June 27th 2017

Top Stories / 2017 Elections

Largely irrelevant, civil society can regain its clout in this election

The Kenyan CSOs need to reclaim the space that was occupied by Release Political Prisoners, which is currently known as Rights Promotion and Protection Centre, NCEC and Muungano wa Mageuzi among other groups that minced no words while dealing with the then dictatorial Moi regime.

By Cidi OtienoMonday, 02 Jan 2017 15:03 EAT

A section of civil society protestors during Jamhuri Day celabrations last year. (Photo: Free Press Reporter).

As we usher in the new year, fewer Kenyans are pegging their hopes on civil society organizations (CSOs) as an entity that can tackle the excesses of the Jubilee regime. This is unlike decades ago when Kenyans placed their trust on the CSOs. More Kenyans are more likely to respond to the Opposition's call for action against the Jubilee regime than to CSOs'.

There are good reasons for this sad state of affairs. One of the reasons why CSOs are increasingly becoming ineffective is due to high level fragmentation among their ranks. This fragmentation has led to intense infighting that has exposed the sector to infiltration by state agents who during the day talk tough against the regime only to go to bed with the same regime at night. 

The sector has also been flooded by desktop activists who have a balcony view of the issues affecting Kenyans. This class will share issues at the comfort of their high end offices and/or palatial homes and count the likes and shares their statements receive. When they come to the streets they wear fancy T-Shirts and beautiful banners, disperse at the sight of police and retreat to their comfort zones. 

The scramble for donor money among CSOs also makes the Berlin scramble for Africa look like a big joke. This has led to badmouthing all in a bid to win the CSO dollar. Recently, a colleague in the trenches called me and told me to be careful not to find myself in wrong hands because together with some other grassroots HRDs, we had been blacklisted. One wonders why CSO activist would blacklist one another. 

Finally, neutrality among Kenyan CSOs at times when Kenyans are facing oppression has and will continue costing Kenyan CSOs the trust of ordinary citizens. This has made many Kenyans to believe that CSOs are in connivance with the ruling Jubilee regime. That Kenyan CSOs have carefully chosen their agenda not to harm the state is an open secret.

This is why you will find solidarity activities with Aleppo killings but none when it comes to the killings of innocent Kenyans by police during peaceful protests in Kisumu and Nairobi or against extrajudicial executions in Mathare which is closer home. The silence of Kenyan CSO honchos on the planned peaceful mass action by opposition CORD is so loud. Silence during times of oppression is siding with the oppressor. 

All is however not lost. The Kenyan CSOs need to reclaim the space that was occupied by Release Political Prisoners, which is currently known as Rights Promotion and Protection Centre, NCEC and Muungano wa Mageuzi among other groups that minced no words while dealing with the then dictatorial Moi regime.

Just like before 2002 General Election when CSOs called on Kenyans to vote out KANU, today's CSOs need to call on Kenyans to vote out the Jubilee regime that has milked Kenya dry due to corruption and has entrenched tribalism and impunity. Already, grassroots social movements under the banner of Grassroots Social Movements Kenya have started strategic partnership with the opposition to ensure this. 

The Kenyan CSOs need to partner with the grassroots social movements to aggressively conduct political and human rights education; i.e, to educate Kenyans on why they should vote out the Jubilee regime instead of the usual city and hotel based cosmetic civic education that is mostly geared towards responding to logical frameworks.

The writer is a political activist with the Grassroots Social Movements Kenya





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