March 26th, 2019
Joan Mutinda, Policy Advocacy
Community engagement is vital in many projects and there is documented evidence of high benefits resulting from it. This includes better outcomes for all stakeholders, community ownership, creating a more effective path for prioritization of projects and sustainable resource allocation. Effective community engagement is about recognizing that involving the public in a project is no longer about information dissemination and telling the people what is being done, but is a two-way information sharing process. Regardless of one’s qualifications and status, everyone has an opinion about what needs to be done and where priorities should lay. The grassroots model creates a movements where ordinary citizens can engage in political processes towards addressing priority development issues at the community level. Grassroot advocacy empowers and supports citizens to engage and lobby their leaders, representatives and to effectively participate in development processes. It draws its mandate from the Kenya constitutional 2010’s provisions in articles 118(1)(b) and 196(1)(b), that provide for the right of citizens to participate in the decision making processes and other duties of the national and county legislative bodies, further directing the two levels of government to facilitate public participation in their work. Under the devolved systems the need for strong grassroots structures is critical as public participation promotes accountability where communities not just take part in development but also monitor performance of the county integrated development plans (CIDPs) and other county (ward) initiatives as well as budget making processes. The grassroots model championed by KANCO provides a platform for communities to effectively engage in these processes.
Building Grassroot advocacy movements
Since 2013, KANCO has been building and growing a culture of active grassroots citizens aimed at protecting the spirit of the constitution and promoting positive and meaningful engagement, with the ultimate of seeing devolution effectively implemented. Using the RESULTS advocacy model, KANCO has been training citizens across Kenya and modeling grassroots advocacy champion for meaningful engagement with the support of USAID Wezesha Mashinani loosely translating to enabling the grassroots was launched to build on the gains made in grassroots project. This project supports citizen advocacy chapters in 6 counties.
The grassroots movement has celebrated wins and continue to push the agenda for the Kenya they want to see across sectors and specifically health:
From grassroots raising their voices on the issues of over 300,000 children across Kenya who were not protected by life-saving vaccines and TB first line drugs, raising the matter to parliament, leading to the National Treasury approving a reallocation to the Kenya Expanded Programme for Immunization and procurement of TB drugs; to the grooming of champions like Janet Wairimu a Murang’a based grassroots advocate who is physically disabled, who has made tremendous progress in mobilizing disabled people to champion for their rights, leading to a motion to establish disability friendly facilities in all health facilities in Muranga: to communities in Gaichanjiru working with their government to get piped water; to Community Health Volunteer in Siaya raising their voice to get a bus to facilitate their movements; to some of the grassroots advocacy movement groups acting as a platform for community sensitization to alleviate poverty through economic empowerment trainings; to all school children in Bungoma getting bursaries because the grassroots engaged their leaders; to the grassroots in Turkana demanding for greater accountability by their government; the list is endless.
These examples demonstrates the power and impact of well-organized grassroots movements can create at different levels at the county and national levels
Challenges and Opportunities of the Grassroots Movement
Devolution system has raised the expectations of the citizens for better fulfillment of the constitutional promises around civic engagement and public participation with the end goal of improved service delivery. With devolution in its second phase, the role of the counties is becoming clearer and there is realization that the county governments are key determinants of development at the grassroots level. This includes better health services as over 90% of health functions are devolved. This presents an opportunity for ordinary citizens to actively engage and partner with the county governments. This is even more as counties turn to locals to enhance resource mobilization. We have witnessed several protests by communities whenever the counties increase different charges/fees or evict traders. This in many times is attributed to lack of public participation. There has also been debate over quality of public participation as in some counties it is a 2 or 3 hours process with voluminous documents that are just read to participants. What this means is that in several counties, community agenda and priorities are not getting their way to the CIDPs and annual plans.
This presents a great opportunity for grassroots citizens with the continued mentorship of KANCO and funding from USAID to ensure their voices are heard and key priorities identified early enough and effectively presented in the CIDP, annual plans making processes, engagement avenues and monitoring delivery. This will be building on current initiatives of this model. For example, Murang’a grassroots advocates have their top 4 health related priorities and have interventions to push for their interest. Turkana county grassroots citizens have several youth groups who have different agendas that they are rallying to their county government for changes to be made to better their lives. With the scorecards to track progress of their efforts already in place, this will help in tracking and strengthening this model as devolution develops.