Ensuring citizen oversight in Kenya during the COVID-19 pandemic

Like many countries across the world, Kenya is experiencing huge political and societal changes as a result of the Coronavirus outbreak. There is the night-time curfew; the lockdown on virus hotspots; and a lack of financial security for workers in informal sectors.

At this crucial time, it is more important than ever for politicians to listen to their people and provide effective advice and legislation. But the virus is also restricting the way Parliament and political parties function; and the ability of citizens to make their voices heard.

That’s where our partner, Mzalendo, comes in. The organization is using its existing tools to provide robust oversight over Kenya’s Government and Parliament. And they are working to provide information to citizens, and guarantee their right to contribute to legislation.

As Mzalendo’s Director, Caroline Gaita, puts it:

“The pandemic may have thrown us a curve-ball but, as civil society actors, we have a role to play in providing the right information to the various stakeholders.  We shall continue to play this role diligently.”

What is Mzalendo?

Mzalendo is an independent organization that keeps an eye on Kenyan Parliament. Its mission is to facilitate public participation in parliamentary processes through information sharing, research and networking. NIMD provides support to Mzalendo as it carries out this mission

As Mzalendo’s partner since 2019, NIMD is proud of the organization’s work inform, empower and engage citizens, so that they can transform society by holding their leaders to account.

Over time, Mzalendo has built a reputation based on credibility and impartiality. It has a solid social media following, and has been working for many years to reach different sectors of Kenyan society.

Mzalendo uses different channels to reach different segments of the population.

Mzalendo during the COVID-19 crisis

Mzalendo is working on a number of inter-related strategies to protect citizens’ rights, and amplify their voices during the outbreak.

Informing the public: Through its social media platforms, Mzalendo provides the media and public information on the COVID-19 crisis, Parliament resolutions, and the effects of the crisis on governance. Mzalendo is also documenting the pace and nature of legislation being put in place, as well as the ways Government, Parliament, the Judiciary and other government agencies are working together. In the longer term, this will provide a resource for learning from the response to the crisis.

Mzalendo uses its social media channels and website to make sure important information reaches the public.

Providing citizen oversightMzalendo provides information to the public on the actions of Government and Parliament, through its website and social media channels. In addition, the organization plays a role in ensuring that any new measures are in line with Kenya’s Constitution.

Facilitating public participation: The voice of citizens is crucial during this crisis. Mzalendo puts an interactive online platform at the disposal of citizens and lawmakers. Through this platform, Mzalendo collates citizens’ views and share this feedback with Parliament.

Dokeza, Mzalendo’s online platform to bridge the gap between citizens and Parliament.

Benchmarking:  Given the global scale of this crisis, Mzalendo has been sharing best practices from other countries to inform local interventions and spur citizen involvement in political processes.

Thought leadership: There have been attempts to gag whistleblowers or any parties with dissenting views. Through its Civil Society Parliamentary Engagement Network (CSPEN), Mzalendo aims to lead civil society voices to ensure that the government is held to account. Ultimately, this network will work to prevent rights and freedoms being stripped away by leadership under the guise of fighting the virus.

Looking to the future

As a key civic-tech actor in the country, Mzalendo is also exploring ways to provide technology to allow Kenyan Parliament to conduct virtual sittings.

NIMD and Mzalendo both recognize that through this crisis, the role of Parliament will be even more critical. Parliament must provide oversight of new measures; represent citizen interest; and ensure the right legislative measures are in place to fight the pandemic. That’s why we’ll continue working together to keep an eye on Parliament and facilitate its important work where possible.