By Dr Paul Kariuki: DDP Executive Director

The last 12 months have been anxiety-causing months for African countries. We have seen economic turbulence, a rise in social injustices because of poor economic and political governance in most countries as well as an increase in unemployment, especially among young people. In many ways, it has been a year of economic unpredictability and political upheavals.

Notably, most of the elections conducted this year across the continent, were held in very unpromising contexts, characterized by flawed processes, resulting in controversial outcomes Arguably, many of the gains made in the early 1990s, came under threat from governments with little commitment to democracy. But while 2018 presented evidence of the danger of democratic backsliding on the continent, it also saw a rise in citizen activism supported by civil society advocacy efforts. One of the results from these sustained civic and citizens action is the signing of the Political Party Funding Bill.

Whilst the signing of the Bill by President Cyril Ramaphosa is welcomed and historic, all eyes are on its implementation by Parliament. All political parties now by law, required to disclose their sources of private funding. There is no doubt that its implementation will enhance accountability and transparency of South Africa’s political and electoral system. Interestingly, the Bill has been signed at a time when the nation is grappling to understand the BOSASA scandal, juxtaposed in between the State Capture inquiry and the VBS Bank scandal. All these events in the recent months have left the citizenry riling about the gross depths of corruption in the country and the missing checks and balances to mitigate against such a negative trend. Infact, the recent release of Corruption Perception Index (CPI), by Transparency International, confirmed that countries around the globe need to do more if they are to win the fight against corruption.

According to the report, most countries are failing to curb corruption. South Africa ranked number 54 in 2008 falling to number 71 in 2017. Whilst corruption is not a South African phenomenon alone, it is a global concern and calls for a collective citizenry-centred action to hold those in leadership accountable for their actions. This said, the assenting of the Bill by President Ramaphosa, is a step in the right direction, signalling the change that the citizenry is longing to see.

However, the onus now is on the Parliament to speed up processes leading to its successful implementation. However, the timing of its release may not have been not ideal, since political parties do not have enough time to declare their sources of private funding, give their spirited attention to campaigning for votes and the fact that Parliament is still on recess. Whilst the law is not effected yet, political parties are not prohibited from disclosing the sources of their private funding. Infact, doing so before the national and provincial elections, would most likely secure votes from the electorate as it spells a good sign of faith. Nevertheless, it is a welcomed progress towards stemming corruption in the country. Moreover, the Bill stills needs further scrutiny to address any potential loop holes that hamper its original intent – to foster transparency and accountability.

Civil society will continue with its advocacy mission to ensure loop holes are attended to and closed and the legislation process is speeded up without any further delay. At the same time, the sector urges the citizenry to exact pressure on their political parties to declare their sources of funding as part of their manifesto conversations with them.

Overall, our young democracy is maturing fast despite the challenges it is facing. With concerted effort as a society, there is a greater chance of ensuring the ideals of an inclusive country envisioned in our world-acclaimed constitution are realized. Our hard-won democracy, that our founding fathers and mothers, fought hard secure and liberate our country from every form of indignity, demands decisive action against all forms governance malfeasance. Corruption cannot continue unabated neither can youth unemployment be ignored among other pressing challenges. Simply stated, the nation needs an inspiring economic vision, one that is inclusive and promises to lead towards sustainable growth. There is a lot to be done and time for collective action is now. It is in our hands!


This article was published on the City Press, Sunday 10 February 2019. 

Civil society in 2019 — the year of redemption and renewal

By: DDP Executive Director Dr Paul Kariuki

In 2018, civil society observed a rise in civic activism, a spirited effort by ordinary citizens that challenged the status quo in many ways, demanding better services from government at all levels of governance as well as holding it accountable for its actions and decisions.

As result, the nation saw numerous Cabinet reshuffles and resignations, the establishment of commissions of enquiry, as well as a scrutiny of government promises and decisions on politically sensitive issues such as the land question.


