No more politricks, Kenyans are ready for politics

First published Sunday Standard, February 19, 2017. Kindly reproduced here with permission from Standard Group 

The mood at Uhuru Park on Wednesday was electric. Over a thousand doctors and other citizens marched, sang and danced as they waited for the KMPDU leadership to be released. National opposition party leaders, Senators and Members of Parliament came to express their solidarity. Every time their speeches veered from the health-crisis, the crowd roared “no politics”. Analyzed with what was to happen barely forty-eight hours later, this was a light-bulb moment.

By Friday, newsrooms and the internet had exploded with new hashtags, images and complex coding explanations to prove the insincerity and the smallness of the doctors. Politicians and digital bloggers bent over backwards to argue the union leadership comes from one ethnic community, were anti-JP and pro-NASA party alliances. It is not often the political soul of our country and its actors is revealed in all its nakedness. The latest twist of the health-crisis did this last week.

Most of us either deeply detest politics, see it as a source of entertainment or as a force for public good. The first group profoundly distrusts politicians and their speeches. They long stopped watching, listening or seeking to contribute to what is happening in the country and they are proud of it. While hurting from runaway inflation, they can still adapt.

The second group of Kenyans are energized by the theatrics and the very drama of our leaders. They look for the political equivalent of the very talented Churchill or Anne Kansiime. They love the personalities, emotions, conflicts and even the outrageousness of the scandals.

The third group of citizens engage politics and politicians because they know how important they are for the quality of life of all Kenyans. This group remains hungry for the language of public interest and social change.

While it feeds our sense of uniqueness as a nation, the truth is this phenomenon is being experienced all over the world. From India to South Africa, Italy to North America, the electorate is slowly pulling apart. They are pulling apart not on ideas of how power and resources could be distributed or what type of a society we want or who would effectively and inclusively govern us. Should these trends persist, the future of politics is predictable. As Plato once wrote, those who think themselves too smart to be in politics will be governed by those who are a lot dumber.

The “politics” that was denied by the Uhuru Park crowd was that of personalities, party criticism and propaganda. Let us call this poli-tricks for clarity. The politics that was welcome was the discussion of health-policy reform, leadership and change. The crowd engaged with over 50 speeches that called for improving the quality and quantity of health-care personnel, better equipped health-care and cheaper health-care for all. Given these policy dialogues were taking place in a 14-hour public rally and the average age of the rally was in its early thirties, it was even more impressive.

The moment also had its missed opportunities. JP Senators and Members of Parliament could have turned up and engaged the Doctors on how to fix the healthcare crisis. The Interior Ministry could have apologized for misreading and forcefully disrupting the night vigil two nights back. The Health Cabinet Secretary could have issued a public statement that he would personally lead the mediation talks from now on.

All political parties could have issued statements on how they would implement the Collective Bargaining Agreement if they are elected to office in August. Religious and civic leaders could have stepped forward from their press conferences to directly engage the parties. This would have been leadership in the moment. Sadly, like our health-facilities, this kind of leadership is still in short supply.

This country is maturing. The doctors have shown us this. The Council of Governors, Health Ministry and KMPDU out of court agreement to immediately release the Union leadership and re-start the talks demonstrated this. The public outrage at the suggestion that public health-care is failing because we are essentially using public taxes and NHIF to fund private hospitals and clinics proves this.

Do not stop our political discourse from evolving. Do not let our policy debates be drowned out by the language of personalities, ethnicity and propaganda. Do not use our security officers to crush our public expression, assembly, or our civic associations. We have got to recognize our public healthcare system is failing us and for the first time in decades, we have the opportunity to comprehensively fix this.

I wish all the parties to the health crisis mediation, conviction, open-mindedness and speed. Our lives depend on it.

What is the significance of the Wagalla Massacre for us today?

First published Sunday Standard, February 12, 2017. Kindly reproduced here with permission from Standard Group 

Thirty-three years ago today marks one of our darkest moments in history. On an isolated and abandoned airstrip in a marginalised district, 1,000s of Degodia Somali men were stripped naked, tortured, burnt and killed. Women were sexually violated, raped and killed. Nur Daqane Abdi remembers that time, “Every man was beaten. I stood up three times and asked the police officer to shoot me in the head. He told me I was not worth the Government’s bullets. I didn’t think I would get out of there alive.” He survived those four days. More than 1,000 men and women did not.

