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Article 43 of Kenya’s constitution provides for social and economic rights of the citizens. All proponents of change need to work very hard to realise these rights, which are essential for ending the suffering of the poor.

The adoption of Kenya's new constitution in 2010 provided a solid foundation for the growth of vibrant democracy that is supposed to lead to sweeping social progress. The constitution automatically provides for social and economic rights and free expression. Despite this success, Article 43 on the rights to food, housing, health and education has not met ordinary Kenyans’ aspirations, especially for those living in urban slums and rural set-ups who are faced by widespread poverty and deep-rooeted inequality which have intermittently giving rise to conflict and violence. The majority has limited access to basic rights, resources, education and are prone to infectious diseases and AIDS-related deaths.

Life is grim. Heed keenly all the voices in urban slums and rural areas, even from the mentally unstable, because that mental instability could be socially constructed and expression of our possible collective condition. This condition should not be obscured by the sentimental philosophy of the pulpit, where everything is outsourced to God and ordinary people encouraged to believe that justice and goodness will somehow result from some deity reaching down through the clouds to sweep all our sorrows away, wipe our tears, build roads, schools and most important of all dish out money to the poor, idle and jobless youths.

Unless we, the visionaries in the front line of social change in Kenya, compound ourselves and create an impact by coming out in a clearer, more consistent and compelling voice and propose conceivable actions to demand the realisation of Article 43, that section of the constitution would be a sheer blueprint, like Vision 2030 prepared by the Kenyan government as a guide for Kenya’s much-vaunted long-term development strategy.

With the promulgation of the new constitution, the fight against poverty needs to be renewed and intensified. To pressure the Kenyan government to actualise Article 43 requires a formidable force of agents of social change who are active, unafraid to take risks in order to find lasting solutions to the most urgent problems of access to food, health, sanitation, housing and education. A force that will be central to collective action. Successful poverty eradication does not lie in paper work but in mobilising and lobbying communities to demand what is in the paper work. If a movement boosts its impact in a large scale it will attract political forces that share certain basic values rooted in social movements.

In order to actualise Article 43, we, the social justice actors, must create opportunities. As Kenya heads towards general elections, this is the best time that calls for clear thinking and rationality are urgently needed, not magical solutions and reliance on divine intervention. Currently there is increasing interest in grassroots movements from political forces and this is the right time to demand for actualisation of Article 43. Various political parties that were previously resistant to social change have significantly shown interest as others are strategising on how to align with social movements in order to reach their political goals.

There are two reasons why political forces are currently interested with grassroots social movements; first, many militant social activists originally came from political parties that they left when they got disappointed. Second, and more importantly, young people who are the bulk of voters are found in social movements and have a growing influence in the public. For example, Safina and SDP political parties have co-opted some of the forward looking social movement actors into their ranks. The parties are working to ensure that all social movement agents are in their midst to use their expertise in lobbying and mobilisation of voters at the grassroots.

Indeed, grassroots movements in Kenya like the Unga Movement and Bunge La Mwananchi, have more membership than most registered political parties. Political visibility of these movements has continued to increase with a growing influence in the general public and in the media. Because of this growing influence and weight, various political parties have attempted to increase contacts at times even providing financial and other support. At the same time, the drivers of Unga and Bunge La Mwananchi have openly called for political parties to reclaim the ideas advanced by the movements.

For example, the co convener of the Unga movement which has been advocating for reduction of prices of basic commodities, Mr Franco Sakwa, once said: ‘I say to the political parties: go ahead, take us on board, you adopt our ideas. And even put in practice our proposals concretely’. This is measured in terms of Unga movement’s capacity to challenge existing power by demonstrating and picketing at the office of Kenya's Prime Minister demanding the realisation of article 43. Furthermore, many of the calls and claims that arose from Unga movement made the President of Kenya to sign into law the Price Control Bill.

As we are hunting for political parties that will fight for our course and Article 43 when those parties campaign to form the next government, first we have to do a thorough vetting of these parties that want to align with grassroots social movements. We have to look at their leaders, new and old, parade them before ourselves. We will look at their manifestos. What is the party’s essence? Does it have a set of principles and values for the greater benefit of the poor? Is it being led by opportunists seeking temporary courtship with social movements until something better comes along?

We have to look at the values of these party leaders to see if they are relevant to our mission. Is that mission reflected in their faces, their words, their deeds and campaigns? We, as Kenya's social actors fighting for social justice, should not display blind, emotional loyalty to political leaders who have little to offer in realization of Article 43. The good society of which we speak of will not be built by waving the hand, one finger, two fingers, three fingers, raised thumbs or any other symbol of a political party. That society will be built by men and women who act, who take it upon themselves to sacrifice a little bit of their individual pursuit for the common good.

The good society will be built by agents of social change who are able to identify common problems and find alternative solutions while resisting the lure of easy money. And yes, by citizens who understand and accept the collective responsibility of good citizenship. Real change will come from us first as individuals and then as a collective. Personal values drives the collective action; and our destiny is in our own hands. Good government is necessary and good leaders are vital. We need men and women of good will and good intent who are going to emerge from among us and to give alternatives for the greater benefit of the poor and who can show pathways to lasting social change.


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* Julius Okoth is a community mobiliser with Bunge la Mwananchi movement in Kenya.
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