Transition to democracy - The role of civic education in Kenya
Karuti Kanyinga and Carl Wesselink of South Consulting in Nairobi describe the evolution and impact of civic education in Kenya, and argue that the imminent election will be the true test of how effective civic education has been.
The National Civic Education Programme (NCEP) in Kenya provides a very
good case study for improving our understanding of civic education in
the context of political change. The NCEP is a large-scale programme supported
by 10 donors, which delivered civic education directly to about 4 million
Kenyans, mostly via face-to-face workshop methodologies. The authors are
directors of South Consulting, which was contracted to provide technical
assistance to the programme.
Political change and civic education
In Africa, countries that experienced different forms of dictatorship
in the past are slowly gravitating to multi-party democracy. In countries
such as Kenya, political space has expanded; there are many new political
actors in the field. Governments are no longer the autocratic gatekeepers
to the political space; they are checked both by groups of well informed
and organised citizens as well as organised political groups. Equipping
citizens with skills to effectively participate in public life and to
engage with the 'new political space' is thus important. Civic education
has become a key component of donor support to human rights, democracy
and governance (HRDG) programmes.
The goal of civic education has generally been to inform and empower
citizens to enable them make informed choices on issues that affect them
in their everyday lives. However, the impact of civic education activities
has not been closely explored. Civic education is little understood as
a subject or as a tool for facilitating social-political and economic
change in countries undergoing transition.
Political development in Kenya
Multi-party democracy was reintroduced in Kenya in December1991 after
several decades of one-party authoritarianism. Before then, government
had stifled civil society and gagged progressive groups. Open dissent
was punishable. Citizens could not question. Patronage ruled the day.
In order to secure a share, local leaders and whole communities prostrated
themselves to please those in power.
The steep and steady decline of the economy demanded even greater sycophantic
behaviour in order to access crumbs from the ever-shrinking pie. Culture
was turned political; social-cultural activities were turned into a medium
of expressing and demonstrating loyalty to the ruling elite and the President
in particular. Tunes from religious songs were introduced into songs hummed
in praise of the President. Those around the President declared him a
Life-President; his authority could not be challenged on earth. Civic
education could not be provided under these circumstances. Even development
programmes by churches and NGOs were regarded with suspicion and mistrust
by the government. Those critical of the government did not have it easy;
they were under regular police harassment; watched from morning to evening;
followed from place to place.
During the eighties, pressure for change built steadily. After over
100 people were killed in 1990 when attending a public rally in support
of multi-partyism, major donors froze all aid. Moi was forced to announce
reforms or risk massive instability. When multi-party politics was re-introduced
in late 1991, the political context changed dramatically. Suddenly, people
could discuss their political aspirations and the value of good governance.
The social space was inundated with new actors. The printed press started
speaking with an increasingly independent voice. Civil society, initially
gagged, became the training ground for a new group of political actors
interested in promoting change.
Growing role of civil society
This change, however, could not be sustained without the support of
ordinary citizens. People were required to participate in an effective
way in order to sustain the movement and shape its direction. To enable
citizens to do so, civic education increasingly became important. There
evolved many civil society organisations concerned with providing civic
education in both rural and urban areas. The number of such groups rapidly
increased as the country moved towards its first multi-party election
in 1992. From fewer than 10 organisations, the number grew to over 30
by December 1992 when the election was held. Between then and December
1997 when the second election was held, the number increased again to
over 70, and is almost triple this figure at the moment. Civic education
in Kenya has grown hand in hand with the gradual expansion of political
space and in particular growing freedom of expression and participation
that the country has witnessed in the last decade.
Civic education in the past
In spite of the growth in numbers of civic education providers in the
1990s, delivery remained uncoordinated. Providers used eclectic approaches
and delivered civic education in response to particular geographical,
social or political issues, in an ad hoc manner. Coverage of regions,
target groups, and issues was partial. Resources were not used optimally.
Donors supported these initiatives without reference to a common focus.
In most cases, partly because of the absence of a common framework and
curriculum, there was no clear distinction between civic education and
political advocacy. There was a limited number of people trained to deliver
civic education in non-partisan ways. The focus was on voter education;
civic education was not mainstreamed in the language or programming for
development or governance - it was regarded as a political function.
This resulted in increased opposition to civic education by the government
and the ruling party. The government criticised civic education providers,
arguing that they were opposition agents who did not use neutral language
but anti-government rhetoric.
At the same time, however, the dearth of credible government programmes
and absence of political will regarding governance reform, forced donors
to re-think their aid programmes. Increasingly, donors looked to support
civil society in forwarding the good governance agenda. Thinking anew:
a common approach to an integrated programme In 1999 civic education providers
and donors reviewed their past efforts in civic education. They underlined
the importance of collaboration in designing and implementing civic education
projects. The providers specifically agreed to deliver non-partisan, non-advocacy
and politically neutral civic education targeting the entire country.
This strategy marked the birth of the National Civic Education Programme
as an initiative of civil society groups in partnership with donors in
Kenya. South and S&T played a key role in designing the NCEP.
The long-term objective of NCEP was to consolidate a mature social-economic
and political culture in which citizens are aware of and exercise their
rights and responsibilities and participate effectively in broadening
democracy in the country.
NCEP is implemented by indigenous CSOs in Kenya. The CSOs organised
themselves into four consortia based on shared interests, experience,
focus and strategy. Each consortium comprised between 11 and 30 CSOs,
including religious organisations, human rights CSOs, gender rights CSOs
and organisations working with marginalised communities living in remote
parts of the country.