Kenya has experienced 2,500 violent conflicts since the Wagalla massacre in 1984. Intense competition for scarce natural resources, poverty and intolerance have driven these conflicts. As we approach the 2017 General Elections, we need to remember every election for the last twenty years has been a potential trigger for displacement, destruction and death. Modern violence is as Kenyan sadly, as the red in our beloved national flag.

To see our past and impending future only through the lens of violence is to miss the full picture. In each one of the 2,500 moments, men and women overcame fear and prejudice to stop the violence. This is the most enduring story of Wagalla for me. Countless men and women like the young muslim nurse Mohamed Elmi, Wajir East Member of Parliament Ahmed Khalif and Italian catholic doctor Annalena Tonelli moved quietly in the shadows to gather pieces of humanity together until it was safe to speak out. They are the primary reason why each year around this time I fast.

Their story is repeated in the personal narratives of Kenyans during post-election violence in 2008. The women of Burnt Forest who hid, fed and protected neighbors from their own families. The teachers who consciously earned the anger of some parents by re-opening schools for all children. Security officers who ignored shoot to kill orders and chose to dialogue with angry communities in Nairobi.

More recently, there are men like Salah Farah who placed themselves in front a bullet meant for a Christian. He chose to give his life than have his religion Islam soiled by violence. Young men and women like Noordin Tube, Maryam Hassan and the 50 Hope walkers who walked from Mandera to Garissa fearing both al Shabaab and the Kenyan army. We can also draw inspiration from those who interrupt violent extremism or expose unlawful police killings in the coast, north eastern and Nairobi.

Ghanaian writer Ayi Kwei Armah called them the healers and they can be found globally. They were there in the Rwanda of 1994, Darfur in 2010 and today’s Burundi. The recent film Hacksaw Ridge captures the real story of American soldier Desmond Doss during world war II. Ross was a Seventh-Day Adventist Christian. He willingly joined the army but refused to carry a firearm or any weapon of any kind. Unarmed, he saved over seventy people and became the first conscientious objector to be awarded the US Medal of Honor. His tradition continues with the thousands that gathered recently at America’s airports to protest anti-Islamic immigration policies.

Kenyans, the season that tears us apart is upon us again. We shall have to be brave. Should you see the darkness rise around you, be still. Look carefully for those who quietly move to gather up the pieces of our nation. They walk with those that have healed this nation countless times. Now ancestral, courageous women like Rose Barmasai, Dekha Ibrahim and Doreen Ruto.

Our resilience as a nation rests on what Paul Lederach calls exercising a “moral imagination”. The belief that even one’s enemies are still part of our community is critical for this. We must remain curious in your understanding of them. This is critical to transforming them. Lastly, we all have the power within us to act. Not others, us.

A word of caution for the healers. Stopping violence on top of legitimate grievances and impunity is like an elastoplast on an open wound. It has no real power to remove the divisions that caused the violence. So we must be active against injustice before the violence erupts. Only by building communities around our homes, farms, places of worship and work-spaces will we have the safety and security we all want.

Time to interrupt the climate denialists among us

First published Sunday Standard, February 5, 2017. Kindly reproduced here with permission from Standard Group 

To my shame, I realize I might just have grown up a climate change denialist. Sitting in the presence of 40 climate and energy specialists this week, I was left with another shocking thought. My denialism could have cost my children in future, the past fifty years I have enjoyed.

When connected, a series of isolated occurrences last week gives this thought greater urgency. My tap has no water and when it does, it is brown and undrinkable. President Trump appointed a denialist and passed Executive Orders that seek to hide climate science research, reduce US Environmental Protection Agency funding and regulation influence. United Nations Secretary General asked Kenya to lead peace-keeping contingent in Darfur, Sudan, probably the first massive global conflict explicitly caused by climate change.

The appeal by widely respected Kenya Red Cross Secretary General Gullet Abbas was met with uncharacteristic derision. Give for starving Kenyans, again? What does the Government do with the taxes we pay? There are bigger questions we could also be asking, like why are Kenyans starving in the first place?

Our planet is getting hotter, less predictive and accommodating of our lifestyles. Kenyan famines have gone from being 20 years apart to 12 and then 2 years. Now we seem to experience famines annually in key parts of the country. Rainfall is down 15%, the country is 1.4 degrees centigrade warmer since the 1980s and the agriculture growing season is growing shorter, perhaps by as much as 40%.

