faced by Kenyans who have no way of getting their story effectively heard. This has now become the last recourse for Kenyans who have been denied justice. Afterall, justice delayed is justice denied.
The internet has suddenly become even more of an essential service than it ever was in the past. We need to realise that it is a vital component for freedom of expression, for all citizens regardless of their location and it must be protected at all costs. However, our comrades and neighbours in Ethiopia, have not been so fortunate with the recent internet shutdown. This occurred in the wake of protests against the killing of prominent Oromo musician and social activist, Haacaaluu Hundeessaa. In response, the government in order to thwart dissension in the nation, implemented a country-wide internet shutdown
As community organisers rely even more on mobile phones and the internet for sending vital information before, during and after protests, the state is also keenly aware of this. During the #SabaSabaMarchForOurLives in Kenya, one of the protestors mentioned the police confiscating their phone thereby effectively preventing them from connecting with the outside world. Fortunately, a fellow comrade who was present at the time, was able to report this and raise awareness to other protestors who were on the streets to remain vigilant. It is not only using tear gas and batons that the state muzzles and limits freedom of expression, but also when they limit our means to communicate. State machinery understands the power of the internet, and is rapidly evolving and adapting.
As we expose more of these stories, state surveillance also seems to be a growing concern. In an article outlining how poor urban youth are criminalized by systemic violence, Minoo Kyaa and Maryanne Kasina pen how police vigilantes profile youth in slums through social media and murder them. Are we concerned yet, because it is becoming increasingly evident that offline and now online spaces are now both precarious, for exhibiting our vital acts of protest.
Some protest resources:
Since 2014 iHub Research has been supporting the uptake of digital tools and platforms for purposes of community organising and accessing opportunities and resources online by citizens around Kenya. Through our research it has been evident that there exists not only a gap, but a widening gap as countries become more digitally reliant. Kenya’s internet penetration currently stands just above the 20% threshold according to a recent report by Research ICT Africa. This means almost 80% of Kenyans do not benefit from being online. In our evolving research we have had the opportunity to work closely with counties, namely: Nakuru, Kisumu, Uasin Gishu and Mombasa. Collaborating with youth groups and community based organisations in these counties has exposed us to the actual lived reality, rather than the utopian narrative that is commonly propagated.
Kenyans are still struggling to connect to the internet due to three main reasons: digital literacy, cost of access and devices as well as infrastructural challenges. During this phase of our digital literacy program with support from SIDA, iHub has supported the establishment of communities of practice in Uasin Gishu, Kisumu and Mombasa county. This was aimed at supporting a larger percentage of Kenyans in these regions use ICTs for community organising and for personal benefits ranging from employment, education and socialising.
Kenyans are still struggling to get online, so what’s next? This edition of #InternetPizzaFriday focused on the role of entrepreneurs in bridging this widening digital gap; do entrepreneurs have a responsibility? Several businesses today rely on digital platforms in order to offer their products or services to their customers, the same platforms that Kenyans are struggling to access affordably, conveniently or even at all.
How can entrepreneurs get involved in bridging the widening digital gap?
It goes without saying that as more Kenyans get online, the bigger the market share digital businesses, will potentially be able to access for their products or services.
The solution is then simple, tech entrepreneurs need to be actively involved in decreasing barriers to access such as cost, technology, devices, complexity of platforms.
Below are a number of practical ways that tech entrepreneurs can be actively involved:
Mobile friendly and simpler platforms
Majority of Kenyans access the internet via mobile which provides a different quality of access as compared to access via personal computer; it’s thus important to note that ‘not all access is equal’. By developing platforms, products and services that can be accessed via mobile and sites that do not require large amounts of data to access, tech entrepreneurs can effectively decrease barriers to access.
Often we may think contributing to policy discussions is something that should be left to civil society organisations and governments, however this is an inaccurate assumption. By participating in policy debates, tech entrepreneurs bring the expertise of understanding a customers experience in accessing their products and services which is vital in creating a ‘friendly’ digital environment for both entrepreneurs and customers. A multi-stakeholder approach is vital for any policy creation process, which eventually results in a thriving business environment. We need more tech entrepreneurs participating in the development of digital policy. These conversations often happen in unstructured forms e.g. on Social Media or in more structured forms such as on platforms like KICTANet.
