This pandemic is not just a health crisis, rather, it is a revelation of the failure in governance. The leadership of this country is finally on the spotlight, the one time that it matters most. To come out of this havoc alive, we will need rational governance responses, and it is for that reason that Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) must remain vigilant, if this government is not checked now, there is a likelihood that it will turn into the worst catastrophe of our time, worse than COVID-19.
CSOs must guard against the possibility of the political class taking advantage of the pandemic to further balkanize the country or even to form partisan political outfits.
The Consortium for Elections and Political Process Strengthening (CEPPS) recently released a white paper titled, “Mitigating the impact of COVID-19 through democracy, human rights, and governance (DRG) assistance” in which they identified 6 critical issues with regards democracy, human rights and governance. I will consider three of them that directly relate to the Kenyan context.
- Preventing the abuse or concentration of power: CSOs must prevent this government from using the pandemic to settle scores with individuals or groups which are seen to be anti-government. Recently we have witnessed scapegoating by government, when it laid the blame squarely on youth (a marginalized group) for the spread of the virus in the country. Further, we must stand against the spread of fake news, internet censorship and overreach by security agencies in the implementation of government directives. Civil society must also ensure transparency and oversight over emergency measures so that they are inclusive and adhere to democratic principles.
- Reducing opportunities for corruption: The Kenyan government has recently mobilized resources towards the tackling of the pandemic, from tax payers money, to grants from the World Bank and other agencies, CSOs must keep a keen eye on the utilization of the resources, pandemics have a way of creating opportunities for theft and mismanagement. Truth is that our financial systems are flawed, and healthcare has been a siphoning ground for a lot of grand corruption in Kenya. Vigilance might be the only way that the much-needed socioeconomic cushioning is realized by all Kenyans during these trying times. Our situation is made worse by the fact that our elections are only 2 years away, with every election, comes an insatiable appetite for public money by the political elite. We must safeguard against this risk.
- Reinforcing good and inclusive governance: Persons with disability, youth, women, and other minority groups continue to face the risk of illness, violence, and loss of livelihood. They must be protected with targeted messaging and emergency care packages. CSOs must guard against the possibility of the political class taking advantage of the pandemic to further balkanize the country or even to form partisan political outfits. Civic education must continue to target youths, women and PWDs with an aim of increasing their representation in political spaces and building their capacity to respond to such a crisis.
The 2015 film, Mad Max: Fury Road perhaps offers an example of where civil society organizations find themselves today and what they must do; in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, max, a drifter and survivor, unwillingly joins Imperator Furiosa, a rebel warrior, in a quest to overthrow a tyrant who controls the land’s water supply. The secret to the success of the mission was in collaboration. In these turbulent times, CSOs can no longer work in silos, this is the time for new and more effective partnerships in tackling the above challenges. Even as the donor community shift focus towards averting the health crisis and reconstructing the economy, they must remain alive to the fact that the success of their interventions rests on effective, accountable, and democratic governance systems in individual countries.
Jim India- Policy, Research and Communications officer