With the promulgation of the new constitution, came devolution as a form of decentralization. Devolution enables decision making on governance to be done at the local level by those affected most by such decisions.
It enables citizens govern themselves by multiplying opportunities for them to participate in governance processes such as planning for development, budgeting for implementation of development projects and programmes, and policy making. The underlying assumption under devolved governance is that local leaders at the county level: including the County Executive: comprising of the Governor and the County Executive Committee members, and the County Assembly members better understand the challenges facing the communities or constituents and can therefore, working together with the citizens come up with best policies, programmes and development projects that will address local challenges and needs. However, this is not the case especially when it comes to challenges that are Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), and Water Resource Management (WRM) related. In line with this, Civil Society Organizations need to actively advocate for prioritization of WASH/WRM by engaging both the electorate and the aspiring leaders.
The common practice in recent years has been that Civil Society Organizations put advocacy on hold in the run up to elections because politicians are busy, and the public and media’s focus is on the political process. But, elections are the time when politicians are most likely to listen, because they want the votes the CSOs can bring them. With this in mind, Watershed came up with an election advocacy plan for the 2017 elections in Kenya.
The plan provided a platform for the electorate to get aspirants for various positions make documented commitments towards WASH/WRM investments. The commitments help hold them accountable to the electorate and can be used for monitoring once they are elected into office. Furthermore, since resources are appropriated and managed by those that are elected it is important to ensure that WASH/ WRM are highly prioritized by the candidates before they get into power. The electorates have the power to choose leaders who will prioritize their needs and can only do this if they engage their leaders before they are chosen and are also empowered to critically get their leaders to commit on WASH/WRM prioritization.
In Nairobi County, election advocacy was done in Kibera and Mathare. The residents put the aspiring Members of County assembly to task in the forums held. Each was given a chance to address the electorate and clearly outline their plans with respect to WASH and WRM. Consequently, they were to sign an elections campaign pledge that compelled them make political commitments to progressively endeavor to:
1. Introduce or support legislation which strengthens Nairobi’s existing WASH commitments.
2. Listen to the constituents’ WASH needs and continuously raise these needs in the house.
3. Speak out and lobby for increased funding for the WASH/WRM sector in the County/National budget.
4. Advocate and lobby for the establishment of platforms where citizens are provided with an opportunity to meaningfully participate in the prioritizing, planning and monitoring of County projects that include WASH and WRM.
In all the forums, emphasis was laid on the role that each resident had to play in order to ensure that they voted in leaders who would effectively address their WASH/WRM challenges. They were reminded by Jack Oduor from Umande Trust that the ultimate power, as per the Constitution, belongs to the people and shall be exercised both at the national and county level. He further pointed out that the real task for the residents would begin immediately after the elections since they would be required to make constant follow up with the elected leaders to ensure that they keep their promises.