With over 12 millions Kenyans on Whatsapp and over 8 million on Facebook, how are tech enterprises transforming their customer service dynamics to take advantage of this reach? By meeting Kenyans on the platforms where they are already actively having conversations, without requiring them to send emails, access company websites and other options that are data heavy, tech enterprises effectively improve access to their product offerings.
Years later, digital literacy is still a buzzword, basically because it is still a challenge that plagues a majority of the population. Across the world there exists different forms and techniques of digital literacy programs, but how should entrepreneurs approach digital literacy? Does your enterprise go beyond explaining the step by step process of accessing your offering? Do you have a Frequently Asked Question resource? Do you give your customers tips on how to access your platform in the cheapest and convenient way? Do you have a customer service team that hand holds your customers as they access your offering? These are just some questions you can consider as you develop your product offering.
The journey of bridging the widening digital gap needs all hands on deck, and entrepreneurs should not be left behind this call.
Find here the link to the #InternetPizzaFriday presentation.
In February 2019 the government of Kenya went ahead and announced the biometric registration of Kenyans to start in 15 counties. With the plan to register nearly 50million Kenyans aged six and above, a whopping 6 Billion has been set aside for this exercise.
Since this announcement it has been evident this Digital ID System, dubbed the National Integrated Identity Management System (NIIMS), has been marred as a result of political interests. This began with the questionable procurement process, the strict timeline of conducting the process in 45days despite insufficient notice and the threat of no access to government services e.g. passport if one does not have a huduma namba as was mentioned by the Director of Immigration, Gordon Kihalangwa. Why does there exist such urgency for Kenyans to register for this ‘huduma namba’, lauded to improve security and ease of access to government services?
On April 1st a court ruling suspended the mandatory biometric registration of Kenyans, making it an optional exercise. However, reports from counties such as Mombasa and comments from government officials illustrate that the process is still mandatory where duress and even brute force is being used against Kenyans who do not comply and disparage the process on social media.
The questions that remain, is it possible to stop, recalibrate and restart this process in good faith? Can we determine why exactly we need digital identification in Kenya (if at all) and what this process should and deserves to look like?
At the Internet Society 2019 African Chapters Advocacy meeting in Addis Ababa at the African Union Commission, between the 9th and 10th of April, we got to discuss at length how exactly this process should look like, where everyone’s interests are considered and protected.
The Public Participation Bill of 2018 outlines that the responsible authority shall provide reasonable and meaningful opportunities for public participation. On the matter of digital ID’s in Kenya, public participation was not employed to get perspectives from citizens and other stakeholders in order to uphold a collaborative spirit. By seeking opinions and feedback from stakeholders the government could have addressed concerns and put in place solutions as well as receiving buy-in from all involved in the process, resulting in a more harmonised process.
In addition to a lack in public participation, information on the National Integrated Identity Management System (NIIMS) still seems scanty hence casting doubt on the intentions of the government especially due to the sensitivity of the data being collected from Kenyans. Communication of the roll out strategy, objectives and potential impact based on evidence based research has not been done for the benefit of Kenyans. At risk of duplication of efforts, additionally how does the huduma namba supersede all the other numerous forms of identification that Kenyans have? This is information if delivered to Kenyans in a timely, clear and organised manner could change the negative perceptions of the lauded Huduma Namba.
Kenya still does not have a ratified Data Protection policy, so it would be folly for the government to conduct this biometric registration process, when no law exists to protect the sensitive data being collected from Kenyans; or even protect Kenyans from their data being misused to defend infractions against them such as surveillance, exclusion to services or even spaces.
The Omidyar Network identifies Good Identification as fundamental to inclusive growth and could unlock economic value equivalent to 3–6 percent of GDP on average by 2030, this is from a study conducted by Mckinsey Global.
What is Good Identification? According to the Omidyar Network, Good Identification is an empowering form of identity designed to be inclusive, private, secure, and controlled by the individual with the goal of helping people to participate more fully and fearlessly in society and the digital economy. Issuing Good Identification, backed by safeguards and principles, helps countries maximise the benefits and continental aspirations while minimising the risks for people, business, and government.
