The family and active citizienship in Kenya

Dr. Beatrice Churu, Institute for Youth Studies, Tangaza University College, Kenya

Kenya’s Sessional Paper No. 8 of 2013 on National Values and Principles of Governance recognizes the family as the natural and fundamental unit of the society, and a primary institution of socialization. Under this conceptual framework, socialization has been understood as the creation of shared beliefs and ideals that help to indicate how one should interact and relate within the society. In this regard, parents and guardians mentor and nurture their children into effective, functional and useful members of the society who, not only uphold social values and ethical norms, but also become active citizens in nation building. Moreover the family, within the African governance system, also provides a conducive environment for parents and guardians to transmit the notion that work has an intrinsic national value; aversion to unemployment; scrupulous use of time; deferment of consumerist pleasure; willingness to work diligently in one’s occupation; and willingness to seek and create opportunities for work constitute core national values. In this context, the African family provides an opportunity to nurture entrepreneurial skills based on hard work, organization, excellence and honesty.

In order to realize her mandate in the promotion of active citizenship, the family, in Kenya, continues to participate in enlarged social networks through “Family Conferencing”. The Family Conferencing has been designed to establish a process for families, relatives, friends and community members to develop a plan that ensures the care and protection of children from future harm, as well as their moral and social development. Furthermore, the Catholic Church in Kenya has also initiated programs and established “Small Homes” in certain Catholic Dioceses in Kenya which allow families to express themselves and identify areas of pro-social participation. However, these “Small Homes” have, up to date, not entered into the national discourse in terms of social participation and active citizenship.

In order to protect the family unit and nurture active citizenship, the Banking Sector in Kenya, the Telecommunication Sector, NGOs and Civil Society Organizations have invested in key areas of Education, Health, Environmental protection, Water and Sanitation, Human Disaster Relief, University Talent Development (UTD) Programs, Arts and Culture, and Economic Empowerment. Specifically, an interactive approach has been developed by the civil society organizations. They seek to empower the citizens’ interaction with their constitution and government to improve the citizens’ understanding of public participation principles and values in the Constitution. They also provide the public with useful tools to improve their civic engagement. The tools incorporate practical realities of different geographical and social settings and help the public identify how he/she can best educate or influence others in their communities.

A field research carried out in Kenya with respondents from the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK), the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB), Women’s Guild Organization, Catholic Women Association (CWA), Catholic Men Association (CMA), and the Youth hypothesized that there are social factors that negatively affect the family in advancing active citizenship in Kenya. The respondents argued affirmatively that although the family is the fundamental unit of the society, it has been overtaken by modern technology, especially mobile and internet connectivity. The respondents argued that more young people, and even parents, spend increased time on their mobile phones which has essentially replaced family socialization. This phenomenon negatively affects the role of the family in creating active citizens in Kenya. The respondents further acknowledged the role of the family in the public sphere, but argued that Kenyan families are inactive in the public space. For those respondents, the family movement in Kenya is weak and does not form a viable movement in Kenya.

On the role of the family in preparing their members in becoming active citizens, all the respondents synonymously agreed that the family indeed has a role in active citizenship. However, respondents drawn from the NCCK argued that the contemporary political discourse in Africa has not given the family a conducive platform to exercise its role in the public sphere. According to the respondents, the family is not in any national discourse but relegated to the periphery of the society by the political elite. But it can also be argued that it is not only the political elite that have relegated the family to the periphery of the society, but also the Christian Churches in Kenya lacks a viable Family Life Movement, a factor that further hinders the family from being a vocal voice in the public sphere in Kenya.

Poverty, illiteracy, divorce and family disintegration are also factors that negatively affect the role of the family in active citizenship in Kenya. While acknowledging the present initiatives of the Civil Society in attempting to empower families with regard to public participation and principles of active citizenship, it ought also to be pointed out that the civil society movement in Kenya is weak and mostly found in the urban areas.

The people of Kenya have, in the Preamble to the Constitution, committed themselves to nurturing and protecting the well-being of the individual, the family, communities and the nation. The constitution outlines that all families, being natural and fundamental units of the society, shall embrace national values and act as role models; that parents and guardians shall provide basic needs for their children and create a conducive environment for positive socialization; and that parents shall mentor and nurture their children into functional and useful members of the society who uphold national values (Kenya’s Sessional Paper No. 8 of 2013). However, these principles continue to be ideological principles whose implementation has not been fully realized in Kenya.

With regard to the respondents’ view of family disintegration in Kenya, it is incumbent on Kenyans to remember that in African indigenous societies, a child enjoyed the constant presence of parents, grandparents, older siblings and peers who served as faith and moral educators. The indigenous extended family system cushioned the developing child against immoral behavior in the society and prepared the child for active participation in the society. The uniqueness of this system, with regards to parenting in the African communities, is that the responsibility of taking care of the child is not only entrusted to the biological parents but shared by all in the extended family.

This is buttressed by the African proverb on parenting which says that, “A single hand cannot nurse a child”. This implies that although the parents have the responsibility of taking care of the child, the responsibility is shared by all. However, from the purview of the contemporary family disintegration in Kenya, it would be an injustice to argue that children who are unable to be socialized in functional families would be active citizens. “If we have weak and broken families that provide neither love nor working moral compass, then we can expect no improvement in our country and in our world.”

The value of active citizenship is an African cultural heritage. The acquisition of culture is a result of a socialization process. In this process, the child just grows into and within the cultural heritage of his/her people. Culture, in Africa, is not taught; it is caught. The child observes, imbibes and mimics the action of his elders and siblings. He/she watches the naming ceremonies, religious services, marriage rituals, and funeral obsequies. He/she witnesses the coronation of a king or chief, the annual harvest festival, the annual dances and acrobatic displays of guilds and age groups or his relations in the activities. The child in Africa cannot escape his/her cultural and physical environments. This means that the extended family and the community are strong tools in parenting. It helps to develop a strong sense of social responsibility in the child from his/her early years who learns to be a respectful, responsible and supportive member of the society. Therefore, it is incumbent on the government to devise a model of family support structure that utilizes the African indigenous parenting value-system to enable the upcoming youth to be active citizens in the country.

On literacy and/or illiteracy, the African indigenous educational system, similarly, comprised not only of instructions, but also riddles, folktales and proverbs. This indigenous educational methodology had proved effective in inculcating the value of work and morals in the society. A folktale in an indigenous setting is an effective means of inculcating virtues in children. Such folktales carry with them values and morals which are being handed from one generation to the other. It teaches good morals which helps in parenting the child so he/she learns to be a responsible adult. It would therefore be of great importance to model the present educational system in a manner that incorporates the indigenous models of instruction, an endeavor that this present article conceives, would be instrumental in creating active citizens in Kenya.