This year is a critical one for the country; there are expectations for the government to deliver on last year’s promises concerning job creation and the promotion of good governance in the public sector, including municipalities and state-owned enterprises.

Civil society expects speedy implementation of policy decisions that were promised last year, especially with regard to the Public Audit Amendment Bill 2018, which gave the auditor general Kimi Makwetu authority to act against public officials implicated in the misappropriation of government resources.

In his report, Makwetu noted that government’s irregular expenditure had reached R50-billion, five times more than the total in 2017. The nation has hailed the Bill as an extraordinary step towards fighting corruption, and its implementation may turn the tide of state misappropriation of finances, providing a glimmer of hope.

The media played a significant role of enlightening South Africa’s citizens on several such issues. It is prudent to expect the media to sustain its citizen education project with responsible and ethical journalism.

Click here to read full article 


Dr Paul Kariuki

A message of great wishes to all our partners for the new year... from the Executive Director as well as the DDP Team. 

“Deepening Partnerships for Sustainable Active Citizenship” 

Early retirement as Executive Director of DDP

“I’m so glad we had this time together…but now it’s time to say good bye”

Dear colleagues and friends of DDP it is with mixed emotions that I wish to announce my departure from DDP, an organisation that I have served for 25 years. I believe that my work here is done and it is time to make way for the next generation to carry on the work that I had started. During my tenure I have had the opportunity to work with many of you in many different capacities and all of this has contributed to my personal growth, the growth of the organisation and the strengthening of our democracy.

I have always espoused the value of authentic partnerships, and the power of collaboration. I would like to believe that I have modelled this value in all our interactions over the years.

I will be exiting the organisation at the end of 2018 and am confident that I am leaving behind an energised and efficient team to lead the organisation and its work well into the future. I leave an organisation that has a clear succession plan and an embedded ethos of   collaboration rather than competition.

I still believe I have something to contribute to the building of this nation and will be using my Organisational Development and leadership training to facilitate workshops with civil society organisations and educational institutions. My leadership role is done!

 I will remain closely associated with the work of DDP as I will always regard it as the place that allowed me to make the greatest contribution to the building of this nation.

It has been a privilege working with all you amazing people and organisations. I want to wish you well in your work and I know that our paths will still cross often. I hope that I have the opportunity in the coming months to meet with each of you personally and say thank you for walking with me. My new contact details are as follows:

Yours in service


Grassroots democracy begins with open ward committees

By: Dr Paul Kariuki- DDP Programs Director

Citizen participation is an essential element of our constitutional democracy. South Africa is one of the few countries in the world with a liberal Constitution that enables citizens to participate actively at all levels of governance.

The government established the ward committee system in accordance with sections 72 to 78 of the Municipal Structures Act, 1998, to improve people’s involvement in local government and municipal development planning.

The government had envisioned citizen-led local governance that would influence municipal decision making; involving citizens from planning to implementation, as well as evaluating municipal involvement, to deepen democracy in pragmatic ways.

Although setting up the ward committees system was a novel idea, the structure does not seem to be producing the envisioned results and improving community participation in municipal governance.

There are several reasons for this.

First, the structures have increasingly become platforms for political party activism. Most political parties have turned ward committees into recruitment grounds for potential party followers. 

In the end, ward committees cease to serve the interests of citizens and, eventually, their concerns are not responded to appropriately by the municipality.


Second, the composition of ward committees is problematic. In most cases, they are composed of dominant political parties in the area. The proximity of ward committees to branches of political parties often pulls ward committees into the struggles of these parties, eventually weakening their capacity to serve the local community.

Notably, key marginal populations — such as women, the youth and people living with disabilities — are rarely represented in the structures.

Third, decision-making is not transparent. Most ward committees are used to endorse decisions already made elsewhere. In most cases, these decisions do not favour residents. As a result, it is almost impossible for people to hold local leaders accountable, given the lack of details about how decisions were arrived at.