Here is a summary of principles on identification for sustainable development towards the digital age, that highlight the elements of inclusion, design and governance.
Currently the biometric registration still continues, albeit not being mandatory; Kenyans are being encouraged to voluntarily undergo the registration process. I believe it’s not too late to fix what has been broken, but we need to do an overhaul of the process, one that employs a multi-stakeholder dynamic, is transparent, ethical, secure and eventually valuable to Kenya’s economy.
If you live in Kenya you’ll have experienced the steady increase in internet costs as a result of increased excise duty in the recently amended Finance Bill 2018, which adopts a taxation of 15% on Internet Data Services. The result has been a progressive increase of internet package costs as exhibited in the screenshot above.
Last month, Safaricom slashed the costs of buying internet bundles and has even began providing internet packages that offer subscribers free Whatsapp on select bundles even after the exhaustion of purchased bundles. They say this is in a bid to increase internet penetration amongst Kenyans, and comes after increasing M-Pesa tariffs on the basis of Finance Bill, 2018.
However, on Wednesday last week, Safaricom released a statement indicating that their headline price for voice calls and data would increase by 30 cents and SMS by 10 cents, as a result of the increased taxes passed in the Finance Act 2018.
What then will be the effect of this?
Some of the government’s flagship programmes namely Ajira Digital, The Digital Literacy Programme, Ease of Doing Business (eCitizen) and National Optic Fibre Backbone (NOFBI) all propose to improve access to digital spaces by Kenyans through customised online platforms, skills building and even infrastructure development. However, how will this increase in internet prices impact these interventions? The bottom line is that Kenyans must be able to afford internet services in order to benefit from these initiatives, and that already precarious reality has been threatened further.
This then raises the question of the methodology used by the government to review taxation levels, if at all it exists.
By increasing the costs attributed to getting online, assuming all other factors remain constant, Kenyans are only able to afford a fraction of the internet bundles they were once able to afford before the price increase, thus directly resulting in reduced internet access across the country. It is also important to consider that there will now be Kenyans who are completely locked out of even affording, the cheapest package subscription to internet bundles as a result of this price increase. Simply put, the resulting effect is a step back in the achievement of internet affordability for most Kenyans and even the complete locking out of others from the online space.
Bar reversing the taxes on internet services, what else can the government do?
Public Access Solutions
Introduce more working public access solutions for Kenyans to access the internet for free or at subsidised rates. This would involve making budgetary allocations to include internet access in public areas such as: libraries, schools, local centres, community centres, or public WiFi for use by community.
Policy Impact Studies
The government should adopt a multi-stakeholder model that enables them to form partnerships with organisations that advise them on the impact of various policy reform regimes. By taking into consideration recommendations derived from evidence based research studies the government can more sustainably review legislation to ensure maximum positive outcomes and minimal risk of negative outcomes on the economy and livelihoods.
The African Continent
According to Africans online, the internet has had a positive impact on many aspects of society, including education, the economy and personal relationships.
In the past couple of months some countries in the Africa region have undergone a different type of ‘internet taxation’, with Uganda taxing social media and Benin imposing a social media tax, that was fortunately later repealed. Currently, the internet has only penetrated 35% of Africa’s population, what does increased internet costs as a result of taxes do to this number? What is the eventual effect on aspects of economy, education and personal relationships?
How has this increase in internet costs affected you? What are you doing differently to adjust to this increase? We’d like to hear from you! E-mail us at email@example.com or comment below.
The Kenyan Constitution, provides sovereign power to its citizens, either directly or through elected representatives. The Constitution brought in several changes including devolution which is decentralisation and redistribution of power and resources. This study had two asks, 1) Has devolution affected policy making, and if so, how? 2) Additionally who are the key players in policy dynamics in Kenya and what is the media’s role in influencing policy? Are there stakeholders whose influence supersedes the other?
Our findings confirm that devolution has devolved policy making with some actors playing a more active role than others in influencing public policy in Kenya. We also found that the devolution process takes more time than previously expected, where for example health as a function has not achieved full devolution.
