Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Civil society organizations should focus on real issues

Many civil society organizations in Kenya especially those that champion youth and women issues have failed to effectively focus on their Vision and Mission . While we acknowledge the role they play especially in fighting for democracy and social justice besides philanthropic roles, the way they conduct their activities is wanting.

 Kenyans crave for the strength and focus that once dominated the civil society before the inception of political pluralism in 1991, especially now that our country is littered with myriad problems ranging from corruption, nepotism, tribalism and the widening gap between the rich and the poor. Poor management, duplication of roles, mushrooming of organizations without proper operational frameworks has spoiled the functional capacity and reputation of the civil society which are viewed as watchdogs for the citizens.

 It doesn’t make sense to keep launching organizations if the old ones are left to go extinct. This is what has affected political party system in Kenya and the same virus seems to have spread to the civil society. One of the oldest civil society organizations; National Convention Executive Council (NCEC) and Citizen Coalition for Constitutional Change 4Cs, have always played pivotal roles in fighting for justice and democracy but many Kenyans are left wondering what went wrong.

 When Reverend Timothy Njoya and Kivuta Kibwana were at the helm of NCEC, Kenyans used to see their efforts and resolve to fight for justice. It’s ironical that those who took over have abdicated their responsibilities by killing the spirit that once dominated the organization. We want to see the past vibrancy of NCEC especially now that the Country desperately needs a new constitution. Something must be seriously wrong with the civil society today.

For example, the Youth Agenda, which is the only active Youth movement in Kenya, has been doing well; bringing together young people for trainings and chatting the way forward for our Country. However, the movement’s current activities are carried out in the boardrooms instead of decentralizing it. Many resolutions made in forums lack follow-ups for implementation.

Last year in August, the Youth Agenda in partnership with other civil society organizations convened the third National youth Convention (NYC) at KICC with about 1200 youth from all over the country. The resolutions passed in the three days event were encouraging. These included the formation of an umbrella body that will amalgamate women and youth efforts to capture as many civic and parliamentary seats as possible since it was an election year.

One of the convenors, who is also an activist Ms Ann Njogu, came up with Youth and Woman association (WAYA) which was accepted by delegates in the plenary to hit the ground and campaign for women and youth. If you meet Ann Njogu today, she can’t even remember about WAYA. While at the Bomas of Kenya this September, for another National Youth Convention with over 1500 youths, the resolutions passed last year dominated the floor.

This is a negative trend of recycling issues of yesterday as if we don’t have new challenges in the country. It’s wasteful to spend huge amounts of donor funds for intangible functions. Seminars, conferences and conventions should be reduced to actual working on the ground to sensitize Kenyans especially on civic education. Poor selection criteria for participants and agenda for the convention must be looked into by convenors.

Calling over 1500 youths to Bomas to talk about capturing political power and how the youth have been marginalized by the ruling elite is mere crap. Political leadership is not the only avenue to bring positive change in our country since God has endowed us with different talents. Not every one will become President, MP or councillor. I am not being prejudicial to those who came to Bomas but the convenors should pick youths who are capable of articulating issues that face this country.

You can’t select a goat keeper from a marginalized community to teach him how to run a political campaign for MP and convince donors that your organization is working to empower the youth. We live in a representative democracy and not every Tom Dick and Harry can make it in political leadership.

 The huge amount of money spent at Bomasi of Kenya was enough to conduct a five day road show to preach harmony and reconciliation throughout the country after the post election violence or even conduct civic education campaign which would have made a bigger impact. On other hand, online blogging initiatives that disclose government inequities like the one by Mars Group of Mwalimu Mati, are excellent but not many Kenyans can access the internet.

It would have been better to use the donors’ money to pay for airtime in radio stations and Television in order to reach a wider audience. Problems never end in the society. Activism for social justice, democracy and human rights will always be there because they ever exist even in advanced democracies. I urge donors to be strict in the programs that they fund.

They must monitor civil society organizations which purport to fight for social justice when in fact they are concentrating their activities in Nairobi and enriching themselves under the aegis of fighting for change in Kenya .
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