Civil Society no longer with Wanjiku

Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) were a shadow government 20 years ago.

Today, most are in tatters, lacking competent and cohesive leadership with little support from the public, government or faith-based organisations.

Whatever happened to those brave souls and movements that sent shivers down the spineless Moi regime? How has trust been eroded and suspicions prevail? How did careerism take over from passion? Are the proposed amendments to the Public Benefit Organisations (PBO) Act the final nail in the civil society coffin?

The struggle for change has been long and arduous in Kenya and it has had many casualties. Some went to an early grave carrying the wounds of Nyayo chambers in their bodies; others got tired; most got married and had to start paying the bills; finally, many took the easy route of government jobs and overseas studies.

Remarkably, a few heroes have remained steadfast at the frontline, consistent, relevant and just as much in personal danger under Jubilee as they were under Kanu. It is to their credit.


The present generation of human rights defenders, however, are a bunch of well-educated professionals who, for the most part, have joined the struggle as a career choice. They know all about strategic plans, M & E, indicators and budget appraisal but spend more time on overseas junkets and strategic retreats than comforting the afflicted and confronting the rot in society.

Civil society is a growth industry and an attractive career option. However, despite generous funding, many CSOs are making little impact at national or regional level. Some are just as prone to negative ethnicity and mismanagement as any government department.

Others would have you believe that activism and advocacy work are all about media events, lots of glitter but little or no substance, documentation or follow-up.

Despite the proliferation of CSOs, most have been unable to confront the excesses, corruption and mismanagement that have been part of the initial experience of devolution. Recently we received shocking reports from the World Bank revealing that 75 per cent of counties did not spend even 30 per cent of their annual budgets on development projects.

Amazingly, not a single whimper or protest was heard from groups that organise demonstrations routinely over other matters.


Yes, CSOs also suffer from ethno-regionalism, afraid to challenge hegemonies on their doorstep but hitting national government from a safe distance. Every governor has his favourite CSO whose support and silence he can depend on when it matters. Patronage is encouraged by governors and courted by CSOs.

Churches, too, have gone absent in the struggle, not recovering relevance since their 2010 Constitution defeat. Then Jubilee wants to impart the fatal blows by a combination of scathing propaganda and the PBO amendments that restrict foreign funding to 15 per cent.

No rocket science is required to discover that this is a revenge mission aimed at those perceived to have hauled the President and his Deputy to The Hague.

It is a chastening time, when the wheat will be separated from the chaff. But the veterans will survive as they have overcome bigger challenges while activism will retain its space at the village level, where Wanjiku knows and defends her freedoms. @GabrielDolan1

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