While we do identify the groups and level of influence, whether they do it successfully is another challenge altogether. Due to the complexity of relationships, circumstances around public participation and nuances that differ, thus affecting degree of influence amongst them. Actors employ different methods to reach out to stakeholders, via official meetings and/or semi-structured mechanisms such as calling in favours.
Kenyans, a conservative people also hold dear the opinions and counsel of religious leaders, chiefs and village elders who form key members of the community.
The media, a key player in policy influence dynamics, plays a role in dissemination of crucial information used to educate and inform. Throughout all our interviews, radio emerged as the most dominant and trusted medium of communication in both rural and urban areas for reasons ranging from accessibility and affordability.
It is evident that there are a number of active policy influencers, but even in the event of devolution, we still see that citizens are a major stakeholder group that not only civil society but also legislators take into consideration. In the course of conducting the study in Nairobi, Nakuru, Kisumu and Mombasa, we discovered that despite the differences in profiles of rural and urban populations, both are a leading influencer when it comes to policy in Kenya as explained later on in the report.
The Media, Civil Society Organisations, Politicians, Donors and International Organisations play a supporting role in enabling citizens to perform this role effectively through various resources both tangible and intangible. It is also important to point out that there exists a trilogy in Kenyan policy influence.
You can read the full report here.
The hashtag Ifikie Wazazi (I will not link it in order to avoid affording any more visibility to the hashtag) whose objective was to expose young Kenyans, mostly minors to their parents in order to instil discipline upon them, albeit in this convoluted mechanism, recently rocked our social media timelines and still dominates a lot of conversations offline with the theme “Where are the Youth of our country really headed?”. This will not be a ‘morality’ (whatever that means to you) post, there’s hundreds of hot takes online that do that justice, this post will however cover issues on consent, privacy and online safety.
A quick summary of the hashtag and its contents:
On 11th April is when the first tweet under the hashtag appeared, which consisted of screen grabs from Whatsapp of sexually provocative images of young kenyans presenting as couples in various states of undress. The images even though some didn’t reveal the faces, were albeit tagged with the handles of the subjects. It seems that the individuals sharing the images are mutual friends who had access to those captioned and chose to share them with the wider public with words like: “kasongee mpaka kanisa yao” let it reach even their churches; “Iendelee kapsaa ifikie husband to be” let it continue until it reaches their husband to be; “Hii ifike mpaka ancestors” this one let it reach the ancestors. This “ifikie wazazi” momentum seemed to have began on Whatsapp.
According to a 2017 report released by Nendo, Whatsapp has over 12 million monthly1 active users1 with this figure set to grow as levels of internet penetration in the country continue to increase. As with most cases of increased connectivity the increase of cybersecurity issues tend to also follow suit as more and more people get online, especially without the adequate education as is the case with many Kenyans who are not aware or overly worried about issues relating to privacy, security and safety online.
Whatsapp is in comparison ‘private’ as compared to Twitter, because of the very reason that you can only view someone’s status (Snapchat’s story function encrypted clone) if you are mutual contacts, with the other person as long as that they have not hidden their story from you. It is evident Whatsapp wasn’t giving the hashtag the life it needed to actually ‘fikia wazazi’ aka reach the parents. On Twitter is where the hashtag got injected with the steam it needed to permeate all our social media timelines and even the television screens in our homes.
For this section of the post I will outline Section 26 through 28 of Part IV of the Cybersecurity and Protection Bill 20162 and why in this case ‘Ifikie Wazazi’ dangerously infringed the law or where infractions casually came too close for comfort.
- A person who, through any computer system or network, proposes, grooms or solicits to meet a child for the purpose of engaging in sexual activities with the child, commits an offence and shall be liable upon conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding twenty five years or to a fine not exceeding two hundred and fifty thousand shillings or both.
If we made the assumption that the subjects in the photographs were minors, or where one was a minor and/or the one taking the photographs was an adult this could be an instance where some type of solicitation or grooming took place to create sexually provocative scenes and images. This setting if not illegal could very well pose risky in the event minors are in any way involved.
- A person who intentionally transmits or causes the transmission of any communication through a
computer system or network to bully, threaten or harass another person, where such communication
places another person in fear of death, violence or bodily harm, commits an offence and is liable on
conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding five years or a fine not exceeding two hundred thousand shillings or both.
