Strong institutions key to Kenya's redemption

While delivering the keynote address during the 2018 edition of the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders town hall in South Africa, former US president Barack Obama eloquently reminded leaders of the key components of a working democracy. “Democracy is about strong institutions; and it’s about minority rights and checks and balances; and freedom of speech and freedom of expression and a free press; and a right to protest and petition the government; and an independent judiciary and everyone having to follow the law”, Obama told congregants.

Young as Kenya is in terms of entrenchment of the tenets of democracy and the rule of law, it is only fair to give credit where it is due. Kenya stands out amongst her African peers and neighbors in several aspects. August 2010 heralded a new dawn for Kenya, an era of sovereignty of the people, supremacy of the constitution and most importantly, a leadership system anchored on strong institutions, independent or otherwise. That Kenyans resolved to have a national dialogue which gave rise to a new constitution that gives them a plethora of fundamental rights and freedoms was an important statement.

The critical job of ensuring that the institutions created by the constitution work optimally and without interference has had its own fair share of challenges though. It clearly provides that the Judiciary shall not be subject to the control or direction of any person or authority. Unfortunately, the institution has on several occasions been undermined by the executive.

Court rulings

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After the Supreme Court’s nullification of the presidential poll in September 2017, a visibly livid president Kenyatta issued a veiled threat to the judiciary, introducing probably one of the most unfortunate phrases by a head of the executive; we shall revisit.

On several occasions cabinet secretaries and senior government officials blatantly ignored not just court rulings, but also snubbed parliamentary committees that wield equal powers as the high court. Such is the trickle-down effect of disregard for authority of institutions in any state. Why any Kenyan would care to obey court rulings and orders issued by judges who the president had labelled wakora or rogue would be a valid question in my opinion.

Kenyan politicians are known for their penchant for benchmarking trips. If any leader or delegation of leaders was to benchmark on how institutions are empowered to deliver on their mandate, I would recommend the USA, Israel and probably South Africa.

In Israel for instance, former President Moshe Katsav is serving a jail term for corruption and abuse of office. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spouse Sara has been attending court to answer charges similar to those of the former president. Such are the desired results of competent and independent police and justice departments.

Special prosecutor

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In the US, President Donald Trum’sp former Attorney Michael Cohen has already been tried and sentenced to serve 3 years in prison for his role in Trump’s campaign. The president’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn awaits sentencing after it was established he had lied to authorities under oath about suspected Russia’s meddling in the 2016 campaign and electoral system to give Trump an edge over democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

The success of the aforementioned prosecutions is attributable to America’s solid institutions. In spite of President Trump’s incessant attacks on the media and intelligence agencies, the strength of US institutions made it possible to have a special prosecutor Robert Mueller whose impeccable record, coupled with integrity, has helped to unearth the dirt in Trump’s campaign machine.

In South Africa, Jacob Zuma and his son Duduzane Zuma are in court on charges of corruption, abuse of office linked to his Nkandla home construction as well as elements of state capture due to his alleged shady deals with the Guptas. Zuma was forced out of office through agitation by opposition parliamentarians and a crucial South African institution – The Public Protector.

For us, all is not lost yet. Some institutions in Kenya are diligently executing their mandate. The formula for strengthening institutions is not rocket science nor is it a preserve of the executive.

Indeed, it is the duty of every law abiding and patriotic Kenyan to protect the gains brought by the constitution and demand strong working institutions through activism and vigilance. The hopes and aspirations of all Kenyans embodied in the constitution will only be realized if institutions remain strong.

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Muturi wa Karuguti is a lawyer and political analyst

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democracynational dialoguenew constitutionKenyan politicians