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Citizen Engagement in Kenya: From law to practice

Tiago Carneiro Peixoto's picture
Citizens mapping projects at ward level in Makueni County
Citizens mapping projects at ward level in Makueni County

The introduction of “citizen engagement” into law is an idea that is gaining popularity around the world.

New provisions in Kenya’s recent Constitution enshrine openness, accountability and public participation as guiding principles for public financial management. Yet, as citizen engagement practitioners know, translating participation laws into meaningful action on the ground is no simple task. Experience has shown that in the absence of commitment from leaders and citizens and without appropriate capacities and methodologies, public participation provisions may lead to simple “tick the box” exercises.
Thanks to the support from the Kenya Participatory Budgeting Initiative (KPBI)* and the commitment from West Pokot and Makueni** County leaders, participatory budgeting (PB) is being tested as a way to achieve more inclusive and effective citizen engagement processes while complying with national legal provisions. The initial results are quite encouraging.

The silent ‘change agents’ in government

Syed Akhtar Mahmood's picture

Sometimes, the drive comes from the senior echelons of government – a reform-minded government leader, an important minister or an agency head. At times, there is pressure from donors. Often, the two combine: The initial idea comes from a donor, which a powerful person in government then takes up as an agenda.

Many reforms happen in this top-down way. But, often, there are questions about their sustainability. Commitment to reforms may not be widespread. Once donor pressure wears off, or once the bold reformer at the top moves on (or loses interest or energy), reform initiatives dissipate. Sometimes, the reforms happen on paper, but implementation remains deficient. Top-down reform initiatives often fail to take on board the front-line officials. Implementation thus suffers, especially when the attention of the top-down driver shifts elsewhere.

The 2015 World Development Report, Mind, Society and Behavior, thus points to the need to understand the motivations and behavioral characteristics of different players, such as politicians and government bureaucrats, and how these affect their decisions and actions. The WDR argues that such an understanding helps design policy interventions and reforms that stand a chance of success even in seemingly intractable situations.

This brings us to a third way of reform, less common but potentially more powerful – one that is driven by the middle tiers of bureaucracy. Reforms initiated in the trenches enjoy, almost by definition, the commitment of those responsible for implementation. Reforms may also be better designed, since the officials know exactly what is feasible and where there are pitfalls. A single bottom-up reform may not be very bold.  But one reform may lead to another, and the cumulative impact may make a big difference.

Donor programs usually don’t regard mid-level officials as key drivers of reforms. It is often assumed that such officials will oppose reforms and they should thus be bypassed or, at best, co-opted in some fashion. Such assumptions lead to many lost opportunities. Mid-level officials can often be good initiators of reform if they are properly inspired and engaged. The attitudes and perceptions of this important tier of the bureaucracy have an important bearing on the formulation of policies and regulations, as well as on their implementation. These attitudes are shaped by an awareness of business-related issues, or a lack of it.

It’s possible to end poverty in South Asia

Annette Dixon's picture

October 17 is the international day to end poverty. There has been much progress toward this important milestone: the World Bank Group’s latest numbers show that since 1990 nearly 1.1 billion people have escaped extreme poverty. Between 2012 and 2013 alone, around 100 million people moved out of extreme poverty. That’s around a quarter of a million people every day. This is cause for optimism.
But extreme poverty and the wrenching circumstances that accompany it persist. Half the world's extreme poor now live in sub-Saharan Africa, and another third live in South Asia. Worldwide nearly 800 million people were still living on less than $1.90 a day in 2013, the latest year for which we have global numbers. Half of these are children. Most have nearly no education. Many of the world's poor are living in fragile and conflict afflicted countries. In a world in which so many have so much, it is unacceptable that so many have so little. 

Habitat III will shape the future of cities. What will it mean for urban mobility?

Nancy Vandycke's picture
Photo credit: Rajarshi Mitra/Flickr

Next week, the international community will gather at Habitat III - the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development - to discuss important urban challenges as the world’s cities grow at an unprecedented rate.

Today, 54% of people live in cities and towns. Cities can be magnets for population growth and offer opportunities for jobs and social empowerment; but they can also be a source of congestion, exclusion and impoverishment. Which path of urban growth will prevail depends, in large part, on the quality and availability of mobility solutions. Transport is a structuring element of cities.

The reality of mobility in today’s cities is alarming— especially when measured against the four criteria that define sustainable mobility.

