Why candidates should plan to meet Nyumba Kumi members


Azimio-One Kenya Alliance presidential candidate Raila Odinga flanked by his running mate Martha Karua address residents of Quarry in Rongai, Kajiado County during a rally on June 20, 2022. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

The past two weeks have witnessed high election preparedness drama. The main focus has been the clearance of aspirants by the electoral commission as candidates running in the 2022 General Election. The process has been overshadowed by issues of integrity and qualifications of the aspirants intending to obtain clearance as candidates.

The contentious matter has necessitated the Dispute Resolution Committees (DRC) of the Independent Election and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to sit through long days and nights trying to resolve the impasse.

With the dust settled on the clearance process, the focus should now turn to the candidates’ engagement with the electorate. Of particular interest is how they intend to sell their manifestos to the nation, for presidential candidates, and the rest for their respective counties, constituencies and wards.

This is in the form of a president and deputy, 47 county governors and their deputies, 47 senators, 47 county woman representatives, 290 MPs and 1,450 Members of County Assembly (MCA). In addition to the elected representatives, there shall be party-nominated senators, MPs and MCAs. The number of party nominees will be allocated on the strength of elected members for each party. These nominees shall represent various interest groups among them people with disabilities, women, youth and minority groups.

This time round, it is essential that the electorate recalibrates the political discourse from the previous leader-driven process. The local neighbourhood or resident associations and the Nyumba  Kumi initiative can lead in this treatise.

Perhaps a background on this would suffice. The Nyumba Kumi Initiative was created as a strategy of anchoring community policing at the household level. The key aim was to reduce crime. The rising crime forced the policymakers and security personnel to seek ingenious ways to prevent and deter crime. With time, however, Nyumba Kumi started addressing other issues like water availability, sanitation and access roads, among others. Notably, there cannot be a free and fair election with insecurity.

The idea behind this was that neighbours are the best watchers of each other before inviting government security agencies and administrators. The Nyumba Kumi are found in both urban and rural areas.

The neighbourhood associations are at times referred to community associations. These are organised groups whose aim is to address local issues such as crime, garbage and access roads. Their role is to promote or prevent planned reforms and investments that are perceived as significantly influencing life in a neighbourhood or local community.

The associations strengthen the link between residents and policymakers. They mobilise residents into political activism and create opportunities for direct communication within the local community and between the local residents and local officials. Unlike professional, lifestyle or interest-focused associations that group individuals by their occupational characteristics or similar lifestyle or interests, neighbourhood associations group individuals that share concern for the good of the local community.

Herein are the reasons why the Nyumba Kumi and local neighbourhood/resident associations should engage the incoming leaders.

First, representation is among the key roles of our leaders. They should therefore be prepared to address their concerns since they have first-hand understanding.

Secondly, the elected leaders are responsible for over-sighting the executive in the implementation of projects within the neighbourhood. How many times have we witnessed projects within our living quarters take years to complete, yet we have leaders representing those areas?

Third, in the other leadership role of legislation they can make sure matters touching on neighbours’ concerns are legislated for proper service delivery.

Fourth, through ongoing engagement, the leaders are kept ablest of all pertinent issues. The unfortunate Rongai, Kandisi neighbourhood security breach would perhaps have been avoided had the residents taken up such matters with all elected representatives.

Fifth, leadership is a contractual obligation between the leaders and the electorate and the general public. Therefore, it behooves leaders to be held accountable at all times to address their electorate’s concerns.

Sixth, this engagement might see the reduction of the very high attrition rate among elected leaders during every election cycle. How does one explain a scenario where over 75 per cent of MPs lose their seats every election cycle? At the local level, Nyeri County holds the trophy. In 2017, the electorate sent home 29 out of the 30 MCAs a representing 96 per cent of all elected MCAs.

The governance space can only be strengthened with continuous engagement between leaders and citizens. The narrative that leaders change their contact details once elected need to be a thing of the past. This time round the electorate should take the initiative to reinvent the concept of leadership in order to nurture our nascent democracy.

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