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How 'social vetting' can effectively shape the race to lead counties

By Joseph Kwaka | July 18th 2017
Kenya's Parliament building (Photo: Courtesy)

There is nothing as frightening for most politicians as digging into their past to expose their transgressions, especially on integrity.

A majority of the highly moneyed Kenyan men and women seeking elective public offices happen to have acquired wealth whose source is not clear. And they would rather nobody examined their integrity records.

When Kenyan parliamentarians conspired and watered down the piece of legislation that would have effectively actualised Chapter Six of the Constitution on Leadership and Integrity, they thought it would be smooth all the way to the polls. Not really.

At least an action by Community Aid International (CAI), a Kenyan non-governmental organization, has rekindled hope that individuals who cannot meet the threshold set by the supreme law can be weeded out by the voters.

Skeletons in the closet

The social vetting exercise currently going on in some 12 counties is spelling doom for candidates with skeletons in their cupboards while proving to be a blessing to others in the forthcoming General Election. Under a project called “Jadili Wajibu” (discourse on responsibility), Community Aid International, in partnership with other civil society organizations, is implementing social vetting activities in 12 counties.

A community-constituted social vetting panel of prominent impartial leaders presides over public hearings while also using questionnaires and soliciting for anonymous write-ups to gather views and opinions from wananchi on the candidates they adjudge unfit for public office.

A flurry of public forums for dissemination of the reports by the panels are on the cards this and next week in the 12 targeted counties of Kwale, Kilifi, Taita Taveta, Kajiado, Kitui, Muranga, Meru, Elgeyo Marakwet, Bomet, Homa Bay, Busia and Siaya. Last week, in one such Grand Forum in Homa Bay County, a gubernatorial candidate, Oyugi Magwanga, sent a strong delegation which, as the saying goes, effectively made lemonade out of the lemon.

This unprecedented project, another one exclusively Kenyan, is dissecting the background and track record of candidates for various positions, providing the citizenry with a platform to critique their qualifications for the positions they are seeking, and putting them on the weighing scale for integrity, humility, vision and other indicators for good leadership.

In the run-up to the last General Election (of 2013), the social vetting exposed a candidate for Women Rep who had no qualifications and was fraudulently using her late sister’s high school certificate and had also adopted the said sister’s name. She was consequently denied her political party’s certificate, which she had earlier been given.

What others have done

The current Kibwezi Governor, Kivutha Kibwana, however seized the platform to successfully clear his name against allegations of mismanagement of Constituency Development Funds when he was the MP for Makueni Constituency.

Once in office, Prof Kibwana actually invited Community Aid International to also carry out social audit so that he could get feedback from the residents of his county on issues such as satisfaction or otherwise on service delivery and economic development.

The social vetting action provides vital information to voters to make informed choices at the polls and affirms Chapter Six of the Constitution.

As the citizens shoot questions face- to-face in a town-hall type of meeting, they assume the power vested in them by Chapter One of the Constitution - that “All Sovereign Power belongs to the people of Kenya” ... which they may exercise either directly or indirectly through their democratically elected leaders.

In social vetting the people exercise their constitutional right to scrutinise the individuals seeking their mandate before they actually choose from among them. The action serves to humble the candidates.

important platform

But it is a process that also presents an important platform to those who are “clean” because they take the stage to sell their vision, manifesto and their stands on issues important to the people.

Through this exercise, some candidates get to learn what the voters expect of them and grab the opportunity to show their talent in strong communication to the elite and other opinion-shapers of the county.

The forthcoming Grand Forums for the dissemination of the social vetting report will serve also as platforms on which candidates, especially those vying to be governor, can debate with each other. In some counties like Kwale, the incumbent for the position of governor has said he is looking forward to the occasion.

Mr Kwaka is the Executive Director of Community Aid International. To learn more about CAI’s leadership and governance programme, follow us on Facebook: @Community Aid International, @CAIKenya on twitter and visit our site www.communityaid.or.ke

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