We have two frontlines to secure for the future. The first is urban. Seven of the world’s biggest cities are in Africa and Nairobi is one of them. Africa’s population will double in the next 34 years and it is in our cities that the majority of our citizens will be found. Our cities are not designed for this future yet. Yet here there is some good news. Africa’s city managers, mayors and governors are currently providing global leadership for the UN New Urban Action. Kenya has also recently been named the world’s least toxic country by The Eco Experts. They looked at levels of air pollution, energy consumption and renewable energy production.

Leadership is also emerging in unexpected places. Take Phyllis Omido for instance. She was an administrator and single mother when she discovered her Mombasa based employer Metal Refinery Ltd, a lead smelting company, was literally killing their neighbors with toxic lead. Still unrecognized and supported by Government, she continues to call for compensation and protection of the Uhuru-Owino community and other communities across the country.

Our rural farms and pastures are also on the frontline. With declining rain-fall, there are growing calls for climate-smart agriculture. We have to make choices about how much land for food or bio-fuel production, maize or cassava and whether we prioritize large commercial interests or small farmers.

The younger among us have most to lose as 24-year-old Ekai Nabenyo from Turkana County has realized. He says with conviction, “Even if the (global UN) Paris Agreements disappoint us, I will continue to defend my home against drought and developers”. Ekai presses daily for his entire community to enforce environmental standards on oil companies and engage in re-afforestation. 77,000 trees have been planted in one of Kenya’s harshest environments through the community’s efforts to date.

We voted for the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment in our constitution. We can’t leave it to other people or to the Government. You and me are too important to look the other way. What can I do, I hear you ask?

Plant trees but avoid the beautiful and water-hungry jacarandas. To survive we will need to increase our national forest cover from 6% to 10%, share a car ride with a neighbor, workplaces, embrace public transport, a bicycle or walk where possible. Are you separating your household plastics, paper and food leftover? Are you water harvesting and using the water for farming? Parents, encourage a child to take on a career in environmental science, climate and renewable energy. Citizens, press our 48 Governments to govern our environment in line with Article 69 of the Constitution.

The world does not owe us an earth. We owe the world a sustainable earth. And it is time we started using our backbone instead of a wishbone on this issue. It’s time, we all started reading and acting up more.

I am thankful to UNEP Africa CC Coordinator Richard Munang for sharing his excellent article in response to the one above. Five days after this article, President Kenyatta declared national disaster to respond to the current drought affecting 23 arid and semi-arid counties.

National Government and PBOs need to talk

First published Sunday Standard, January 29, 2017. Kindly reproduced here with permission from Standard Group 

Irish stateswoman Bernadette Mc Aliskey’s words this week continue to ring in my ears. She said, “Most activists don’t choose activism, their personal circumstances leave them no choice.” It is a truth known by many. Poverty, unfairness and a sense of injustice radicalizes. When combined with collective punishment, individual anger rapidly turns into widespread disaffection.

Bernadette’s insight offers wisdom for government leaders but also parents and teachers. We all painfully know the dangers of young men and women radicalized by violence and hatred. The same applies to communities of dreamers and change agents alienated by national policy and behavior.

Kenya has one of the oldest, best resourced and effective civil societies in Africa. Both Kenyan Presidents – Barack Obama and Uhuru Kenyatta – said as much in 2015. Commitment to four core values has kept civil society resilient. These four values are development, human rights and the rule of law, non-violence and neutrality from party politics.

These four core values have been severely tested by the delays in commencing the PBO Act (2013), four years of hostile legislative and administrative attacks and the recent abrupt transfer from the Ministry of Devolution to the Ministry of the Interior. The latest shock was the January 6th unsigned memo from the Principal Secretary instructing all County Commissioners to audit all NGOs for “nefarious activities that threaten national security including money laundering, diversion of donor aid and terrorism”.

It is worth noting that specialized Government agencies and development partners do not share the blanket charges of money-laundering, donor aid corruption and terrorism. Neither the reports of the Central Bank of Kenya’s Banking Fraud Investigation Unit nor the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission address this as a central concern. It is not that incidences do not exist but that the number of instances do not warrant viewing the 30,000 strong sector through this lens.

