The Citizen Handbook

Citizen Participation

Understanding Citizen Participation

Citizen Participation in Kenya

Citizen participation in Kenya finds its early roots in development projects that benefited local communities. Throughout the post-colonial era, the country took legislative steps to provide ways for citizens to be active participants in the governing of their country. Most of these ways, however, were limited to local authorities and the implementation of laws incorporating citizen participation did not reach their full potential because citizens did not fully understand their rights or embrace the opportunity. Finally, local authorities struggled to promote local funding and planning processes to citizens, like the Local Authority Service Delivery Action Plan (LASDAP) and the Constituencies Development Fund (CDF).

The Constitution on Participation

The Constitution provides a strong legal framework for citizen participation. The challenge will be to educate as many citizens as possible on these new rights and responsibilities and to provide them with tools to make valuable contributions to the governance process. This is why constitutional reforms, the establishment of county governments, and support for the full implementation of the Constitution are so important to the future of the nation. Below are specific references to citizen participation in the Constitution.

Sovereign Power of Citizens

Citizen participation is a core part of the Constitution. It starts with Article 1, which states that all sovereign power is vested to the people of Kenya. The exercise of this power occurs at the national and county levels either directly through citizen participation or indirectly through democratically elected representatives. Examples of direct citizen participation include:

   · contesting for elections

   · registering to vote

   · becoming informed on issues and policies

   · scrutinizing candidates and political parties

   · maintaining peace during elections

   · debating issues

   · attending community or civic meetings for sensitization

   · being members of private, public and voluntary organizations

   · paying taxes

   · protesting

   · petitioning the government

   · recalling elected members of Parliament and county assemblies

Citizens can also indirectly participate by electing leaders to represent them in national and county governments. The use of citizens’ sovereign power, therefore, serves as a cornerstone of Kenya's Constitutional authority and its democratically elected government.

Participation in Kenya’s Governance

The Constitution makes citizen participation a central part of Kenya's governance.Article 10(2)(a) states that "participation of the people" is one of our country's values and principles of governance. Article 232(1)(d), meanwhile,instructs public servants to include citizens “in the process of policy making.”

Participation in Devolved Government

In terms of direct constitutional references to citizen participation in devolved government, Article 174(c) says that an object of devolution is to "enhance the participation of people in the exercise of the powers of the State and in making decisions affecting them." Article 184(1)(c) further requires that mechanisms "for participation by residents” be included in national legislation to urban areas and cities governance and management.

Participation in the Legislatures

The Constitution provides citizens with the right to participate in the decision-making process and other duties of the national and county legislative bodies. Specifically, Articles 118(1)(b) and 196(1)(b) directs the national and county legislatures respectively to "facilitate public participation" in its work. Additionally, Article 119(1) states that citizens have the "right to petition Parliament to consider any matter within its authority," meaning that Kenyans can request Parliament to take up issues important to them.

Citizens’ Access to Information

The Constitution supports access to information by all citizens, which is a key ingredient to effective and active citizen participation. Kenya's national and county legislative bodies, for instance, are directed by the Constitution to conduct their work in an open and transparent manner; Articles 118(1)(a) and 196(1)(a) specifically direct Parliament and the county assemblies respectively to hold public meetings and conduct their work in the full view of all citizens. Another reference to public information sharing is in Article 201(1)(a), which states that there be "openness and accountability" and public participation when it comes to public financial matters.

In addition to information gathered from the official business of the legislatures and public finances, Article 35 of the Constitution stipulates that citizens have the right to access all information held by the State or public officials. Public servants must also share information with citizens. Article 232 (1) (f) states that the values and principles of public service include "transparency and provision to the public of timely and accurate information." 

Case Study: A Legacy of Citizen Participation in Kenya

Kenya icon and Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai transformed the simple of idea of planting a tree to preserve the environment into a national and international movement for environmental activism and the promotion of human rights, empowerment of women, social responsibility and the restoration of democratic principles in Kenyan society.

Wangari Maathai’s story teaches us that citizen participation is not for the privileged few or educated elite in Kenya. It also teaches us that citizens with the simplest of ideas can make a monumental impact on their community.

"I found myself not just a woman wanting to plant trees to provide food and firewood. I found myself a woman fighting for justice, a woman fighting for equity."

— Wangari Maathai during a 2005 speech at Northwestern University, USA

The actions of Maathai's Green Belt Movement attracted the attention of tens of thousands of women across Kenya who joined to make changes in their community. The Movement created a national network of more than 6,000 village nurseries and its more than 50,000 women members have planted about 20 million trees in total. Their actions as a group had a far-reaching impact on not only the future of Kenya's environment, but also the role of women in social and political change and the protection of human rights for all Kenyans.

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