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The constitution of Kenya places great importance on citizen participation in their governance. Under the devolved system, county governments should do everything they can to ensure citizen’s voices are taken into account in decision-making process.

When national, regional, or local governments make concerted efforts to solicit input from their citizens and strive to provide services to all of their constituents equally, they sow seeds of stability and growth. When this is done within a framework of political and legal accountability, citizens increasingly trust State institutions to support markets, social and political institutions, not to prey on them, and to treat all citizens in an even-handed manner.

The new Constitution of Kenya lays the basis for the development of a policy framework on citizen participation in devolution. Article 196 of the CoK 2010 provides that the County Assembly shall—(a) Conduct its business in an open manner, and hold its sittings and those of its committees, in public; and (b) Facilitate public participation and involvement in the legislative and other business of the assembly and its committees. The CoK 2010 further states that “a county assembly may not exclude the public, or any media, from any sitting unless in exceptional circumstances the speaker has determined that there are justifiable reasons for doing so”.

Public consultations should be open to all citizens and taxpayers, without discrimination and safeguards should be established to prevent consultative forums from being dominated by any one political group, organized interest, or politician. Public consultations must have clear and specific purposes with clear timelines and venues for public consultations and should be made known at least two weeks in advance of the consultation and must set aside dedicate time for public feedback and questions. Public participation in the planning and budget process should occur at all stages in this process. The public must have access to all relevant plan and budget documents in a timely fashion with all plans and budget documents should containing an executive summary and a narrative for ease of the readers. Citizens should be able to provide input into public consultations through direct participation, through representatives, and through written comments and there should be a feedback mechanism so that citizens know their inputs were considered.

For a long time now, most systems of governance have employed the top-down approach to govern. This means that those in power make all decisions irrespective of the electorates’ needs. This has been so far the case in Kajiado County, as in many other counties, even in instances where the law requires them to do so. In some instances, strategies of involving citizens are lacking in Kajiado or all together poor - for instance newspaper adverts have been deemed fit by the Kajiado County to involve/inform its citizens – how many people in Kajiado County understand, read or write in English language? Is it not a mockery to invite the rural pastoralist in Kajiado County through such a medium? Does the leadership of Kajiado County understand its citizenry’s diversity? In a county with very high illiteracy rates it is imperative to understand the principles of diversity so as not to discriminate against any group.

Unfortunately most of these leaders are indigenous to this county but have buried their heads in the sand when it comes to understanding their own people. With a citizenry informed of their right to participate in democratic processes and their willingness to demand for the same, it fosters a change in mindset of those in government and public institutions to start involving citizens in the affairs of their countries, from inception of ideas through to implementation and evaluation thus translating to accountability and transparency.

Kajiado County is made up of diverse groups that have diverse interests and obtain information in different ways. A rapidly changing county means that both traditional approaches for gathering feedback and contemporary ‘digital’ means maybe used for outreach purposes, but the ‘analogue’ generation – a critical mass, and backbone of this county must be consulted, respected and reached as the host community in Kajiado County and should never be bypassed even when they choose to remain traditional in practice. The indigenous communities of this county needs to be considered and not ignored, as it is the case now; neither should the many diverse inhabitants residing in it. A robust citizen participation framework taking into account these diversities should be developed by this county to address this glaring gap and talk to its people in a language (s) that it understand, and adjust its laws to fit the context of its people.

* Nicholas Meitiaki Soikan is a Consultant on Social Development. [email protected]



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