Building People Power

February 23, 2015

Under a hot scorching January sun, social activists descended on the Mathare suburb in the North West of the Kenyan capital of Nairobi. Donning white t-shirts stamped with the words ‘Jukumu Letu’ (‘our responsibility’ in Kiswahili) and armed with simplified versions of the Kenyan Constitution, this merry bunch of activists traversed the dusty streets of Mathare, talking and singing with residents about the importance of their “katiba”, or constitution in Kiswahili.

The Jukumu Letu programme comes at a time when various attempts have been made by the state to undermine institutions of governance. This calls for action to adopt a political strategy towards promoting democracy, transparency and accountability. “Hivos is committed to this process and wants to play a leading and coordinating role among the programme’s partners and provide the resources necessary for Jukumu Letu to be implemented,” says Nyambura Gathumbi, Hivos’ Programme Officer for Rights and Citizenship.

In Kenya, huge efforts and resources are devoted to civic education in the run-up to a general election, then once votes have been cast and winners declared, the process of educating citizens about their rights slides into hibernation for another four years. Jukumu Letu wants to buck this trend.The initiative has brought together Kenyan civil society organisations that are committed to educating and informing citizens so they can participate more effectively in the process of implementing the Constitution.

 A novel approach being taken by the programme is the inclusion of musicians and socio-cultural activists. Sarabi is an eight-member band that champions social activism through its music, with the band members acting as ambassadors of the initiative.

“If you look at the initiative, it involves many players, for instance, musicians, thespians, bloggers. When we sat down to consider our involvement, the fact that we will be getting the opportunity to work with ten musicians from every county in Kenya was a chance we could not pass up. Imagine, talking about and composing songs on social justice with all these musicians. That is 470 musicians around Kenya singing about issues in their locality, in their own sound and in their own language, I don’t think there is anything bigger than that! For us as a band we wanted to be part of that process and that is the gift we can give to our country,” says George Ndeche, Sarabi’s founder.

The overall goal of Jukumu Letu is to contribute to a better understanding and use of the Constitution by citizens, who can then hold the government accountable for its actions and demand changes that will improve the quality of their lives. The programme is currently in its pilot stage and is expected to run for five years.