The menu on this website uses a JavaScript for enhanced function in older browsers.

Connecting People and Ideas for Integrated Development

Roving Mobile Theater Skits Get Citizens Engaged in Governance

Cosmos Mutuku, a community resource person, addressing traders and citizens at the Matuu Market in Machakos County, Kenya on the importance of public participation.

Cosmos Mutuku, a community resource person, addressing traders and citizens at the Matuu Market in Machakos County, Kenya on the importance of public participation.

For elected officials and citizens in Kathiani village, Kenya, the market is a place to interact. The leader enters the market and addresses citizens yelling, "My people, I greet you all. How are you?"

The citizens shake their heads, "We are not fine. We voted for you, but we see no change." As the conversation continues, a crowd of traders laughs and snaps pictures and videos to share with friends and family. The attention of the people at the market is focused on the satirical costumes, song, and dance.

This scene is a skit, carefully prepared based on real scenarios. SUNY/CID, through its USAID-funded Agile and Harmonized Assistance to Devolved Institutions (AHADI) program, supports a local organization, Poverty Eradication Network (PEN), to educate and mobilize citizens and government to engage around local governance issues. PEN uses mobile theater performances to inform Machakos County, Kenya citizens of the importance of public participation.

The AHADI program strengthens citizen engagement through grants to civil society organizations (CSOs), which have covered sixteen target counties reaching more than 500,000 citizens. CSOs provide civic education to strengthen citizens' engagement with their county government and enable citizen oversight through social accountability.

"Normally we use the market day to sensitize the community on devolution and governance issues, including public participation and budgeting. We do not charge any money to gather and address the citizens," said Cosmos Muthama, a person living with a disability and resident of Matuu Ward in Machakos.

In both rural and urban communities, roving mobile theater performances incorporate a traditional form of storytelling using the local languages of Swahili and Kamba. Theater is an outstanding tool for citizen education due to its accessibility to a wide range of audiences. The combination of oral communication, physical expression, dance, music, and song captures and maintains people's attention and interest.

Because theater is an easily adaptable medium, delivered in local languages, it is able to reach audiences that include the poorest groups of citizens, who are often left out of development activities because of their illiteracy or lack of other language skills.

"We are using theater to empower citizens on devolution. We cover public participation, social accountability, and the structures of county government. We emphasize how the audience can participate so that their priorities are considered in development projects in their community," says Festus Mutuku, an actor from the Vukka Arts Group, a member of the Machakos Civil Society Network.

Many in the audience recount that previously they didn't understand that public participation is their responsibility. They simply expected their leaders to understand their needs. With PEN's theater productions, community members have expressed a lot of interest in participating in county planning and budgeting.

"I enjoyed the comedy, and at the same time, governance issues are being addressed. If we unite and work together, Machakos County can develop better," says Juma Kimathi, a local trader at Kathimani Market.

Residents of Kimathi and other villages in Machakos have committed to take part in their local development. PEN mobilizes citizens using a trained community resource person, who leads them in asking questions to seek clarification on issues that are important to them. Through citizen actions they aim for social accountability. They are asking for reports and budgets for selected projects so that they can hold their leaders accountable.

Due to these PEN efforts with citizens and other CSOs in Machakos, county government has agreed to upload budget, planning, and service delivery implementation documents onto their websites. Some of the documents already placed on website are the county integrated development and annual plans, and the county budget estimates.

PEN's theater performances have drawn spectators from across the county. Traders and shoppers laugh along but also walk away with valuable knowledge.

See more of SUNY/CID's work in Kenya

Posted November 21, 2019