International days offer Kenyans a chance for national reflection

Human rights activists picket as part of the commemoration of 16 Days of Gender Based Violence along Kenyatta avenue, Nairobi. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Between "Hustler Funding", "Kamukunji Consultations", "Officialising the Opposition" and the IEBC's "Opaque Four", our daily headline coverage painfully reminds us of our 24-7 politics. Thankfully, the Football World Cup is offering Kenyans a distraction from our "politics as usual".

This is not to say that the Kenya Kwanza administration, when not gazing at the rear-view mirror, has not reported to work. It is still early days, but a few highlights from its 4th Cabinet meeting on December 6 suggest, despite increasing concerns about roadside declarations, that there is hope.

First, beyond scaling up the immediate drought response, there is a long-term resolve to achieve 30 per cent tree cover by 2030 from 12 per cent today (with forest cover at nine per cent). Tree planting will be part of all public engagement going forward. On trade and investment, a Kenya International Investment Conference is planned for early 2023 (previously held in 2003 and 2014).

Other 2023 hosting plans include the Africa Youth Connect, Africa Private Sector Alliance and Tripartite Free Trade Area (EAC, COMESA, SADC) Business Council Conferences. There are co-hosting plans for the 2027 (Football) Africa Cup of Nations with Uganda and Tanzania. There are reportedly six other bidders, including a joint Botswana/Namibia bid and one from Tanzania! National days, now devolved, will be themed, from Monday's 59th as Innovation Jamhuri Day.

This is a review a week that ended with the commemoration of two major international moments. The first was December 9th, when International Anti-Corruption Day was celebrated, with the second being December 10th as Human Rights Day. This article is written between these two United Nations events; after the first and before the second. Why is this the subject of today's article? I suggest that it is time we used these events for self-reporting and reflection on our global commitments in a way that helps us both inside and outside Kenya.

Let's take a quick step back. The United Nations calendar for 2022 contains over 180 international days and several international weeks. At national level, these events offer multiple opportunities to enhance citizen awareness and reflection on international moments, decisions and commitments.

This year in December alone, there are a total of 17 international days, starting from - by example - World Aids Day (December 1) and the International Day for Persons with Disabilities (December 3), running through the more silent International Day of Banks (December 4) and International Mountain Day (December 11) to the International Universal Health Coverage Day (December 12) before closing the year with the International Day for Epidemic Preparedness (December 27).

Back to December 9 and 10. International Anti-Corruption Day on the former date commemorates the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) established in 2003. Kenya (remember NARC?) was an early signatory to this global anti-corruption instrument whose "meat" is built around four substantive pillars: preventive measures, criminalisation and law enforcement, international cooperation and asset recovery. This year's theme, "UNCAC at 20", was intended to serve as a lead-up to its 20th anniversary in December 2023. But what are these pillars?

Non-state actors

As a guide, UNCAC doesn't define what corruption is, but it tells us what (and whom) it looks like. So preventive measures include transparency in procurement, public finance management, access to information and public administration at large, a merit-based civil service, judicial and prosecutorial independence and the active involvement of non-state actors.

Criminalisation and law enforcement covers offences such as bribery, embezzlement, misappropriation, influence peddling, abuse of functions/office, illicit enrichment, money laundering, concealment (fiddling) and obstruction of justice, plus proposals on victim, expert, witness and whistleblower protection and damages compensation occasioned by corruption.

International cooperation covers mutual legal assistance (on information sharing and proceeds of crime), law enforcement cooperation, cross-border issues such as extradition of suspects. Asset recovery in an UNCAC sense targeted the return of corruption proceeds to the country of origin.

Taking this UNCAC framing as the "checklist" for the day, how did Kenya's go at the televised Kenya School of Government event? Solid addresses were offered by all of the agencies and partners present, and the Q&A session was insightful within the constraints of time for the event. If one were to place the discourse within a triangulated picture of structures (plus staff and skills), systems (around process and technology) and values (including norms and culture), the consensus placed values as the weakest point, with systems a mix of good and bad and structures best.