- A person who transfers, publishes, or disseminates, including making a digital depiction available for distribution or downloading through a ‘telecommunications network or through any other means of
transferring data to a computer, the intimate image of another person commits an offence and is liable, on conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding thirty years or fine not exceeding three hundred thousand shillings or both.
The very nature of the hashtag, which was either uploading and/or sharing (via the Retweet function) pictures of young kenyans which we have already established were sexually provocative (whether they were minors or not) with the intent to shame constitutes bullying, threatening and harassment with the intent to embarrass and invoke punishment by the guardians of the subjects. Furthermore, as a result of these pictures these subjects faced an inordinate amount of threatening, targeted harassment for the mere fact that they took these pictures and were now available for the entire of Kenyans on Twitter to critique.
As I have mentioned in several of my blog posts on the iHub website, women online face more harassment than men and even by perusing the comments on the hashtag there seems to be more negative sentiments and comments targeting the women as compared to the men most definitely attributed to the patriarchal nature of Kenyan culture.
Reports in the media have reported that police officers stormed Nairobi Michuki Park where several teenagers were arrested while engaging in illicit activities including taking nude and semi-nude images. Beyond these repercussions of jail time, there is other elements that the subjects of these pictures have had to grapple with since the hashtag surfaced.
We may not be willing to acknowledge this but one of the more common effects of cyberbullying and online harassment, especially on this scale and targeted at minors is emotional degradation that may even result in lifelong scars especially if not addressed by seeking professional health.
We all know “the internet never forgets” and unfortunately, the images and names associated with the Ifikie Wazazi hashtag have been immortalised by the internet and this presents the subjects with an impossible situation considering the compromising pictures that will probably plague them into the future when trying to establish both professional and personal relationships.
According to the Internet Users statistics the African continent contributes just over 10% of the global internet users, with this number set to increase as well as the impact of the digital economy, this is not the time to discourage more users getting online (especially the youth who consist more than half of our populations), but encourage more to get online albeit with the necessary education of how to do it safely and most effectively.
Many users online have weighed in on their opinion of the hashtag as well as its aftermath. However, in my opinion one thing remains extremely evident is that Kenyans both young and old and especially those who participated in the hashtag whether willingly or without consent need to be equipped with more resources to educate them of their rights online and how to protect themselves online in the face of highly charged state of social media platforms in Kenya.
As I come to the end of this post I would also like to question how exactly the Cybersecurity and Protection Bill 2016 is currently being enforced, is it protecting users? Was it crafted with Kenyan’s rights in mind? Is it being used for intimidation or any unlawful actions? Is it ambiguous? All these questions when answered effectively, can steer us closer to having an ideal policy that protects its users while also prioritising the sustainability and freedom of online spaces in Kenya.
iHub through the Research initiative recently launched their online safety workshops, the first phase specifically targeting young women enrolled in tertiary institutions. In the event you are interested in attending or replicating similar trainings for members of your institution please reach out to us on firstname.lastname@example.org
1State of the Internet in Kenya Report 2017
2Cybersecurity and Protection Bill 2016
Something interesting is happening on social media in Kenya, whose narrative is mainly being controlled by the youth, a subset of Kenyas men and women between the ages of 18 and 35.
Young people are taking to social media to discuss with exponentially much larger audiences than most would have in their offline channels, not only about everyday happenings but even those that most in our society would deem taboo based on traditional and cultural precepts imposed on us by society.
The Communications Authority of Kenya estimates that about 40.5 Million out of a population of 48.54 Million use the internet with an internet penetration of 89.4%. To take a closer look on how the internet in Kenya is gendered we will look closer at women’s experience online.
With only 20% of women in slums connected to the internet versus 57% of men and women saying prices of data are ‘unrealistic’ it is clear we need to to put in place smarter initiatives to get more women online in order to achieve gender equality. To add insult to injury, more than one in five women in Kenya also experience online harassment, which can be an obvious deterrent to women staying online, once they get connected.
Kenya one of the countries in Africa that boasts a high internet penetration rate is no stranger to instances of cyber violence, with women bearing the bigger brunt of this disaster. Earlier this year a young girl committed suicide as a result of cyber bullying. It is evident that the harassment women face online, is related to that which they bear offline, especially in a highly patriarchal society as is Kenya.