A number of donors set up a basket fund to support the programme. Contributors
include: the governments of the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Denmark,
Sweden, Norway, Finland, Canada, Austria, the United States of America
and the European Union.
The reach of NCEP: An overview
Phased delivery of civic education under the programme began in July
2001. Over 70 civil society organisations were contracted to carry out
civic education using a variety of strategies including workshops, theatre,
song and dance, and camel caravans in arid areas among other strategies.
During the period, over 40 000 different activities were carried out reaching
about 4 million adults or 30% of total adult population. These activities
were carried out in over 87% of the country's administrative divisions;
the activities were widely spread in rural and urban Kenya. Although radio
usage is widespread in Kenya, using radio as a delivery mechanism was
impossible given government's monopoly control and its refusal to license
independent radio outside Nairobi.
Delivery was therefore largely through face to face workshops. A cadre
of 3 700 facilitators was trained and deployed in the area where they
are normally resident. This ensured local acceptability and sensitivity
to local customs and languages (there are over 40 in Kenya). It also ensured
the availability of a sustainable resource of credible information at
the local level. A common curriculum, handbook and training manual were
produced to ensure a common and credible content. Flip charts and other
IEC materials were produced to promote effective workshop facilitation
and highlighting of key messages.
In the past, the police were always at hand to disrupt civic education
activities, arguing that they were not licensed, or were illegal, or were
going to cause a breach of peace. Government was clearly opposed to the
delivery of civic education and was ready to stop it even through forceful
measures; on a number of occasions this resulted in violent confrontations
between the citizens and the police.
In the time of the NCEP, despite heavy rhetoric from President Moi including
scathing personal attacks by him on senior diplomats supporting the programme,
there were no such incidents. Out of 40 000+ activities, the police disrupted
just 10; and none on the grounds of advocacy or partisanship.
The NCEP principles of objectivity, non-partisanship and political neutrality,
the strategy of using local elders and chiefs as entry points and local
residents as facilitators, helped in creating a firm base of trust between
communities and civic education providers. In this context the police
and provincial administration were constrained from acting and for the
government the political price of interfering became one risk too many
in the lead up the elections in December 2002. Kenyans, starved of credible
sources of information, actively engaged in civic education sessions,
turning out in large numbers and exercising their right to freedom of
information. Future governments may have little alternative but to focus
on the positive and see civic education as a discourse to better its relations
What of impact?
A unique feature of NCEP is the amount of effort and resources that
have gone into assessing the impact of the programme. Firstly, a detailed
baseline survey was commissioned which provided the basis for defining
content, entry strategy and target groups as well as the mapping of service
providers and resources. The baseline, designed and analysed by S&T,
helped define benchmarks and informed indicators for the high-end objectives.
During the course of the programme, reports on each activity were captured
on a database, allowing analysis of performance by CSO, by region, by
delivery methodology and so on. As with the baseline survey, a GIS application
permits spatial analysis of results.
An extensive impact evaluation has been commissioned which will provide
a detailed assessment of NCEP using the following tools:
- A general survey comparing political attitudes, participation
and other governance indicators with the baseline study.
- A pre and post NCEP survey and control group to assess levels
of awareness of those participating in NCEP activities as against
those who have not.
- Analysis of the activity report database to compare regions,
methodologies, and target groups.
A final report is due in August 2003.
Impressions of impact and the imminent election
At the time that civic education activities were taking place, the Constitution
of Kenya Review Commission (CKRC) was carrying out public consultations.
The programme assisted in preparing members of the public to make informed
presentations to the Commission. Additionally, the Commission did not
have funds to carry out its own planned programme of civic education;
it had to depend on NCEP infrastructure including civic education materials.
Indeed there was increased collaboration between NCEP partners and the
CKRC co-ordinators. NCEP therefore made a significant contribution to
public participation in and ownership of the Constitutional Review Process.
This has raised the stakes for the political establishment should it fail
to enact the new Constitution once the review process is complete. An
encouraging sign for sustainable delivery has been the continued use of
community-based facilitators, trained under the programme, even after
funding has ended. Local CBOs, particularly women's groups, have been
mobilising their own resources and inviting facilitators to continue workshops.
Of particular promise is anecdotal evidence from implementing agencies
indicating that beneficiaries have taken the principles of constitutionalism
and good governance and applied them to their immediate environment. For
example, a number of "mini-revolutions" have been reported where
members of co-operative societies and agricultural co-ops have demanded
transparency and democratic process within their structures. Perhaps the
most interesting example of this is the demand from the congregation of
a Catholic Church (the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission was a major
implementing agency) to overhaul the "hierarchical, undemocratic
and secretive" decision-making structure in their church.
If media reports are anything to go by, ordinary Kenyans have been increasingly
informed through the programme. In the current pre-election fervour, civil
society groups have pointed to an improvement in the quality of debate
in both rural and urban areas. It also seems that bad habits are dying
out: expecting sycophantic respect merely because of political office
has gone, and President Moi has had to endure open defiance and even booing
by the public. This has occurred as Moi has travelled the country trying
to drum up support for his chosen successor whom he plucked from obscurity
- the son of his predecessor, Jomo Kenyatta, first post-independence President
Whether Kenyans will accept the imposition of a dynasty may be the true
measure of the success of civic education.