Influential leaders have started to worry that it seems that the very existence of Public Benefits Organisations poses a threat, not just to Jubilee, but to the state itself. In a press conference this week, Council of Governors Chairperson Peter Munya voiced their concern with the deteriorating relationship between National Government and international and national Public Benefits Organisations working across 47 counties.

This coming week, leaders of 500 public benefits organisations are gathering in Nairobi. They have invited the Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery for a dialogue. This will be the first opportunity for the Government to communicate a vision and policy framework for this forty-year-old sector since the move to the Interior. The dialogue could be an important one in many ways.

National Government has an opportunity to reassure the sector it intends partnership not prejudice, collaboration not conflict. PBO leaders likewise, have a moment to press for provisions that deepen public accountability and an enabling environment envisaged in the PBO Act (2013).

If they both miss the opportunity, they may open the door for a different conversation to dominate. That conversation may see new narratives of partisanship, open defiance and civil disobedience, replace traditional commitments to the non-partisanship, rule of law and policy dialogue.

The current relationship is not working. The National Government knows it. PBO leaders know it and the public knows it. What’s missing is an agreement on how to fix it. There is a parable that offers a clue for the Cabinet Secretary.

There was a military leader who, despite fighting bravely, lost the war. His opponent, admiring his courage, asked him to answer a question for his life. The question was “What does a woman want most in life”. In vain, he sought the answer from thousands. Finally, he turned to a mchawi who promised the answer in return for marriage. He was horrified. She was simply the most hideous person ever known.

However, to save his life he agreed. Her wish granted, she told him, “What a woman really wants is to be in charge of her own life.” His life was saved. As he approached his new bride on the first night, he found she had turned herself into the most beautiful woman. But then she told him, she would only do this at night when they were alone or during the day with others. Choose one, she said. The wise groom smiled and told her, “You choose.” The woman smiled back and from that day on, she remains beautiful both day and night.

2017-jan-28-csos-state-dialogue

The joys of active citizenship

First published Sunday Standard, January 22, 2017. Kindly reproduced here with permission from Standard Group 

Something phenomenal and transformative is happening in the country. In the last few weeks, a school management board, members of parliament and county government executives have found themselves on the receiving end of effective public civic action.

The primary school management board willingly approved the offer of a church to level their parking area without informing or involving the local community. In the process of leveling the parking area, a tree fell, blocking an adjacent road, cutting power lines and plunging fifty neighbors into darkness. Furious neighbors were forced to remove the debris and have their electricity reconnected by themselves.  Then it got more interesting. Tweets, face-book posts and then media articles alleged the public school was being grabbed by the church. As their concerns went unanswered, storm grew. Mobilized by genuinely concerned neighboring residents, lawyers, Officials from County of Nairobi, Ministry of Education and Office of the President were demanding answers from the school management board.

Faced with the persistence of noisy clubs in residential areas, forty neighbors entered a club, persuaded patrons to leave, closed the club and took the club’s business license. Within 24 hours, the Association demonstrated Nairobi County procedures had been flouted. The business license was revoked. The Association returned the picture frame to the Club with the revocation notice now in it. The club remains closed while the owners walk court corridors.

Not far away, community members confronted the Kiambu County Forest Officer and demanded that a wealthy businessman’s attempt to hive off forest land for a car showroom be reversed. Beacons were uprooted, trees replanted and area leaders compelled to support the continued public use of the forest.

Four years ago, I found myself exploring the challenge of active citizenship our constitution generated. How would Kenyan citizens be distinguished in these early years of Wanjiku’s katiba? Would they be remembered for their persistent complaints and passive engagement? Or for their dismissiveness and ability to cause crises? It would seem the answers to these questions are becoming clearer.

Across the country, residents, tax-payers, students, women and doctors are organizing themselves into civic organisations. Their voice and power is growing daily. Armed with the Constitution, laws and twitter hashtags like #ICantSleep and #SchoolsAtRisk, the right to public participation, collective expression and action is being exercised. It is testing public officials fundamentally.

Public participation and information is not yet institutionalized in the day to day routines of our Government offices. If we looked closer, we might find that it is not embedded in our companies and NGO offices either. Too many of our Government offices are still not designed to be open and inclusive. The more senior the State Official, the thicker the padding on their office walls and the more body-guards, administrative secretaries and electric doors we have to go through to reach them.

This is less about interior decoration and more about how we can cultivate access, trust and responsiveness in the way they interact with the public. There are four principles for this. Embrace independent issue-based leadership, look for and address the commitment behind their concerns, follow up decisively, repeat.