As the EACC Chair put it, corruption is a moral issue that has morphed into a cultural issue; even as he called for a re-engineering of our value systems. Values featured in other contributions, highlighted by poor attitudes to punctuality highlighted by the Attorney-General and the perennial failure to follow up on audit findings and recommendations pointed out by the Auditor-General. This latter angle is particularly important; Kenya is excellent at design but weak on enforcement.

Paradoxically, corruption is a competitiveness issue for private sector - less corruption logically reduces the cost of doing business, yet corruption is an equally logical (if not morally proper) way to shortcut competition. The real consensus is that the war on corruption goes beyond more policies, laws, rules and regulations. Indeed, Kenya's current National Ethics and Anti-Corruption Policy mirrors the pillars defined under UNCAC, while adding the important element of public education, training and awareness creation.

Yet, the commemoration felt incomplete. At a technical level, it would have been useful to take stock on UNCAC progress along its four pillars as well as a prognosis for the next 12 months (that is, the purpose of the event) - especially on the prevention and enforcement pillars. In easier terms, what's working, what's not working and what needs to be done to get better?

At a political level, the absence of leaders - excluding National Assembly's Justice and Legal Affairs Committee - was striking. It is in these moments that one is tempted to view our anti-corruption effort - especially in a "politics as usual" setting - as being all motion; zero movement. And outside the weaponisation mantra this new administration proclaims, the silence is deafening.

December 10 was Human Rights Day, a day to commemorate the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR). This is its 74th reflection; December 2023 will be the 75th, when UNCAC turns 20 and the Kenyan republic turns 60. Simply, three big anniversaries next year starting now.

Yesterday also concluded the Global 16 Days campaign; an international effort to challenge violence against women and girls that runs from the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (November 25) to Human Rights Day. Writing early on Human Rights Day, it is striking that it is a quiet, low-key affair, outside our wider political or public lens. Indeed, across media, only The Standard has any real commentary or coverage on this moment for pause.

As with UNCAC, where is our reflection on where we are on UDHR, especially given the rights and freedoms that are a particular highlight of our liberal Constitution, as well as our National Policy and Action Plan on Human Rights (Sessional Paper No 3 of 2014) that speaks to Kenya's priorities and challenges regarding civil, political, social, economic, cultural and group rights? Like the right to life, liberty and security of the person that is especially hindered by insecurity and crime. Or access to justice impeded by poor physical (court) and informational (awareness) access. Think also of the right to political participation challenged by political unrest and inadequate participation by women, youth, persons with disabilities and marginalised groups.

Unequal healthcare

Consider the right to the highest attainable standard of health constrained by unequal health care; the right to property affected by land ownership disparities and human-wildlife conflict; the right to housing challenged by affordability and availability; the right to food given our perennial food insecurity; the right to education hindered by an incoherent education package, or the right to a clean environment negatively impacted by climate change and environmental degradation.

Add to these our constitutional innovation in addressing the rights of specific groups - women, children, persons with disabilities, youth, older members of society - and new constituencies identified in the policy - internally displaced persons and refugees. Again, a "checklist" for review that we are not using to reflect. What's working, what's not and how do we get better?

To be clear, these ruminations apply equally to our African equivalents: African Anti-Corruption Day on July 21, or African Human Rights Day on October 21. Yet, by the time you are reading this, the two international days are gone, and our thoughts have turned to tomorrow's Jamhuri Day; an important national day to review the state of the Kenyan republic. Specifically, might we have enriched Monday with an honest contemplation of the state of (anti-)corruption and human rights? Especially in a way that goes deeper than the largely procedural annual State of the Nation address? Mostly, how should we use international days to reflect on the state of Kenya? Food for thought.

Kabaara is a management consultant

By Titus Too 35 mins ago
Premium Don't expect cheap ugali because of high fuel prices, farmers warn
Premium Copy Kibaki and Uhuru and stop rising fuel cost, experts tell Ruto
Real Estate
What to do when the government acquires your land compulsorily
Real Estate
Premium Dead capital? Tips on how to use that idle land