Campaign Conference on Shrinking Global Civic Space By Okore Scheaffer

CampaignCon is an annual global skill-sharing event where activists, technologists, organizations and social movements share ideas, co-create and explore modern campaigning theory and practice. At CampaignCon 2017, 125 participants came together from across the world to explore how to build a more responsive civil society.

The continent needs robust CSOs that can mobilise and campaign more effectively in the digital era, facing growing authoritarianism, shrinking civic space and other threats. Siasa Place was one of the partners who got to represent the very dicey environment that Kenya is engaging in as regards to civic participation.

There are states grappling with life long serving presidents like Teodoro Obiang of Equatorial Guinea (35 years), José Eduardo dos Santos of Angola (35 years), Paul Biya of Cameroon (32 years) among many others. Others are fighting for immediate regime change like Togo where thousands of Togolese are in the streets campaigning against the 50-year-rule of the Gnassingbe family, demanding the immediate resignation of President Faure Gnassingbe.

Then there are states like Kenya in the middle of a democratic transition and actualization of election credibility amidst many odds. Neighboring states like Rwanda that does not allow the questioning of the presidency neither does it condone any kind of contest of the presidential position. Uganda standing up against the law that seeks to change the age limit of the president, Burundi in the hands of a real time despot and South Sudan hanging on for dear life.

In these states and others unmentioned, the civic space is shrinking rapidly. Freedom of speech is heavily curtailed and respect for human rights remain extremely wanting. This is what many in civic space tried to find solutions to because what can’t be done is to allow the already existing silencing via state machinery and other external actors prevail.

Issues around supporting those in already existing civic space are vital because we must practice self-care as CSOs, activists and so on in order to be able to serve better. The networks we build ought to elevate the various works being done no mater how small. “It is obvious that many of us are going through a bad presidents moment” says Lerato, one of the participants from South Africa.

The reality we are facing is operating on hostile ground dealing with different kinds of censorship all the time. Any kind of dissent is criminalized and punished with unnecessary force as seen in various states. It emerged that the civic space itself wasn’t accommodating to everyone, it wasn’t being guided by the people’s agenda but by few individuals and that the struggles however similar the demographics in which they play out are different.

It requires that everyone in civic space right now be able to understand that the only way civic spaces became more inclusive and non-conforming to external agendas is by opening them up to new voices. The voices of these new activists, NGOs and CSOs need not be sidelined. Identifying the various tools being used to silence the marginalized is also a key element of understanding the spaces we operate in.

Poverty is one of the most effective tools being used by autocratic regimes to silence the masses. Anyone who feeds you controls you and so is the one who denies you the opportunity to feed yourself. Ignorance is yet another tool being used heavily to completely delude the masses from knowing what they can and cannot ask for. The lack of knowledge or how to use the knowledge is a gap intentionally created to mask bad leadership.

Persons in civic spaces have upon them the duty to educate, contextualize the various struggles and be able to connect these same struggle so as to create broader ownership amongst people. CSOs should move from boardrooms and be on the ground literally as that is where their impact and purpose is. Bassey a community mobilizer from Gambia said, “CSOs cannot claim to represent the community if they aren’t in communities.”

The mediums of engagement are also something we must all be thinking around when it comes to engaging in civic space. “The role played by technology is too important as we’ve witnessed in Tunisia where social media is leading in effective transfer of knowledge” says Mouna Ben from Civicus. Australian online satirical videos around political figures have been a great way of stirring consciousness amongst the people.

In Uganda as narrated by Scovia-a social justice champion- they built alliances with their progressive parliamentarians to stop the signing of the age limit bill. They got all their parliamentarians contacts, which they used to send them messages every two hours reminding them not to sign bill. This influx of messages from thousands of constituents got the parliamentarians worried that if they let the bill pass their constituents were watching meanwhile in the streets they wore red to symbolize solidarity.

“We are at a place where fighting for social justice is extremely challenging yet what got us here isn’t enough to take us to the next level” Michael Silberman moblab. The challenges we are facing now need new ways of response and those new ways are our challenge as social justice fighters. We must create links and a connectedness that is beyond borders, if our goal is singular.

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The Distractive Side Of Social Media by Nerima Wako

Whether we would like to admit it or not, we are an age that relies heavily on social media from our sources of information, jokes and entertainment and overall communication. Some speak more to friends online than they do face to face. To the point that if a relationship is not online, several youth consider it baseless and not factual.

I recently attended a women’s conference in Lusaka organized by Africa Governance Architecture, which is a department of political affairs in the African Union Commission – to discuss ways to strengthen women participation in political spaces. There were women from all over the continent; some were political aspirants, members of parliament, activists, community mobilizers and government agents.

