Image Source: United States Institute of Peace
September 2019
REGION: Sub-Saharan Africa

In USIP’s Special Report “Conflict Prevention in Kenya: Combating Corruption through Nonviolent Action,” authors Hussein Khalid and Tabatha Pilgrim Thompson claim that efforts to combat corruption prevent violent conflict and must be accomplished through civil society participation at the national and grassroots level. Highlighting Kenyan anti-corruption initiatives by both the government and civil society organizations (CSOs), the report analyzes their strengths and shortcomings and provides detailed recommendations for foreign donors and Kenyan CSOs to reduce corruption.

Corruption contributes to fragile regimes and creates conditions for intrastate violence. Accordingly, international organizations and CSOs should focus on anti-corruption measures as a method to prevent violent conflict. In Kenya, an estimated one-third of the state budget is lost to corruption, and several major sources rank Kenya as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. While government attempts to fight corruption through formal institutions have been largely ineffective, Kenyan CSOs have emerged as anti-corruption watchdogs. The report examines four Kenyan anti-corruption movements, analyzing grassroots mobilization, national-level advocacy, and intentional coordination between grassroots and national groups:

  • Organizing for Constituency Development Fund (CDF) accountability: In 2003, the Kenyan Parliament passed the Constituency Development Fund Act, which committed 2.5 percent of government revenue to local development projects. After reports of corruption emerged, grassroots CSOs introduced a six-step social audit process to hold CDF-funded projects accountable. National advocacy groups successfully removed MPs who had embezzled funds from Parliament while endorsing candidates who remained transparent with CDF funds. The report, however, criticizes the lack of collaboration between grassroots and national groups.
  • #KnockOutCorruption: Largely grassroots, the #KnockOutCorruption campaign of 2015 attempted to mobilize Kenyans to commit government officials to fight against corruption and release personal wealth records for increased transparency. The campaign focused on nonviolent action and social media, eventually leading to reforms in the executive and judicial branches. However, the report states that there was no linkage between grassroots and national advocacy groups.
  • Red Thursday: Beginning in 2016, every Thursday grassroots organization HAKI Africa increases public awareness of corruption by wearing red and visiting county government offices in Mombasa. The organization also supports social audit and budget training for ordinary citizens. Because of its local focus, Red Thursday has struggled to create a larger, national movement
  • Red Card Campaign: In 2017, multiple CSOs launched the Red Card campaign, spotlighting political candidates with known ethical infractions. The movement stimulated national debate and pressured a political party into rejecting two unethical candidates. Despite these successes, the report states that the campaign’s advocacy activities were not complemented by significant grassroots involvement.

According to the report, Kenyan movements need to have grassroots organization, national advocacy components, and a purposeful collaboration between the two to successfully combat corruption and violent conflict. Everyday Kenyans are apathetic and skeptical about the efficacy of CSO anti-corruption work, hindering past and future movements from achieving sweeping, structural change in transparency and accountability. To solve these issues, the report concludes with recommendations for both CSOs and foreign donors, who fund over 90 percent of NGO activity in Kenya:

  • Recommendations for CSOs: The report recommends that national CSOs consult with grassroots campaigns to educate the public, provide greater funding outlets, and form “cross-county coalitions to cultivate collective resources.” In addition, local CSOs should engage citizens through accessible, creative, and nonpartisan activities that show corruption’s connection to everyday life, such as art exhibits or public TV shows.
  • Recommendations for foreign donors: The report recommends that foreign donors emphasize grassroots participation and direct action that specifically contribute to the fight against corruption. To do so, the international community should prioritize bottom-up reforms, support state integrity champions and reforms, and provide flexible, long-term funding for grassroots organizations committed to transparency, accountability, and good governance. Conversely, foreign donors should immediately suspended funding for a project that is flagged for corruption. Lastly, the report recommends that the international community create a dedicated space for Kenyan CSOs to jointly strategize their activities, demonstrations, and goals.

NOTE: This summary is produced by the Rule of Law Collaborative, not by the original author(s).

Conflict Prevention in Kenya: Combating Corruption through Nonviolent Action

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