Advancing women’s land and resource rights

Renée Giovarelli's picture
Photo by Neil Palmer (CIAT)
Photo: Neil Palmer (CIAT)
Development practitioners know secure land rights for women are important for the well-being of rural families, whether a woman is head of her household or lives in a household headed by a man. We know the research shows that women’s land rights are associated with family improvements, such as:
  • Increases in food expenditures
  • Children less likely to be severely underweight
  • Improvements in child educational achievements
  • Increases in share of expenditures devoted to healthcare

How Africa can restore robust growth through trade and aid

Nancy Lee's picture
Workers construct a culvert along the Nampula – Rio Ligonha Road in Northern Mozambique as part of the Millennium Challenge Corporation's Rehabilitation and Construction of Roads Project.
Photo credit: MCC

The narrative of "Africa Rising" has recently been tempered by uncertainties and risks in the global environment. Following two decades of growth averaging five percent, many of Africa’s economies, especially the commodity exporters, have cooled. Earlier this month, the International Monetary Fund cut its 2016 growth forecast for sub-Saharan Africa to only 1.4 percent.

Like Asia, Africa’s progress in reducing poverty rates has been driven by sustained growth, but population growth has prevented a decline in poverty. Extreme poverty is now increasingly concentrated in sub-Saharan Africa, and in 2012, nearly 400 million people in the region were living on less than $1.90 a day.

Who is poor in Pakistan today? Raising the basic standard of well-being in a changing society

Ghazala Mansuri's picture
Photo credit: Visual News Associates / World Bank

Over 80 percent of Pakistanis consistently report that their economic wellbeing has either deteriorated or remained the same. Only 20 percent, disproportionately concentrated in the very top of the distribution, feel that they are better off and similarly small numbers believe that economic conditions have improved for their locality. If we took a poll today, it is possible that many of you would say that extreme poverty has risen rather than fallen.

But in fact, the national data tells a completely different story! According to the national poverty line set in 2001, Pakistan has seen an exceptional decline in poverty—falling from nearly 35 percent in 2001 to less than 10 percent by 2013-14. Moreover, these gains were not concentrated among those close to the poverty line. Even the poorest 5 percent of the population saw an improvement in living standards.

Judith Tendler and learning from ‘good government’

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

On 24th July 2016, Judith Tendler, former Professor at the Department of Urban studies and Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Boston, passed away. She was 77. A Ph.D holder from Columbia University, Judith Tendler spent several years at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) before a long career as a Professor in MIT. A significant share of Prof. Tendler’s work focused on the Americas, but she also studied South Asia and parts of Africa over her long career.

Prof Tendler’s book: ‘Good Government in the Tropics’ (1997) is one of the most influential books in the field of international development — an essential reading for students of governance and public policy studies. In the book, Prof Tendler and her research associates studied four cases of successful government in Ceara, a relatively poor state in north-eastern Brazil. In each of the cases, the government at different levels played an effective role, facilitating and brokering relationships, and submitting itself to mechanisms which could be used to hold themselves accountable. Those were rare, but rich, examples of ‘good government’.

These cases highlighting the achievements of ‘good governments’ challenged the dominant pessimistic thinking about governance in the so-called ‘third world’. Prof Tendler argued that much of the advice from international development agencies to developing countries was based on an analysis of poor performance of the public sector and governments. This resulted in a tendency to ‘import’ good practices from the successful developed countries, as well as a resistance to looking deeply into poor countries to identify variations in performance. In many ways Prof Tendler consistently challenged the pre-suppositions that development agencies and policy advisors nurtured and which, as a result, shaped the advice they dispensed into narrow straitjackets often unfit for the context in which they were to be applied.

Was the resource boom more akin to a resource curse for Africa?

Sudharshan Canagarajah's picture

The IMF’s Regional Economic Outlook (REO – April 2016) notes that the region’s dependence on primary commodities has increased since the 1980s with nearly half of the countries in the region subject to commodity price fluctuations. These economies, which contribute 70 percent of the GDP of Sub-Saharan Africa are facing a sharp slowdown in real growth, with many also having to undertake large fiscal retrenchments and/or seek balance of payments support from the IMF.

We review the economic performance of Sub-Saharan Africa’s (henceforth Africa) non-renewable resource producers since the early 2000s, the start of the commodity price boom contrasting this with the economic performance of Africa’s non-commodity exporters over the same period. The negative economic impact of the current slump in commodity prices is indisputable, but it is worth asking whether Africa’s non-renewable resource producers realized any tangible benefits from the commodity price boom. Our conclusion is that they did not, at least in terms of real per capita growth. And here’s why.

Why does half the world distrust government?

Dani Clark's picture

Governance Gap, World Bank Live.

According to the 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer, half the world population distrusts government. Understanding why and how governments can better serve their citizens was the central theme of the “Governance Gap” high-level public discussion at the World Bank-IMF Annual Meetings on Thursday.
“Governance is complex and complicated. We need to unpack it to understand those complexities better,” said Kyle Peters, interim chief operating officer and managing director of the World Bank at the start of the event, moderated by Clare Short, chair of the CITIES Alliance and former UK Secretary of State for International Development.