By Fiona Imbali
Advocacy is an act or process supporting a cause or proposal and on many occasions it’s viewed as a political process whose aim is to influence the process of decision-making in econo-political and social stratums in society. It’s about using power and influence to persuade the responsible and entrusted representatives to act on their responsibilities.
Communities should hencewith be empowered with advocacy skills to enable them to effectively demand for better services and ensure issues of important in their communities that range from agriculture; provision of clean water and other areas of concern are addressed. Reverend John Kamau while speaking to OAICs farmer resource persons in workshop, noted that advocacy skills were imperative in enabling community leaders to engage constructively with elected officials through development of tools for social accountability as opposed to engaging in shouting matches.
Hope for many Kenyans who were optimistic of progressive development when decentralized governments were effected with expectations of efficient service delivery has dwindled. Pervasive corruption that had been associated with centralized systems has been decentralized and consequently led to superfluous budgets with inflated prices in the procurement of goods and services. While some Counties are performing well, many still experience staggered development due to wrong prioritisation of issues. Most citizens and especially in the rural areas who are small entrepreneurs and peasant farmers often doubt their ability to contribute to development processes and thus advocacy tools should be developed to empower them to demand for effective delivery and provision of public goods and services.
Reverend Kamau encouraged the community leaders to put up mechanisms that would help to build sustainable informal networks that would then develop into organised action groups. These would help in collective bargaining and voicing of concerns which is a more powerful tool for engagement than individual voices. He reiterated the importance of communities understanding their role as principals who delegate their power to elected representatives and government officials charged with transforming national resources into public goods and services. Advocacy would therefore enhance accountability to discourage misuse of power and ensure inclusive development
He further noted that a good advocacy strategy should ensure citizen engagement through the development of platforms and frameworks for communities to change perceptions of them as mere spectators, recipients and consumers to actors and shapers of development processes and policies. This he says could initially involve a mobilization process for drawing a community map in the form of a Venn diagram to enable communities identify and prioritise key institutions that spur development. Discussions on how they can access these institutions while noting down the challenges they face would also enlighten them on who controls them whilst understanding the unequal power relations and how it can be mitigated. Building a community coalition would help to address some of these challenges
Developing a community charter that identifies and prioritises key areas of concern to the community is important in advocacy. It should stipulate the quality of services expected by the citizens as well as responsibilities of all stakeholders from citizens themselves; elected representatives and government institutions. A clear statement of demand should be written in form of a letter with key action points on expectations of everyone. The Reverend noted that this strategy has been effective as he was able to lead a team in his community to write a statement of demand to their elected official with key action points which they used to appraise him and this has spurred development and enhanced accountability. It would be imperative to identify actors and stakeholders and work with other organisations to enhance these strategies. Monitoring could be through a periodical report, monthly community meeting, discussion on local stations, leaders briefing on development progress as well as regular citizen forums that invite leaders to give progress reports.