In my research I seek to understand how women use the internet, their individual experiences doing so, perceptions of digital safety, awareness and education while navigating the internet and the policy gaps and opportunities as far as safeguarding internet freedoms in kenya is concerned.
Through the course of the research we aim to understand how exactly cyber violence occurs in order to recommend initiatives that can not only result in behavioural changes in Kenyans when they go online, but to also see how policy and structures can fill the gaps existing that are resulting in the internet being a less safe space for Kenyans.
(Abstract submission for Social Media & Social Order Conference)
As we proceed to travel around Kenya speaking to the citizenry as well as government officials for our research project on Government Responsiveness in the Age of ICTs, a couple of interesting themes have been recurring in these discussions.
Currently in Kisumu after having conducted sessions with 25 participants, I can’t help but think about access to information and feedback mechanisms that the government avails especially in this age of a digital government.
What really is the impact of having access to relevant information by Kenyans? Do Kenyans trust the feedback mechanism provided by the government? What is the government’s responsibility in providing access to information and maintaining and effective feedback loop? Do Kenyans have a responsibility to keep the government accountable or does all responsibility lie on the government after we pay our taxes?
The Jubilee government in 2014 launched it’s ‘going digital’ campaign which has now resulted in a number of government services being provided online with sites like iTax and e-citizen gaining popularity amongst Kenyans who are online. For several reasons among them fewer queues, saving on transport, time and quicker service, Kenyans seem to prefer accessing government services online rather than visiting physical offices to be attended to.
During one of our focus group discussions in Kisumu a participant mentioned that he did not trust the government to provide Kenyans with information that he needs to know, just what they want Kenyans to know. He further explained what he meant by saying the government would never share information that would paint them in a negative light even if it was the truth. For this reason he doesn’t bother going to some of these government websites such as myGov that are used to keep Kenyans up to date of progress of the current government.
“They will never post what you need to know.”
“They would never post material that paints their image wrongly.”
As a social media enthusiast I regularly check my Twitter and Facebook profiles to keep up to date with current affairs, friends and family and select topics of interest. Government officials as well have not been left behind in creating social media profiles, where they update the citizenry on their activities and share crucial information.
In our analysis of the feedback loop, an interesting observation also brought up by a participant is that government representatives are rarely willing to answer the ‘hard questions’ online, yet they say they are available to interact with Kenyans online regarding any issues brought up. Rarely are they also willing to answer questions directly, especially those relating to graft, whistle blowing or reports of inadequate services.
“Tess: How does this affect you as a citizen?
Participant: it makes me want to give up asking questions.”
In this scenario we see the instance of government responsiveness having a negative impact on ardour, interest to keep the government accountable.
This then begs the question: Does the lack of government’s responsiveness have a hand in citizen apathy?
A simple google search of ‘Kenyans apathy’ yields pages upon pages in results of articles penning the issue of ‘voter apathy’ and general apathy of the Kenyan population in Kenya.
What is apathy? According to Merriam Webster:
noun ap·a·thy \ˈa-pə-thē\
- Lack of feeling or emotion
- Lack of interest or concern
“The price of apathy towards public affairs is to be ruled by evil men” – Plato
Kenyans together with the Government have a unique opportunity to use ICTs in solving the apathy conundrum and enhance accountability of governments.
By improving the feedback loop, more Kenyans will be encouraged to perform their role in keeping the Government in check and seeking services online.
“The discussion we should be having currently is how to get more Kenyans online.”
Kenya boasts of having an 89.7% internet penetration rate, a total of 39.6 million internet users with 29.6 million accessing the internet via mobile phone data subscriptions (source: CA). However, a common theme that has been brought up in Nairobi, Nakuru and Kisumu is that we need to re-evaluate the cost of going online as well as enhancing education around the use of ICT tools.
Next week we take our fact finding to Mombasa, stay tuned.
