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
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.