Today, government offices are no longer the sole source of information or news to the public. Citizens out there are no longer waiting for us to explain what we are doing. They watch, speak and act. And they may just want that explained in 140 characters on social media. Even blogger spinning doesn’t work. They only irritate a public that is hungry for credible news.

A former Tunisian Planning Minister when challenged on how the 2011 revolution could have happened when all the political and economic data indicated the economy was growing had this to say; “Perhaps they didn’t read our annual Economy Survey reports”. We all have to adapt.

The School Management Board, the Forest officer and County Executive could be excused for feeling besieged by the public. To do so, would be to miss the bigger lesson. The board now have neighbors who will stand with them against grabbers. The officer has a community who cares for public forests. The County Official has allies to enforce environmental laws.

Look carefully. Something is changing around us. For those that seek to serve us, ignore it at your peril. This week’s Obama’s farewell letter speaks powerfully of the joys of “daily acts of citizenship”.

Cultivate this, our maturing democracy depends on it.

Irũngũ Houghton writes in a personal capacity. He is Society for International Development Associate Director. You can engage him at katiba@sidint.org or @irunguhoughton

Is it time to change tack over the public health crisis?

By Irũngũ Houghton

First published Sunday Standard, January 15, 2017. Kindly reproduced here with permission from Standard Group 

This past week, the public health crisis just took an even dangerous turn. Judge Hellen Wasilwa’s emotionally delivered judgement this week effectively criminalized the national executive of the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentist Union for representing the 5,000 strong membership. Regrettably describing the leadership as “having hands that are stained with blood, dirt and stinking of sewage,” the Employment and Labor Relations Court Judge sentenced them to one-month suspended jail time if the strike was not concluded in two weeks.

The tragedy was not lost on some of us. Call any leadership weak and effectual and then ask them to go back and negotiate with their members usually produces either of two results. One, fearing their judgement may be clouded by the prospects of jail, the membership replaces them or two, the current leadership becomes even more defiant and intransigent. Both doesn’t serve the stated intention to bring an end to the strike. I hope the Doctors look for a third alternative.

Coupled with the very real and present danger for the tens of millions that have been unable to access life-saving medical services, the forty-one day’s crisis deepens. While the real cost is yet to be counted, out-patient and special clinics attendance have dropped to an all-time low. Safe deliveries, inpatient and emergency care denial and numerous deaths have been recorded. While major referral hospitals, including Kenyatta National Hospital are operating below capacity for the first time in decades. Many of you reading this column, will have seen your savings depleted to keep loved ones alive while some of you will have buried others. This strike has hit us hard.

This acute crisis like the many before it has left some Kenyans publicly debating. Did the National and County Governments have to wait for KMPDU strike notice before returning to the Collective Bargaining Agreement signed in 2013? Should the right to association be limited for public workers in essential services? Should public health be privatised? While valid questions given the crisis, we need to look elsewhere for raising the level of leadership on all sides.

Kenya’s case is not unique. Doctors and nurses from Burkina Faso, South Africa, England and the North America went on strike for better working conditions and salaries over 2016. What distinguishes Kenya from these others is the fact that public health procurement theft has framed our crisis. Until we as citizens and State Officers act to restore integrity, transparency and demand accountability in the health procurement system, public health will continue to be dysfunctional.

There are seeds of ideas we could introduce into the dialogue on the way forward.

Minimal service agreements with County Governments could enshrine agreements on industrial action that ring-fence and protect emergency services. It would be important to ensure that this does not tie the hands of right to association and labor in the case of a non-responsive state.

Parliamentary oversight and mediation has been missing from this strike. Perhaps the agreement reached between the health-workers, National and County Governments should be subjected to annual parliamentary budgetary and policy oversight as they do in the United Kingdom and North America.

Finally, more effective standing mechanisms would allow for continuous policy dialogue between all the stakeholders in the health sector. Organized health-workers and patient associations must increase their vigilance and public action on wastage and corruption in future. To ignore the pillage in our sector is to undermine the future capacity of the state to pay health-workers decent and competitive salaries and the very public health sector itself.

