My work at Siasa Place involves travelling a lot across counties and facilitating community engagements. We have community forums with young people on specifically public participation. I enjoy travelling, yes but in each forum, I am presented with different challenges and learning about different cultures, issues and how youth are organized.
Recently I was in Samburu County to collect views from the Youth on issues affecting them and how they would want the County to work in supporting them and from the dialogues one thing was clear- The county government does not have adequate avenues for available to engage with youth. The irony of the matter, is that this is within our constitutional provisions as a citizen, but in reality this goes against the objectives of devolution in Article 174 (c) of the Constitution that states that devolution will give powers to self-governance to the people and enhance participation in the exercise of the powers of the state and in making decisions affecting them.
Statistically with the youth being the majority, in the country just like in Samburu County it is unrealistic to do anything without involving the youth. Moving across the three constituencies in Samburu that is Baragoi in Samburu North, Wamba in Samburu East and in Maralal town which is the County headquarters the young people said in one voice that they are not meaningfully engaged in County affairs and this results them to make little or no input in the development agenda in the county.
While some may fault young people as lazy and who wait to be spoon-fed, it is also vital to identify cultural barriers, such as older people in the society looking down upon youth and that their views are not crucial or even listened to. Another issue in the northern community is women do not have a say despite the progress made by the community of even electing a woman as a member of parliament in the National Assembly representing Samburu West Constituency Hon. Naisula Lesuuda. It is therefore prudent that the society needs to be sensitized on why all the voices matter especially in issues of running the county government.
While I fault the County, youth have also lacked passion to be community changers and all they want are hand outs for them to attend their own community forums. Where is the problem? Morals or lack of a way of living? On this, it reminds me in 2007 as a young child, I was in the village and a politician came to our home during campaigns. I was excited to finally see this bearded man who was vying to be the MP in our constituency, my brother and sisters were all excited. He talked to my dad and mum who were eligible voters about his agenda and before leaving our home he gave my dad a brand new two hundred shillings note.
I didn’t know what it was for by then but later learnt that it was an incentive for my dad to vote for him on 27th December 2007. 11 years later I remember that incident like it was yesterday. I’m telling this story because a majority of young people that I interact with say, ‘’We don’t ask for money from Politicians.’’ Or ‘’Ukipewa huwezi kataa (If you are given, you cannot say no).’’ when it comes to asking for handouts or being paid to vote. The same mentality applies when it comes even to community forums or meetings, we expect to be paid to help ourselves.
We hear a lot about public participation and how it is a powerful tool for the people but it faces a myriad of challenges. Just last week, I was in Chakol North Ward in Busia County following a story by a group of youth from our trainings who had invoked Article 35 1 (a) to ask for information about pending bills from the Ward Administrator.
In the meeting that brought together the Ward Administrator, a representative of the Member of County Assembly (MCA) and the youth, I couldn’t help but notice how the Ward Administrator was shaking, she was extremely worried and looked stressed. I think imagining that we would deny her children bread the following day. One could clearly see that she had never been exposed to such kind of interaction. The discussions began and the youth explained what they wanted and why with good backings from the Constitution.
In the middle of the talks Mrs. Caren Moitit, the Ward admin said, ‘’Its not that we don’t want to share this information or hold public participation forums the challenge is that my office has no budgetary allocations for the same. It is very hard to call people to a meeting without refreshments they can’t sit on or a bottle of water during the meeting. I hope we can get well-wishers be it Non-governmental organizations to support us have public participation forums.’’ I was shocked at how a whole County can have budgets without a line for public participation or community dialogues. Is this devolution? Or is it a case of money is allocated but does not make it to Mrs. Caren’s office?
While these challenges exist it is time the youth realized that nothing can be done for them without them and our involvement will improve how the counties engage us.