It was revealing to hear some stories from political aspirants from around Africa share about harassment online. I could fully relate because a few days earlier, I was misquoted on twitter by a national media house. The insults that were hurled at me from grown men was deeply distasteful considering that we are not children on a playground but adults.

Worse still was the number of trolls that engaged on my timeline almost immediately after. Calling me all sorts of names, with pent up anger, reacting as though I had killed one of their relatives having no ardent desire to first check the basis of the quote and whether it was factual. I am not the kind to respond with retaliation, I simply said it was taken out of context and asked for it to be deleted by the media house and it was. But by then damage was already done.

The ugly face of social media revealed itself. Individuals hiding behind a keyboard insult people that they do not even know or understand the situation. All for what? We all have the right to express ourselves, but if you do not agree with the opinion, why must we throw insults at one another. So much hate is being spewed on our social media, especially in this political period that is tense and this is where several young people use most of their time.

When did we normalize this sort of engagement? Even more concerning is that my story is not unique. These days due to social media, we are able to watch Presidents congratulate each other on their electoral wins through twitter handles. Or observantly watch President Trump insult his next victim in humor, or wait for announcements from the Chair of IEBC from his handle social media has made such an influence to our way of thinking and interaction – even more than we think.

Recently, we saw an American citizen working in Zimbabwe because he insulted President Mugabe on twitter. We have also witnessed media houses grapple with factual information that is seen online. Additionally, we must recognize the rise of fake news spreading. From the common image of a man with dreadlocked hair wearing military uniform that only experts can tell you was photo-shopped, circulating documents about individuals personal affairs, and one can tell that the culprits did their research when it came to searching for fake biographies.

The actual people exist, but the institutional arm being used has been equivocated. We have seen real media houses pick up stories and have to apologize for sharing fake information. However we must admit that it has become so difficult to tell. Large media stations have played the fool before, for instance being tricked by fraudster “Eduardo Martins” who impersonated to world established media outlets that he is a war photo journalist by inverting real images that belonged to other individuals and in some cases photo shopping his image into them.

In the confusing forest of fake news and insults, what we need more and more are people who think, those who verify their information. We need that more than ever in this politically tense environment. Check the facts before sharing the content. A sad reality is that we tend to share volatile and controversial information with speed. Additionally, it is because I am a young woman engaged in politics – the expectations are even higher.

And what is even more worrying is the way “social media influencers” use that platform negatively. Starting engagement with insults, the hurled insults that they encourage make you wonder whether it is difficult or a rule on cyber space not to speak with sense and civility. Adults speaking as though they just crossed into puberty and hiding behind the disguise of a keyboard: demonstrating all this bravado that if you were to meet in person, one would wonder where they gather this false courage.

It was sad for women in this conference to share with me that many of them have up to 10 pseudo accounts. To speak back to those who insult them on social media. For a man, he can simply respond how he pleases. But for a woman, she will be judged harshly. So create a fake account, give it a male persona and use it to speak your inner most anger and attack. Because retaliating publicly is not lady-like. But seeing men throw fists at one another, some find it comical, others will find out the reason why – perhaps it is justifiable.

As soon as a woman who holds a leadership position responds with vulgar retaliatory language, it will be the end of her career. The usage of insults to put a point across should not be a requirement for speech online.

By Nerima Wako

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VOTING AND ETHNICITY; Understanding Diversity

Understanding Diversity Report (Nov 2017) FA1

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The Differences Between States Is The People, Lessons From Germany By Scheaffer Okore @scheafferoo

Many countries in Africa are struggling not with the obvious assumptions of the world but with one key issue leadership. The debates around leadership are so broad and so layered that it exhausts any right thinking individual like me who believes that there are no superwomen or men. I believe in the collective responsibilities of individuals towards the betterment of everyone and indeed society.

I had the honor to observe the just concluded German election in Bavaria-through the wonderful Hanns Seidel Stiftung-where I engaged their electoral and governance processes. The Federal system of government in Germany has a subsidiarity principal which is similar to what Kenya has at present known as devolution. The subsidiarity principal states that government works best at local level and the closer the control of government is to the people, the more interest and control citizens hold in political proceedings and operations. This principal is fully implemented and protected by the leaders from local level all the way up to the highest office.

This kind of government is achievable even in Kenya but we always fall short of something, political will. Almost everything is done at the local level where they have municipalities each headed by a Lord Mayor. The Lord Mayor of Meitingen Dr.Michael Higl whose municipality has roughly 11,500 people elaborately took us through he’s daily tasks from sustainable and affordable housing for the community where the municipality buys land and builds more homes for residents. He explained that income generation to finance the activities of his office in order to serve the community was key and in his municipality they depended heavily on electricity and steel production.

