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Promoting democratic governance

Social accountability for meaningful youth engagement in Kenya

Alemu Tesfaye
Communications and Knowledge Manager | Organisation for Social Science Research in Eastern and Southern Africa (OSSREA)
Beth Maloba
Monitoring and Learning Coordinator | Organisation for Social Science Research in Eastern and Southern Africa (OSSREA)
Peter Barasa
Kenya country research lead | Organisation for Social Science Research in Eastern and Southern Africa (OSSREA)
Truphena Mukuna
Principal investigator | Organisation for Social Science Research in Eastern and Southern Africa (OSSREA)

The Covid-19 and the youth question in Africa: Response, impact and prevention measures in the IGAD region (COYOQA) project is a participatory action research project in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda. Its main objective is to improve youth development through the meaningful engagement of young people and vertically integrated social accountability at various levels of government. It looks into the challenges the youth go through, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, and proposes a social accountability framework to help improve the accountability of decision makers for young people’s rights. One of the project’s key approaches is a training of trainers to build the capacity of youth-based Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and local authorities who work for the youth on social accountability and meaningful youth engagement. The team has now completed this work in all three research sites in Kenya.

Participants from the training of trainers in Busia County

Strengthening the voice of citizens

The need for strengthening social accountability and relationships between policy makers, service providers, and citizens has gained a lot of importance in recent times. Traditionally, efforts to tackle the challenge of accountability have tended to concentrate on improving the ‘supply-side’ of governance using methods such as political checks and balances, administrative rules and procedures, auditing requirements, and formal law enforcement agencies like courts and the police. These ‘top-down’ accountability promoting mechanisms have had limited success in many countries. As a result, newer measures, such as the setting up of independent pro-accountability agencies like vigilance commissions and ombudsman have been tried, and in other cases, public institutions have been privatised or services contracted to the private sector in an attempt to bring market-based accountability into the public sector.

More recently, increased attention has been paid to the ‘demand side’ of good governance – that is to strengthen the voice and capacity of citizens (especially poor citizens) to directly demand greater accountability and responsiveness from public officials and service providers. Enhancing the ability of citizens to engage with public servants and politicians in a more informed, direct and constructive manner is what social accountability practices. This reflects on a growing attention to issues of governance, empowerment and rights-based approaches to development. The concept of ‘social accountability’ has evolved significantly over the years. Citizens directly engage with institutions of the state in an attempt to influence policies and monitor functions. The emphasis is now on influencing the policies and monitoring operations either by being a part of the state apparatus or at least working very closely with it. It is argued that these interventions can also occasionally generate hybrid forms of accountability that bridge the horizontal and vertical divide (of accountability) wherein it uses ‘voice’ rather than ‘vote’ as the tool for public accountability.

Alemu Tesfaye of OSSREA facilitating a session

Training of trainers

The COYOQA team has developed a three-day training of trainers on social accountability for meaningful engagement for youth based CSOs and local authorities for all research sites in the three focus countries. The training aims to strengthen the capacities of youth-based CSOs and local authorities to hold decision makers accountable for their actions. It seeks to give voice to the needs and concerns of the youth on the delivery and quality of public services. It is also designed to enable CSOs and the local government (especially authorities who work for the youth, such as the Ministry of Youth Affairs) to work together to enhance the quality of public services delivered to the youth in particular. The research team is responsible for the coordination and provision of capacity development, training, technical guidance and support to partners to ensure effective and efficient implementation of the initiative.

The team has now completed the first round of workshops in the three research sites in Kenya, namely in Nairobi, Busia and Mombasa. In each site, 15 representatives from local CSOs and government participated. This was made possible thanks to the support from local organisations Accept International and the Nairobi County Youth Affairs Office, the Community Empowerment and Development Center (CEDC) in Busia, and the Uzalendo Afrika Initiative in Mombasa.

Social accountability topics covered in each workshop include basic concepts of social accountability; the processes of social accountability; an overview of social accountability mechanisms tools and applications; engendering social accountability programming; planning social accountability work; and soft skills for meaningful youth engagement in social accountability.

Dr Truphena of OSSREA facilitating a session in Busia

Dr Truphena Mukuna (Principal investigator), Professor Peter Barasa (Kenya country research lead), Alemu Tesfaye (Communication and Knowledge Manager) and Beth Maloba (Monitoring and Learning Coordinator in Kenya) facilitated the various sessions. Other facilitators, who know the local context of social accountability, were also invited to facilitate some of the sessions.

The sessions were designed to encourage active participation and networking of participants. Group work based on specific topics presented, plenary discussions on various issues of social accountability and meaningful youth engagement, and videos and skits were employed to enhance the learning process.

Participants were given a certificate for successfully completing the workshop

The team fulfilled its aims of increasing local youth-based CSOs and local authorities’ skills and understanding of social accountability and how to use it to meaningfully engage the youth in their respective constituencies. The training created a platform for the CSOs and authorities to interact and share ideas for better service provision on youth development matters. The training also helped identify champions of social accountability among the local authorities in all three places. In their closing remarks, local government representatives publicly acknowledged their willingness to work closely with local youth-based organisations to address issues related to youth development matters in their respective counties.

Participants also promised to scale up the training to other CSOs and local authorities in their respective counties ensuring that the skills they gained reach more CSOs and local authorities. This would ensure better synergy among CSOs and decision makers in addressing the challenges of the youth in order to build back better. The team has planned to hold training of trainers workshops in Ethiopia and Uganda in August and September with equal participation of people from both genders and more participation of local authorities.