The clocks in all our public health centers and the Labor Court are ticking. The President seemed to have rebuilt confidence in the negotiations. These negotiations should resume immediately in the presence of the Council of Governors. The secrecy shrouding the Collective Bargaining Agreement and the negotiations to date should also be lifted to allow for more public scrutiny. Keeping the negotiations in the public eye ensures public accountability and as my neighbor would say, reduces possibility for “funny business”.

For those harboring unconstitutional thoughts of a future without unions and a purely private health system, it is worth considering that the current pain and suffering would be the new future. The only difference is, it would be big business and the new normal. That is a future no-one should not wish for.

Irũngũ Houghton writes in a personal capacity. He is the Society for International Development Associate Director. You can engage him at katiba@sidint.org or @irunguhoughton

Post-script: Following this post, Senators Mutula Kilonzo and Omar Hassan strategically offered to mediate between KMPDU and the state.

 

 

Politics too important to leave to politicians

First published Sunday Standard, January 8, 2017. Kindly reproduced here with permission from Standard Group

In the last few hours of 2016 a colleague argued passionately, “In 2017, NGOs, social movements and civic associations must give up their neutrality and vote out the ruling Jubilee Alliance Party. Inequality, corruption, impunity and discrimination is out of control.” Having spent the best part of 2016 actively challenging all four, it may sound strange, but I disagree.

What my colleague and I can agree on, is that eight months to the General Elections, Kenya is once again at a point of danger. We all need to recognize the problem this causes before it becomes an emergency. Early partisan interference with the IEBC composition and elections management and youth and women voter education NGO programmes are not good signs. Party based nomination and electoral violence and bribery do not bode well. Hard-line posturing and brinkmanship by politicians from across the spectrum is frankly, driving the country in the wrong direction.

Two narratives are already shaping the election actors; peace and credibility. Taken together they offer clarity. Distinguished as counter narratives, they will predictably lead to violent state actions that curb freedoms of expression, association and assembly on one hand and on the other, street based public actions that end in violence. The factors present in 2008 combine with razor-edge new county splinters ready to tear the national fabric once again.

We ignore at our peril, important lessons from the last four years. Government indebtedness, public finance theft, ethnic discrimination and intolerance affects us all regardless of our ethnicity, gender and class. The cost of inequalities and corruption leave the youth particularly jobless, hopeless and neglected by essential services. Take a walk in Kibera or Mathare and speak to those now locked out by corruption from the National Youth Service projects. Take a moment and speak to any one of the three thousand young men and women who ran unsuccessfully in the 2013 General Elections. If you do, as I have, you will hear a growing impatience in the failure to channel this very powerful source of democratic energy.

As we lean into this season, we do have choices. For some of you, this will be about 5 minutes alone in a ballot box in August. While limited, 5-minute vote-casting is still a powerful expression of patriotism and being an active citizen. For others who have a listening for the political class “as all the same”, you may be more comfortable tuning out politics for the year. While this may seem easier, it is the equivalent of sitting in a mental health asylum with “Nil by Mouth” taped across your mouth and thinking your environment will change. There is a third way however.

The progressive Kenyan way offers more powerful choices. You could mobilize everyone in your neighborhood and village to turn out for voter registration in January. This would reverse the apathy we saw in 2016. You could help your aspirants and parties frame their policy agenda. Perhaps then we would have some real policy choices. How about taking out a party membership in January and voting in the party primaries in March? Given party strongholds over key constituencies, this might have more influence than even voting in the elections. Alternatively, why don’t you de-campaign all aspirants that fall short of Chapter 6 on Integrity. Block those you feel should not be anywhere close to having the authority to incur expenditure or legislate bad laws. If all this seems too small a contribution given our huge challenges, then run for public office.

Politics is simply too important to leave to politicians in 2017. Governing is too critical to leave to our kinsmen and women. No ethnic community, party, class, generation or gender can claim to have been left clean of corruption, misuse of public office or discrimination. The worst choice would be to fall asleep and wake up disillusioned in August.

So go into the political parties and shape them. Stay out and shape them. BUT leave NGOs, professional and religious associations, social movements, independent and civic. Don’t drag them into the shadows of political parties. They have another purpose in this moment. They must protect and promote constitutional values and articulate issues of public interest with all the political actors.

So over to you, citizens, go out and get political. I wish you all an Active New Year.

Irũngũ Houghton writes this weekly column in a personal capacity. He is the Society for International Development Associate Director. He welcomes dialogue at katiba@sidint.org or @irunguhoughton