- The rulers and those who are vested with the direction of the arms of government proceed as if they were the masters and citizens of their subjects.
- This is partly due to the lack of awareness by citizens of the power they wield in the governance process.
- When citizens increasingly seek to assert their rights, this shows the authorities that adherence to the content of the basic charter is at the heart of relations in society.
Citizens are at the center of governance in any democratic society. The Kenyan Constitution underlines this fact, stating that sovereignty rests with the citizens with all state organs exercising only delegated authority. Despite this basic stipulation, practice has completely ignored it. The rulers and those who are vested with the direction of the arms of government proceed as if they were the masters and citizens of their subjects.
Chapter Six of the Constitution expressly states that leadership is a matter of service, making it clear that citizens are essential. However, the extent to which this is respected and enforced is very minimal. This is partly due to the lack of awareness by citizens of the power they wield in the governance process and, when they are aware of it, the inability to translate that knowledge into action.
Just over a decade ago, a journey to empower citizens to recognize and use the power they have under the Constitution began in earnest as part of the implementation of the Constitution. One of the bodies that has been formed to advance this agenda is called Uraia, Kiswahili for citizenship.
If one looks for a copy of the Kenyan Constitution in the country, one in three is likely to bear the logo of this institution. Whether it is a copy mentioned in a village baraza, in a television program or in a parliamentary debate.
Last week, I attended the launch of Uraia’s strategic plan. Under the theme of promoting an engaged and values-based society, the organization seeks to strengthen the voice of citizens in governance. At this launch, the question of the place of citizens in governance became a point of reflection.
Currently, the Court of Appeal is considering the appeal against the High Court judgment regarding the Building Bridges Initiative. One of the central questions of the judgment concerns the role of citizens. From questions about the meaning of popular initiative instead of civic education to public participation, citizen centrality is key.
What is not disputed is that the power belongs to the people. However, for too long this reality has been ignored. Citizens complain that their leadership is not responsive. While true, the solution cannot lie with leaders. It is time for citizens to take back their rightful place.
Recent evidence shows that there is finally some light at the end of the tunnel. The number of citizens applying to the courts for the protection of constitutional provisions is increasing. When citizens increasingly seek to assert their rights, it shows the authorities that adherence to the content of the basic charter is at the heart of relations in society. The decision cannot be based on a decree. It must be done according to the rules negotiated and accepted by all members of society.
It is also important that leadership oversight is strengthened. Take for example the current Covid-19 pandemic. I have spent the last few weeks chatting with friends from Nyanza. I also followed the development of my village. The situation is grim.
What is covered by the mainstream media is only a tip of the iceberg. The situation is exacerbated by two problems. First, the region’s years of neglect in terms of government investment. This despite the fact that residents of the region are taxpayers and therefore entitled to government services.
Decentralization aimed to remedy the years of marginalization that had been perpetuated by the then centralized government. However, in several counties in the region, this did not fully translate into the desired results. The state of health facilities in some counties is worrying. I know relatives who have not been able to access basic services at their county headquarters. Other friends had to travel to neighboring counties to obtain such services.
The saddest thing is that citizens continue to vote for leaders who expose them to such life-threatening situations. Reclaiming citizenship must begin by rethinking our relationship with leaders. Making citizenship count means wielding our power in elections and in between.