By Acho Gerald Anji
On the 14th of September 2023, Emerging Leaders Foundation-Africa (ELF-Africa) proudly unveiled a pioneering report titled “Effectiveness of Youth-Led Social Accountability Mechanisms in Enhancing Citizen Participation and Accountability in Kenya.” Esteemed guests gathered to commend ELF-Africa’s relentless efforts, leaving the organization inspired to continue its mission of empowering young people and their communities for genuine Devolution in Kenya.
The ELF-Africa’s Governance and Civic Engagement Program (GCE) has diverse interventions, including Tunaweza, Husika, the Good Politician, Sera Talks, and YDOS. In 2023, ELF-Africa commissioned research on youth social accountability as part of its Tunaweza intervention. This research spanned across five counties in Kenya, where we are implementing the Governance and Civic Engagement Program.
The Tunaweza intervention, Swahili for ‘We can,’ is a testament to ELF-Africa’s commitment to good governance and accountability. Launched in 2017, Tunaweza was designed with a profound vision: to cultivate a sense of ownership in governance among Kenyan youth, particularly at the county level. This initiative revolves around empowering participants with a deep understanding of Devolution, equipping them with the capacity to engage constructively with county governments, and, most importantly, bridging the existing gap between young people and duty-bearers.
Although considerable strides have been made on this transformative journey, the research conducted in 2023 serves as more than just a report; it is a roadmap for the future. This comprehensive study illuminates areas that demand our utmost attention and unveils strategies to integrate these findings into our governance programming seamlessly.
One of the critical revelations in this research pertains to our internal dynamics. It underscores the imperative of forging stronger partnerships with local community-based organizations (CBOs) to foster grassroots ownership and ensure the sustainability of our initiatives. In addition, it sheds light on the limitations of conventional youth programming, often driven by donor requirements and bereft of meaningful community co-creation.
In light of these findings, ELF-Africa is committed to acknowledging and addressing power dynamics that may arise as we work with communities and young people. We pledge to engage with young people and CBOs as equal partners in these transformative collaborations. Our goal is to work with them as leaders in their own right, preserving their agency and identity throughout the process. Together, we walk a path of shared responsibility and mutual growth.
While many youth-focused social accountability programs focus on increasing youth representation within decision-making processes, ELF-Africa’s GCE Program dares to move beyond tokenism. Our emphasis lies on substantive involvement and influence. This shift embodies our unwavering commitment to dig deeper, exploring the root causes of youth exclusion.
As a thought leadership organization, ELF-Africa’s mission extends beyond empowerment; it encompasses the active engagement of young people in both national and county-level decision-making processes. This ambition drives us to collaborate with various stakeholders to address underlying issues such as capacity gaps and economic empowerment. Our programmatic areas, which include Tunaweza, Husika, the Good Politician, Sera Talks, and YDOS, converge into a comprehensive framework that supports our overarching vision.
In our ongoing quest for impactful change, ELF-Africa has embraced the value of continuous research across various thematic areas. This transition signifies a shift from a reactive, project-driven approach to a more intentional, inclusive, and co-creative process alongside young people and their communities. Within this framework, we nurture sustainable interventions and create safe learning spaces. These spaces serve as hubs where youth can access information, network, and seize opportunities that propel them toward active citizenship and meaningful contributions to society.
ELF-Africa recognizes that youth is not a homogenous category; it’s an intersection of diverse identities, including age, gender, ethnicity, abilities, and circumstances. This understanding informs our commitment to inclusivity, ensuring that all members of this diverse group have their voices heard and their perspectives considered.
As ELF-Africa embarks on expanding its efforts both nationally and at the county level, we envision the Tunaweza research as a foundational stepping stone. We hope the findings will serve as a wellspring of inspiration for our dedicated team and partners. We aim to design and deliver programs that not only catalyze positive change in Kenya but also invite widespread participation. By sharing stories of shared success, we aim to create a space where everyone feels motivated to join us on this transformative journey. In light of the challenges posed by conventional, donor-driven youth programming in Kenya, we aspire to lead by example. We hope that the learning, expertise, and compelling evidence stemming from the implementation of this report’s findings will ignite a wider conversation, extending to international donors and practitioners. We aim to challenge and reshape the established norms, advocating for context-sensitive models, language, frameworks, and collaborative approaches that can herald a brighter future for youth social accountability not only in Kenya but globally. United in purpose, we are poised to embark on this transformative mission together.