My perception of the civil society is a voice of the society, particularly the voiceless, or the not-so-audible voices amongst us. The civil society must at any given time manifest the will and interest of the citizens. It must be distinct from government-controlled institutions; that is the reason it is referred to as ‘the third sector’ of the society. It must be independent of political control; its views must be informed by the interests of the people and not the political class. It must establish and maintain links with the people on the ground, so that when it advances the interests of the people, it is aware of the interests it purports to advance. Its sources must be the people themselves, it must not rely on other conduits to get information from the people, unless it is clear that the said conduits are not pursuing other interests that are not in line with the interests of the people. It must be accessible to the people whose interests it claims to advance; there must not be barriers between the civil society and the citizens, because the civil society exists not but to serve the citizens.
The civil society must at no time be a friend of the state; they must not be bed-fellows. The reason for this is that the state’s bed is typically warm, and should the civil society taste the warmth of the said bed, there is every likelihood that it will prefer the comfort of the warmth to its advocacy role, and proceed to denounce the very people that it exists to defend. It must therefore monitor the movements of the state from a safe distance, and blow the whistle whenever the state engages in excesses or fails to execute any of its functions. But the civil society must not be friends with the opposition either, unless they meet in the process of advancing the interests of the people. This is because the opposition cannot be assumed to have the interests of the people at heart at all times; it has a bigger overarching interest; that of frustrating the government of the day and clinching the seat of governance! The civil society risks being a campaigner of the opposition against the government or a government’s defender at the expense of the interests of the people, should it befriend either the opposition or the government.
The Kenyan Civil Society is however not the one I described hereinabove; it is a peculiar one. The civil society obtaining in Kenya can comfortably be placed as belonging to either the government, the opposition or a politician. It is not the civil society of the citizens, not of the less-privileged. It belongs to the great and mighty in the society. The poor cannot afford its services. It belongs to the highest bidder. Like lawyers who are hired to defend their clients, the civil society is hired to defend certain people and advance certain interests in the Kenyan society. As a matter of fact, some organizations that masquerade as members of the civil society are sponsored and funded by politicians. Their founding was the idea of some politician who felt that they needed a ‘civil society organisation’ which would take their side in matters politics. The Kenyan civil society is divided into two major factions, with one faction advancing the ideologies of the government of the day and the other, advancing the interests of the opposition. Show me a member of the Kenyan civil society and I will show you whose interests they advance!
The Kenyan public has no defender in the civil society! It is a selective whistle blower! It can best be described as a society of blackmail, backbiting and corruption to say the least. It threatens to resort to mass action not because it is right to do so but because its masters have failed to grant its demands. Like a harlot over whom no man can claim ownership, the civil society belongs to no one individual; one can keep it provided its demands are met. Unlike an ordinary harlot however, our civil society behaves quite imprudently. I was told by a friend that getting into deals with the State is like sleeping with the devil himself, especially when the entity getting into deals with the government is meant to be a watchdog to the same government. Our civil society is one such entity; it has literally sold its soul to the devil, and accordingly should wait for its death! But as it awaits its death and burial, the Kenyan public continues to suffer lack of an entity that can resonate their interests, an entity that can lobby the State to undertake certain feats, not as a kind-gesture but as a right of the citizens involved. The opposition risks being overruled as politicking even if they advanced a genuine citizens’ course, while the civil society warms the beds of its sponsors.