‘Civic education’ presupposes two things: that it is related to the rights and responsibilities of citizens and that it is education. Essentially therefore civic education is meant to impart knowledge and skills for citizens to better perform their duties and for the state to better discharge its responsibilities. Invariably therefore civic education must have a double purpose: to make citizens demand for services, and to make leaders and other duty bearers understand it is their role to provide these. Ultimately, the result of civic education would be a reduction of conflict and the development of a culture of responsiveness.
This is what I mean: if a group marches to the nearest police station protesting the lack of security in their village, it is their right (on condition that they are peaceful and do not deliberately cause disruption of businesses on their way). When a police officer stops them and orders them to go back and even hurls tear gas at them, he has broken the law thrice: he has caused a breach of the peace, he has attacked peacefully assembled people and he has not preserved the dignity of his office. Such a person should be charged, just as a demonstrator who harasses people who are not in the demonstration should face the law. Civic education is supposed to make people understand this.
Civic education can never be non-partisan. Those that require civic educators to be non-partisan are afraid that civic education will make people start to question the way they do things in execution of their official capacities. I have written before that any education is liberating, even when it is designed to disempower the beneficiaries. Something wears onto the educated that is a by product of the process of education and that radically transforms those that get the education. Indoctrination is perhaps the kind of education that creates the worst kind of rebellion. This is because the indoctrinated individual knows too much of one side of the story. The indoctrinated person becomes a zealot, an unbalanced person who can easily become violent. But once such a person is exposed to the other part of the story, then (s)he becomes a zealous opponent of the indoctrine.
With the promulgation of the Constitution of Kenya 2010, the state is duty bound to provide civic education. This is the first time since the aborted efforts in the early 1960s (aimed at fostering nationhood) which the government abandoned in 1965, when the Constitution was amended to create a strong presidency. Civic education was abandoned because the executive realised that it did not want people to challenge it on service provision; it wanted people to just obey its dictates and to be grateful if something was given to them. We can therefore argue that 1965 to 1992 were the years of a despondent dictatorship – the citizens were subjects, and the executive were the tyrants.
The 1991 amendment of Section 2A of the Constitution allowing for multiparty politics has been seen by many as the turning point for Kenya. For civic education, it certainly was. The proliferation of CSOs and the multiplicity of actors in human rights advocacy and civic education is a testimony of this. But the sun had not set on despondency. Ten years later – in 2002, it was ‘illegal’ to hold a meeting to sensitize people on human rights and ‘good leadership’. The intervening period had also seen the incarceration in jail of many progressive actors and the execution of many others. Ironically today, it is the government that is sponsoring such awareness and education meetings. Change indeed!
In civic education, information is not enough. Civic education must move beyond creating awareness to motivating citizens to act. So, civic education initiatives that are focussed on giving information are misguided. Civic education is about the equipping of citizens with the right information and the tools to effectively demand their rights and to discharge their responsibilities. In one of my writings on this subject I have asked a fundamental question: so what if you understand the Constitution of Kenya? Does that liberate you? NO! It is what you do with the knowledge that will constitute liberation, or lack of it.
That having been said, the energy with which the government and civil society partnership programme – KNICE – is being implemented, we as a nation are keen on receiving information, we want to be told over and over again what the constitution says, what our rights are, what people we should elect, how we shall elect them, how much money we shall get to the counties, how we shall participate in the governance of our country, etcetera. Then we will go ahead and elect people on ethnic and other considerations. Why then do you need civic education at all?
As Kenyans, we are not true to ourselves when we demand that civic education gives only information. Yes, I agree with the adage that information is power, but you cannot blame your powerlessness on the lack of information. You lack power when you are unable to use the little information you have to fashion tools to enable you to become a better citizen. Methinks something has happened to our national psyche as a people. We feign ignorance of the most mundane of things. We know for instance that the Constituency Development Fund is a total failure because it has become a campaign tool wielded by people whose work is legislation and oversight – not implementation of development projects. Yet we have always insisted on MPs ‘bringing’ development to the areas they represent. We even demand in meetings to be told what their development record is. In the process, we have created demi-gods out of the most hapless of characters – people who were elected because of their money or because they were pointed out to constituents by the kingmakers (called ethnic party big-wigs). We have faltered as a nation and lost the way.
Getting information is good, it is empowering, but it is not liberating. The power of liberation is not external, it is internal. People have to make choices, and there are only two: to continue asking for information, or to use the little information that we have to carry out such acts as may move us to the next level. This next level is the one in which we take control of the destiny of our village road, our schools, our water sources, our food crops and our livestock. These individual actions have the greatest impact when done collectively. The decision to act is a decision against status quo, it is a decision to challenge those that seem and act as invincible.
Allow me to digress a little. I had the ‘fortune’ of having dinner with a District Commissioner recently, and invariably our discussion went to the aspect of devolution as espoused in the Constitution of Kenya. The DC asked me what all this noise about governors in the county was all about and went further to give me ‘civic education’. He described a governor under the new constitution as a totemic idol, somebody who will be elected to be a ceremonial functionary. I am strong, so I did not choke on the morsel I had in my mouth. In other words, he confirmed my fears that the Central Government today would do everything in its power to ensure that the National Government that gets into place after the elections totally emasculates the County Governments. This explained to me the arrogance with which President Kibaki and his henchpersons went on to appoint County Commissioners.
I would like to be told the name of the person who is giving the President and the Prime Minister civic education on the Constitution of Kenya. I, on behalf of Kenyans, need an answer to this question because if there is such a person, the person should be fired. Fired and thrown into jail. Not for giving the wrong information to the President and Prime Minister (because there is no way of establishing this) but for continuing to give them information when they are acting against the spirit of what they promulgated.
We face a dilemma on several issues. Take police reforms for instance: what information do we give Kenyans on police reforms when a raft of laws have been enacted but have not been operationalised? What information do we give Kenyans when land laws have been enacted but not implemented? What information do we give to Kenyans when Chapter Six of the Constitution of Kenya is so clear yet it has blatantly being ignored by everyone of our leaders? What information do we give to our people when the Commission for Revenue Allocation (CRA) is replicating the formula of sharing resources that was first proposed by the Session paper no 10 of 1965?
This mindset will defeat civic education. We have to explore further and have civic education to the duty bearers fashioned to make them aware of the task they have and prevent them from going back to the comfort zones of the impunious constitution we had before. There is need to liberate them maybe more than the need for a liberated general public.
Wambua Kawive, Executive Secretary, Constitution and Reform Education Consortium - CRECO