, NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 5 – Devolution Cabinet Secretary Anne Waiguru on Monday assured of greater engagement between the government and civil society at the US-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington DC.
She said the first ever forum held between a Kenyan Head of State and the NGO Council, prior to President Uhuru Kenyatta’s departure for the summit was proof of this commitment.
The Executive Director of the Kenyan, Northern Organisation of Social Empowerment, Fouzia Dahir welcomed the engagement saying the civil society in Africa was weary of taking to the streets in a bid to be heard by governments.
“We are sick and tired of carrying placards, we want to sit and talk, and be a resource to the government. We do not want to be seen as a threat. So please, when we go back home, we want to work with the government. We are not there to scold you, or to complain or threaten your positions, we are there to help and be part of the solution,” she said amid applause.
Other than the Jubilee government’s willingness to engage the civil society, Waiguru highlighted the administration’s efforts in regard to the Open Government Partnership to which Kenya subscribes.
Under this, Waiguru spoke of the Huduma Centres which bring 34 government services under one roof and which she said would be rolled out to all 47 counties in the next one year from the current 16.
“In fact, in the last one month they’ve managed to reduce the amount of time that you require to register a business from about 14 days to one.”
Human Rights Activist Maina Kiai however criticised African government for making it easy for businesses to register yet frustrated the same efforts by civil society organizations.
“In Rwanda for example it takes as little as six hours to register a business yet it takes six months for civil society organisations to be registered,” he gave as an example.
On corruption, Waiguru said the State House portal for reporting corruption had been well received. “It’s been a very active mode of communication where people can actually report anonymously any corruption activities that are going on in government and has been very effective.”
The civil society itself did not go unchallenged with the contentious subject of financing and the interests it advanced, coming up, “he who pays the piper calls the tune,” one participant observed.
President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania who was praised for his engagement with his country’s civil society by leader Rakesh Rajani, “when we got here he asked us to sit down and chart the way forward,” also accused the civil society of at times, “overstepping their mandate.”
Regardless, US Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry both defined civil society as crucial to the democratic development of African countries, reiterating their support for the freedom of the press and the access to information.
Biden and Kerry were however careful not to be seen to be speaking from the preacher’s pulpit by admitting that even what has been dubbed the greatest democracy in the world is not perfect.
Biden observed that many African Constitutions were progressive but acknowledged that the full realisation of the ideals envisioned therein required work. “Slavery was written into our Constitution before it was written out.”
They however insisted on the necessity of African heads of state handing over power after two terms in office.