Kenya uses citizen media as an interactive tool to address issues of good governance following the 2008 post-elections violence. A greater engagement of the citizen in the upcoming reforms should be made possible with the collective use of traditional media, SMS and online social networking tools.
Our guests are:
- Peter Muthoga, project coordinator of the Africa Peace Forum in Kenya
- Onesimus Kipchumba, citizen representative and law lecturer at Kenya’s Moi University
The project runs until February 2011 and is called “Strengthening democratic governance through the use of ICTs”. It aims at a greater involvement of the public in the various reforms that are to take place – constitutional, land and police reforms – following the 2008 post-elections violence that rocked Kenya.
The African Union, the United Nations and the Kenya National Dialogue on Reconciliation stressed that the reforms are so central to Kenya’s future stability that if they are not implemented, it is possible that the country will experience another violent conflict and possibly further fragmentation.
Traditional media like radio, television and print are used for the people to express their views. But to be more interactive, the Africa Peace Forum and its partner on this project, the International Development Resource Center is counting on opinions sent by SMS, as well as Youtube, Twitter and Facebook sites accessible on the AgendaYetu portal.
“With this project, the people will be able to influence leaders by making their views known," Kipchumba says. "The citizens, especially in the rural areas, have not been involved in the decision making process and this project is useful, especially in the region of Eldoret where there was a lot of violence in the 2007-2008 period.”
The opinions and proposals of the public will then be collected and compiled in policy briefs so that the officials involved in the reforms will be fully aware of the needs and wants of the people.
How does one ensure that the decision makers will actually take the people’s views on board?
“That’s a problem we envisaged”, replies Muthoga. "We came with the idea of a sustained campaign through round tables, lobby groups, caucuses as well as committees for parliament so that we meet the MPs and engage with them.”
Kipchumba adds that Kenya’s new constitution makes it mandatory that the government should listen to the people’s petition.
“In fact, for the first time, [the new constitution] makes it clear that citizens can contribute to the legislative framework by proposing amendments and so forth," he says. "And if they don’t, we will utilise the enforcement mechanism of the courts to ensure that they consider the information.”
One problem the project may face, though, is Internet access, since it intends to use Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Only three million of Kenya's 38 million people have Internet access.
Kipchumba doesn’t think this will prove to be an obstacle, as users can now access internet through their mobile phones. The country has 18 million mobile phone users.
Kipchumba further calls for goodwill from the private sector in helping reduce the costs, increasing donations of computers and providing Internet access in schools, especially in the rural areas.
Will it not be the citizen who will bear the cost of accessing internet through a mobile phone?
“Yes, it is fairly expensive”, Kipchumba agrees, “but as a result of telecommunications companies investing in Kenya, there is a lot of competition now and the rates are coming down.
"If that proves difficult, they can send an SMS to the number provided by the Africa Peace Forum. But then, who said that democracy is cheap!… they will be able to recoup these costs in terms of better life, better governance, better leadership.”
English and Swahili are the only two languages used by the various platforms.
The difficulty in embracing the vernacular languages Kenyans use lies with managing the translation procedures.
“This is a problem we are in trying to solve, because we want people to contribute in their own languages, and meanwhile we are launching a massive awareness campaign to get the citizens of Kenya on board,” says Muthoga.