2010 was a year of celebration for the citizens of Kenya, and brought much-needed advances in the country’s governance system. The replacement of the 1963 Independence Constitution with the new Constitution of Kenya 2010 signified the end of a centralised government and brought with it the promise of a devolved system. The people of Kenya would, for the first time, have a legal framework to enforce devolution and to encourage public participation in the management of public funds and resources.
Public participation sits at the heart of the Constitution as a national value. It is key to promoting transparency, accountability, and efficient service delivery.
But change has been slow. Although county governments were formally established under the 2010 Constitution, devolution was only rolled out in March 2013. Furthermore, according to a report by Transparency International Kenya, most of the country’s 47 counties are still struggling, six years later, to implement effective public participation mechanisms under the new law.
What does Public Participation look like?
According to the Uraia Trust, a donor-funded civic education program in Kenya, there are eight stages of public participation that are divided into three overarching categories. These are based on Sherry Arnstein’s “Ladder of Citizen Participation”. Within the following text, ‘leaders’ refers to local elected representatives.
Category 1: Non-participation
This is the lowest form of public participation – “non-participatory” signifies a scenario in which citizens are not consulted on their priorities, which are therefore not considered in decision–making.
The non-participation category consists of two stages:
Stage 1 is Manipulation. Through the use of propaganda, issued by leaders, citizens are manipulated into thinking that public participation is taking place, when in fact they do not play any part in decision–making.
Stage 2 is Therapy. Leaders control the content and amount of information that the public are given, viewing citizens as being incapable of decision–making. In this instance, “participation” becomes like group therapy sessions where “experts” are hired by leaders to “educate” citizens. Rather than taking into consideration the priorities of citizens, the focus is on adjusting the values and attitudes of citizens to become more in line with those of the leaders, who wish to avoid any challenge to their position.
Category 2: Tokenism
Unlike Manipulation and Therapy, citizens are given the opportunity to advise leaders on the needs and wants of the community. However, citizens’ wishes are rarely taken into account and the few public inputs that are responded to are tokens rather than signs of real participation.
The tokenism category consists of three stages:
Stage 3 is Informing. Leaders inform citizens of what is happening or will happen in the future. Informing means that information comes from the leaders to the citizens with no channel provided for feedback and no power for negotiation. The information provided is superficial, irrelevant or incomplete, and presented through media, such as news outlets, pamphlets, and posters. Citizens are told they have a chance to influence the proceedings but information is usually only given at a very late stage of the process when changes can no longer be made and questions are discouraged.
Stage 4 is Consultation. Unlike informing, there is a two-way flow of information between citizens and leaders through mediums like meetings, hearings, and surveys. However, the public input gathered throughout this process is rarely taken into account. Metrics that report meeting outcomes, such as attendance numbers, survey counts, and brochure distribution counts don’t include any objections, negotiation or protest.
Stage 5 is Placation. Citizens begin to gain influence through community representatives placed on boards or committees that have executive power, but the representatives can still be outnumbered or overruled if their opinions are unfavourable to the leaders. The influence of placation depends on whether citizens are given the opportunity to state their priorities or if citizens have been prompted to ask for certain things which will actually benefit the leaders more than the community.
Category 3: Citizen Power
This is public participation at its most effective level. Citizens are fully engaged, and their contributions are valued, accepted and have an impact.
The citizen power category consists of three stages:
Stage 6 is Partnership. Citizens can engage in negotiations with leaders or get involved in decision-making responsibilities. Partnership usually involves structures such as joint policy boards and planning committees. They work best when there are organised citizen leaders and groups within the community capable of holding leaders accountable.
Stage 7 is Delegated Power. Leaders transfer part of their authority to individuals or community groups who are given dominant decision-making authority over a particular plan, including veto power over government budgeting decisions. This gives citizens a sense of ownership over the state of their community.
Stage 8 is Citizen Control. This is the highest form of public participation, meaning that citizens have greater power over decision-making and are fully involved in the process. For example, by having majority seats in a committee, they would have direct control over funds to ensure they are allocated to prioritised areas.
For further information on public participation in relation to the governance of a country, read Uraia’s Citizen Participation Booklet: What is Public Participation?
African Development Choices’ Perspective
Despite the new Constitution of Kenya 2010 providing the legal framework, there are still significant barriers to public participation in Kenya. One of the biggest barriers is the lack of capacity by communities to participate, which creates perfect conditions for Kenya to be stuck in Category 1.
At African Development Choices, we believe that in order for Kenya to reach higher categories of public participation, focus must shift to finding innovative ways to build the capacity of communities to participate.
Our unique approach provides the solution. Due to historical mismanagement of public resources, community expectations have been crushed. Raising expectations is the first step towards empowering communities to participate.
We will achieve this by using our projects to set new and better precedents for efficiency, accountability, and transparency in the management of public resources. We will share information from our projects to educate communities and encourage them to expect more from public resources. With a clear understanding of what appropriate resource management looks like, communities will be empowered to play an active and independent role in decision-making processes.
African Development Choices is determined to throw a pebble into the pool of challenges that hinder public participation in Kenya, with the intention that the resulting ripples of transparency, accountability and efficiency will eventually spread throughout the country to become normal practice.