What civil society can do to sustain Kenya's democracy in 2018
12 months ago, 2 Jan 16:05
Happy Near Year. I want to speak briefly about the role that civil society plays in building and strengthening democracy. In a democracy, civil society groups have respect for the law, the rights of individuals and the rights of other groups to express their interests and opinions. Part of what the word 'civil' implies is tolerance and the accommodation of pluralism and diversity. What can the independent, voluntary, law-abiding, tolerant and pluralistic organisations of civil society do to build and maintain democracy? The first and most basic role of civil society is to limit and control the power of the state. Of course, any democracy needs a well-functioning state. But when a country is emerging from decades of dictatorship, it also needs to find ways to check, monitor, and restrain the power of political leaders and state officials. Civil society actors should watch how state officials use their powers. They should raise public concern about any abuse of power. They should lobby for access to information and rules and institutions to control corruption. This constitutes a second important function of civil society: to expose the corrupt conduct of public officials and lobby for good governance reforms. Even where anti-corruption laws and bodies exist, they cannot function effectively without the active support and participation of civil society. A third function of civil society is to promote public participation. Civil society can do this by educating people about their rights and obligations as democratic citizens and help develop citizens’ skills to work with one another to solve common problems, to debate public issues, and express their views. Fourth, civil society organisations can help to develop the other values of democratic life: tolerance, moderation, compromise, and respect for opposing points of view. Without this deeper culture of accommodation, democracy cannot be stable. These values cannot simply be taught; they must also be experienced through practice. Fifth, civil society can help to develop programmes for democratic civic education in the schools and colleges. Constitution of Kenya 2010 and its democratic tenets need to inform and help revise the curricula, rewrite the textbooks, and retrain teachers in order to educate young people about the crimes of the past and teach them the principles and values of democracy. This is too important a task to leave only to officials in the education ministry. Civil society must be involved as a constructive partner and advocate for democracy and human rights training. Sixth, civil society is an arena for the expression of diverse interests and one role for civil society is to lobby for the needs and concerns of their members, as women, students, farmers, environmentalists, trade unionists, lawyers, doctors and so on. Civil society and interest groups can present their views to parliament and county assemblies, by contacting individual members and testifying before committees. They can also establish dialogue with relevant government ministries and agencies. And it is not only the resourceful and well organised who can have their voices heard. Over time, groups that have historically ...
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