The role of the federal government is to establish a framework and the municipality becomes the implementing arm. Within the framework of building homes for example it is required that the municipality doesn’t interfere with nature, doesn’t build towards densely populated areas, doesn’t interfere with national heritage, maintains the aesthetic of the specific municipality, incorporates solar panels, ensures accessibility of the houses not clustered together, minimal high-rise buildings and so much more. I believe we have an institution in Kenya that is supposed to deal with regulatory issues around construction but do they do it?

The Lord Mayor of Welden Mr. Peter Bergmeir whose municipality has around 3,700 people pushed further on to many issues that are best dealt with on local level. He made it clear that every resident had to register in their municipality as a legal requirement in order to get benefits and services from government like passports. Municipal registration made it easy to map and plan the needs of all residents at every given time. Knowing the number of people in your municipality allows you the freedom to be able to prioritize what is a need and what isn’t. If you’ve got more old people then you prioritize their needs, if you’ve got more children then kindergartens and day care facilities are a must, if you’ve got more young people then industries for employment become a priority.

I wondered if in Kenya we could have a registration system similar to this in ward level to be able to make mapping out more narrowed down. Wouldn’t it be easy to streamline services and make effective the delivery of these services if we knew specifically who lived where, young or old, employed or not, with family or not, male or female? Municipal registration in Germany also makes it possible to acquire voting documents since they are given out where you live. You also pay tax to both the federal state and the municipality hence where you live cannot be ignored in most cases it determines how much you pay.

Another interesting thing is that flood protection is a municipal mandate and not totally a government one. The mayor is supposed to know the landscape and weather patterns in his/her area and is able to mitigate the risk of flooding. The mayoral position can be either voluntary or elected like the case of most mayors we talked to who started off volunteering their services to the municipality and are now elected having been seen as performers.

This I found very interesting especially in the Kenyan context where someone cannot even think of volunteering at this level of leadership. We are stuck seeking people of service and without any avenue for those willing to serve to show case what they can do. In turn we ridicule anyone trying and going out of their way to do things differently from the norm instead of holding on to the opportunity of creating leaders with verifiable track records. Surprisingly, almost all fire fighters in these municipalities are all volunteers trained by the municipality to offer their service to their local area.

The electoral system is elaborate in theory but very simple in practical. It is headed by the electoral commissioner who has an unlimited tenure and whose vital task is to ensure preliminary results are determined, election has taken place within the rules and has no complaints plus approval of party lists. The voting can be done via post or physically during the day of election. The polling station is full of volunteers and any other voter who wishes to be part of the process not just officials.

Everyone is allowed during the entire the voting, counting and verification is done since they believe the more eyes and hands the better and faster the process is done. It is mostly about trust of the people towards each other and in the fact that no one would willing jeopardize such an important process. The returning officer is not heavily supervised as many residents feel that he/she knows what they’re doing and they have the interest of the people and country at heart. Determining of the results starts at local level at the polling station where the results-after counting and verification-are communicated to the municipality.

At the municipality level election protocol is signed by 9 officials then passed to the district level where the results are commissioned and given to the commissioner who sums up the results from all districts. On the 23rd of September-the eve of their Bundestag election-was an easy day. People went by their daily lives in fact we even went boat riding in Utting their politics didn’t seem to hold captive anything as it does in Kenya. All through this final week to the election there were campaigns of course but not as rowdy as the ones I’m used to.

In small municipalities, town hall meetings took place as they discussed the best ways of securing their desired candidate a win. The civility in which the campaigns were conducted and even the way counter arguments were dealt with was something to note. Yes, they disagreed on issues but some sort of conduct was to be adhered to even in conflict. I remember one of the people at the closing election campaign of the CSU telling me, “Leaders must behave respectably even when dealing with issues they don’t agree with”

Despite all this, Germany with a population of more women than men has minimal representation. Even in one of the mayor’s offices where they have a wall of celebrated residents no woman was on the wall and I remember being utterly shocked. I asked why and was told it’s simply because of the patriarchal society that still shrouds many things and hinders a lot of progress. It would also be a grave oversight if I don’t mention just how apathetic the young people are towards their politics. It worried me because I remember only meeting a handful of young people in almost all the institutions that are engaged in political discourse or mainstream politics.

It is therefore not just an African problem when we talk about an intergenerational disconnect and lack of participation. Maybe Africa is even leading in spaces of youthful people active in politics to an extend that most of our governments seek silencing remedies for the vocal youth. The lessons are many and the most important one was the mandatory expectation of service. With all the institutions we have, we lack people of character who are truly led by the desires to deliver.

We’ve don’t needed new laws what we are in desperate need of is new people. For good to happen, good people must be in leadership. The only thing different between states is the kind of people we are because our states are a representation of how we value or devalue ourselves. Look at your country and tell me what you see?

By Scheaffer Okore
@scheafferoo
Program Officer Civic Engagement At Siasa Place.

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