In Kenya bills undergo a process before they eventually become law i.e
- First Reading
- Second Reading
- Third Reading
- Presidential Assent
Parliament ensures publishing of bills in the National Gazette as well as online in form of a bill tracker that can be found here and a resource to keep abreast of house business here. Often you will also find proposed bills available online, cross posted on different government managed websites. This definitely locks out a great percentage of the population for reasons ranging from: internet access, literacy, disposable income as well as citizen apathy which greatly limits awareness of parliamentary proceedings. Moreover, opening up public participation to the greater public (without focus on particular stakeholders, organisations or citizen groups) would make managing the process too large a task and almost impossible for objective and valuable feedback.
Met with these challenges inhibiting effective public participation hereis a summary of methods the government has proposed to mitigate these challenges. These include appropriate timing to ensure constructive feedback, giving opportunity for all no matter how divergent the views are, ensuring a representative demographic participating in the process, counties creating a customised strategy to manage the structure of public participation. While these are fantastic ideas, the onus lies on the 47 counties in Kenya to ensure they are enforced. However, the question still remains amongst a public that is apathetic who is keeping them accountable?
In a paper outlining public participation in Kenya, Wanga Obora clearly outlines the role of civil society organisations not only act as watchdogs, but also an influence on public opinion in terms of supporting or being against local government policies and practices. They often initiate the formation of watchdog committees and citizen advisory groups and facilitate their activities.
Civil society organizations have for long played a significant role in enhancing a culture of participation across the world.
While appreciating the important role that civil society groups are playing in policy influence via bill amendment processes, it’s crucial to also note how social media has increased citizen participation in this process beyond traditional initiatives such as barazas (Local meetings convened by local government officials such as Village Elders, Assistant Chiefs, Chiefs, DOs, DCs, County Commissioners among others. In most cases, baraza refers to meetings convened by the first three). Social media platforms in Kenya especially Twitter and Facebook as well as platforms such as Google Docs are being used to provide feedback to parliament regarding bill proposals.
Taking the example of the ICT Bill proposed in 2016, this was the perfect illustration of how the internet was and is currently being used in Kenya to enhance civic engagement. Using the hashtag #KillTheICTBill Kenyans on social media shared their opinion and feedback on the bill that was proposed. Using co created documents on Google Docs we could also see individuals having an easier method to contribute their voice to the bill.
However, even with these opportunities for individuals to participate in the process, civil society groups still have a bigger voice mainly attributed to the fact that they have access to resources and contribute an aspect of already established ‘organised’ public participation that individual citizens have not yet mastered. Moreover, county governments heavily rely on Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) to provide initiatives focused on increasing citizen participation. It’s important to note however, most of these CSOs are reliant on donor funding which presents a huge risk for sustainability.
Some statistics (2015)
“Only 5.7 percent of Kenyans have participated in citizen consultation forums at the county level in the past one year. Only 17 percent of Kenyans are aware of how much funds have been allocated to their counties. Sixty-eight percent of Kenyans have major concerns regarding the way local governments are run. However, 72 percent of them believe that as individuals they can only do little or nothing to influence Government,” Cornelus Oduor, CEO of the Centre for Enhancing Democracy and Good governance read out.
This clearly depicts a gap in understanding of the responsibility as well as power that rests in citizen groups, that in turn affects effectiveness of citizen participation in Kenya. To mitigate this, a consortium of civil society groups pledged almost $100 M to strengthen public participation in county governments.
It is clear CSOs are at the centre of enhancing public participation in both national and county governments.
“Real citizen participation is about the ability to influence outcomes,” said Wanjiru Gikonyo, head of The Institute for Social Accountability, “and it’s both beneficial to the county governments and to citizens; it’s the root of success.”
How far are we from realising this as a reality in Kenya? To what extent are citizens influencing policy today? What has evolved in the past 2 years (since 2015) to enhance citizen participation? What are the current good case practices in counties to enhance public participation? What is locking out widespread public participation in most counties?
These are questions we hope to answer as a result of the work of our study trying to understand how policy is influenced in Kenya.
The question of devolution also brings in an interesting shift in how the legislative process plays out in Kenya. Under the devolved system of government, we now have the Senate and National Assembly at the national level and the County Assemblies at the county level as the primary legislative organs. Has the devolved function of legislation impacted development and ensured harmony between laws developed at the county level as well as the national level as was expected of devolution?
Stay tuned as we ask and eventually answer these questions.