Kenya project uses power of community radio to demand good governance

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Kenya project uses power of community radio to demand good governance

A pilot project that mobilized Kenyan community media to better understand local political processes has, in turn, helped increase civic participation, awareness and transparency on how budgets are spent in eight counties across the country.   

The Catholic Media Council (CAMECO), with funding from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), supported the project, which enabled 14 citizen radios in eight counties gain more knowledge about how their local government works, how development plans are created, and how they are implemented.  

“County brochures and fact sheets were developed to enable journalists to understand the participatory process,” said Petra Stammen, who oversees CAMECO’s Africa desk. The mandate and role of public officials, processes of public participation, and budget cycles, were among the topics covered in trainings. The citizen journalists, in turn, translated what they had learned into 42 radio productions and 24 theatre plays that reflected the priorities, concerns, and needs of their own communities. 

The Kenya Community Media Network (KCOMNET) and the social science research institute Jesuit Hakimani Centre (JHC) worked together to implement the project. 
“The main objective of the pilot phase was to motivate the population to participate actively in democratic decisionmaking processes and to demand good governance,” said Stammen.

Stammen noted that while each of Kenya’s 47 counties are required, every five years, to submit a County Integrated Development Plan (CIDP) outlining development areas, goals and budget lines, these are “largely incomprehensible” not only to journalists, but to most citizens because of the “technocratic use of language,” and the fact that they are mostly written in English.

“Authentic and critical involvement by citizens was hardly possible,” said Stammen. No one was able to check on the budget, the use of funds and monitor what had been done, she added. “It was a whole thing of accountability.”

Counties are also supposed to have public forums to present their CIDP, “but they don’t announce the dates of the forum, locality is not accessible, language is technocratic, and papers are only disseminated at the forum itself so people can’t look [at the plans in advance],” she added.

To address this gap, the project developed the idea “that the radio stations mobilize their own county forums,” said Stammen. “It was a really very lively thing,” said Stammen about a county forum she had attended. The youth were very active, particularly in the theatre productions, she said.  

“We intentionally focused on the local community-oriented radio stations, who are embedded and part of their community. This is who people are turning to and looking to for reliable information that relates to their context and living conditions,” said StammenShe added that local radio stations are particularly crucial in remote and rural areas where specific local languages are spoken, and where radio is the only media available. “They hardly read newspapers – those are expensive and not in their language. They listen to the radio on mobile phone or radio set. 

“This project highlights the important role community media can and do play in informing and engaging local citizens and keeping governments accountable,” observed Sara Speicher, WACC deputy general secretary. “WACC and CAMECO share a commitment to supporting and building the capacity of trusted local media around the world.”   

Speicher noted that after WACC conducted a mapping of how community media partners were responding to Covid-19, “we identified that several of them were related to Catholic networks, so we asked CAMECO if they had any guidance on where these community media partners could get some additional support.” 

The results of the project confirmed what had been shown in a supra-regional research conducted earlier by the JHCsaid Stammen. “The concerns of the citizens in the eight selected target counties often contrast with the measures that have been decided upon.”

The “open government-open data” approach being trumpeted by the Kenyan government was not being implemented, she said. “Accountability is largely neglected by county governments.

The radio productions created as a result of the project have increased the participation of citizens in public forums by about 50%; they also revealed the “weaknesses in the information policy of the district governments,” said the project report. “However, it also became apparent that the journalists of the citizen radio stations are not sufficiently qualified to research development-related topics themselves, to prepare the ‘stories behind the data’ in a journalistic manner, and to fact check the truth of the statements of their interview partners.”

In response, CAMECO has developed a follow-up project with KCOMNET and a new partner, Code for Africa, to implement various training workshops (such as research techniques, data journalism, solution-oriented reporting), and to design an IT-based online tool, which would create data transparency for the development plans of counties. (Code for Africa, a civic technology, open data and data journalism NGO, also has a partnership with WACC’s Global Media Monitoring Project).

A handbook that will gather lessons learned from the two projects is also being discussed as a way to “stimulate the broader sector of local journalism,” said Sofie Jannusch, who covers the desk for Eastern Europe and Asia at CAMECO.