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In Kenya, the OGP Process Provides Space to Redefine Civil Society Relations with Government

En Kenia, el proceso de OGP es una oportunidad para redefinir la relación entre la sociedad civil y el gobierno

Jessica Musila|

The relationship and collaboration between the Kenyan government and civil society organisations (CSOs) has been complex, to say the least. It ranges from big reform wins like the promulgation of the Constitution of Kenya in 2010, to the controversial handling of the International Criminal Court (ICC) post-election violence cases of 2007. This complex relationship prevented Kenyan civil society organisations from proactively engaging in co-creating open government reforms when the country became a member of the Open Government Partnership (OGP). National chapters of international civil society organizations, such as Hivos, Article 19, International Budget Partnership, International Commission of Jurists and Transparency International, led the efforts to institute OGP in the country, while local organisations contributions remained modest.

Even so, Kenya’s first OGP action plan nudged the government to proactively share official data sets that were previously inaccessible. This caught the eye of young activists and technologists and sparked the birth of CSOs focused on evidence driven policy-making which leveraged social media to disseminate its findings such as the Open Institute. It also raised the credibility of nascent initiatives such as Ushahidi, Mzalendo and the Code4Kenya project that all became full-fledged organisations.

Consequently, OGP opened an atypical opportunity for both government and civil society actors to proactively engage government on policy issues and thereby rebuild trust. Civil society leveraged the right to information for influence on accountability as the government showed its willingness to share previously inaccessible data. Even so, the fragmentation of civil society into many networks that are hardly coordinated in driving issues has kept the number of civil society organisations engaging on the platform low.

Despite the relatively low numbers of Kenyan CSOs engaged in the OGP platform, the recent From Plans to Actions report by the Local Development Research Institute (LDRI), with support from Luminate, reveals a steady and substantive increase in the number of organisations and quality of engagement. The platform has attracted more local groups whose programmatic focuses are aligned with open government and others seeking to keep momentum on Kenya’s reform journey on issues related to transparency and accountability. The joint leadership of clusters and the partnership in reporting has contributed to better synergy and trust building between government and CSOs. Actually, Kenyan civil society has stepped up to steer the OGP process in times of political headwinds like general elections and political transitions.

However, more broadly, both the government and civil society are still not very familiar with OGP. While at the national level, whole-of-government-buy-in has not been attained, good examples of what is possible exist at the local level.

Lack of funding for implementation of identified solutions within both government and civil society still remains a challenge. On several occasions, commitments made on the platform were not aligned to the government budget cycle and medium term plans. Small local CSOs have struggled to fundraise for their work especially when the prevailing rhetoric about the sector has been negative. On the other hand, multilateral and bilateral donors funding OGP work at the global secretariat and conference level have not supported the local process even when they already had partnerships with the Kenyan government.

Our recent research recommends that civil society and government consider undertaking: joint fundraising efforts for implementation of commitments, hosting iterative learning forums, establishing periodic roundtable discussions to strengthen relationships at national and local levels and collaborations to publicise OGP stories with the public.


Featured Photo: OGP Meeting in Eldoret, Kenya. Credit: Muchiri Nyaggah

Comments (1)

Jane Kwawu Reply

Awesome ideas on improved and trusting relationships between Government, Civil Society and indeed all other stakeholders on Policy development and Implementation in sustainable development for equity ,equality and justice

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