Eventually, interventions unrelated to the needs of residents gain prominence and the citizenry is left on their own, suffering under the weight of poor service delivery.

Fourth, the low levels of literacy among some ward committee members is concerning. This makes it difficult for them to read and comprehend municipal documents, which are often written in technical language. The net effect is that they are unable to communicate confidently with the local communities on any of the issues contained in the documents.

Fifth, too many incompetent ward councillors serve as chairpersons of ward committees. Meetings are not properly scheduled and happen in an ad hoc manner, procedures are not followed correctly and some councillors are unprepared for meetings. All these issues undermine effective local governance and weaken the capacity of ward committees to deliver as expected.

The effectiveness of ward committees must be enhanced if citizens are to appreciate the gains of our hard-won democracy.

Ward mechanisms to communicate with residents must be improved, especially where decision making is concerned. Municipalities need to understand that, if their aim is to use ward committees to endorse decisions already taken elsewhere, people’s participation will be ineffective.

Residents must have an effective say in decisions that affect them and be given the space to play a role in implementing them, even if the council is ultimately responsible for governing the municipality.

Municipalities must avoid a bureaucratic, technocratic, one-size-fits-all approach to ward committee management and be flexible, innovative and creative in their engagement with people, using a variety of processes and structures. This is critical to advance active citizenship.

For instance, ward committees should be empowered to take responsibility for ward development plans that feed into and respond to the integrated development plans. When citizens are involved, they move from deficit thinking to that of abundance, for they know their needs better than municipal officials.

Ward committees should be depoliticised so that citizens can engage and serve without feeling obligated to trade off their values for political favours. Ward committee meetings should be aligned with important council meetings to ensure that the voices of citizens are heard and not only those elected to local leadership. Once a month would be ideal for strengthening effective participation.

Ward committees should be tasked with the responsibility of drawing up annual profiles of their wards. In line with this insight, ward committees should also oversee the delivery of services and development in their locality. Practically, wards ought to be contributing towards the municipality’s assessment of the quality of the services of an applicant before the contractor is fully paid out.

Where possible, within clear guidelines, municipalities should incrementally allocate resources to “enable ward committees to undertake development in their wards”, an aspect that is already provided for in the law. With this empowerment, ward committees could, at least, take some responsibility for mobilising citizens to undertake some practical developmental actions, such as fixing potholes in their streets, fixing pavements and restoring street lights, using local labour.

The allocation of funding resources and delegating power to employ labour could produce tensions in ward committees and among residents. This kind of arrangement will need to be managed skilfully.

Municipalities should be obliged to consider ward committee decisions. Consideration needs to be given to amending the legislation to oblige municipal councils to consider proposals from ward committees and provide them with feedback. Within reasonable limits, ward committees should be given reasons for why their proposals were unsuccessful. Ward committees should be bold enough to request them.

Ward committees should operate by a code of conduct. They must be operated professionally, because they are dealing with people’s lives. This move is highly likely to lead to heightened accountability of committee members to both the residents they serve and the municipality.

Municipalities should also provide administrative and other support, including for the training of ward committee members. More specifically, the public participation unit in the speaker’s office could monitor support and report on the functioning of ward committees.

Part of the key performance indicators of the public participation unit officials could be the performance of the ward committees. For the officials to be effective, they will have to consider the complexities and contradictions of their wards.

Where funding and other resources are provided, the municipality must actively monitor that ward committees use them productively and effectively in terms of the law and policies. If ward committees do not function effectively, municipalities could consider dissolving them as they are empowered to do in terms of the law. Learning the lessons, municipalities must then assist in creating effective ward committees to enable meaningful public participation at the local level.

Developmental local government requires functional ward committees. Without this, citizens will continue to doubt whether democracy works. For them, democracy must be lived, not legislated.

Paul Kariuki is the programmes director of the Democracy Development Programme in Durban. These are his own views