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Open Government Week: Enhancing Openness in the Governance Ecosystem

Posted by on 20th May 2021

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This week, the world commemorates the Open Government Week, a period that seeks to creatively train focus on the need for embracing openness in the governance ecosystem. It is a period that is broadly undertaken under the aegis of the Open Government Partnership (OGP), a ten-year-old initiative started in 2011 that brings together State and Non-State Actors to co-create commitments aimed at securing open, accountable, transparent, inclusive and responsive governance. Thus far, the OGP has 78 member states, a number of local governments and ‘thousands of civil society organizations’.

Kenya is a founding member of the OGP, having joined the platform in 2011. As part of execution, OGP requires member states to co-create a National Action Plan (NAP), a set of commitments to be implemented over a period of two years. Actors involved in the process include government, civil society organizations, private sector, academia, institutions of higher learning among others. 

Recently, Kenya concluded the co-creation process of its fourth NAP that is set to be implemented between 2020-2022 (NAP IV 2020-2022). In compliance with OGP’s founding aspirations, the year-long co-creation process saw robust engagement with and by diverse actors across the governmental and non-governmental stakeholders. 

The co-creation and implementation of the country’s NAP IV falls within a challenging context, but one with opportunities too. First is the COVID-19 pandemic. Kenya reported its first case of the pandemic in mid-March 2020. Ever since, official records show that confirmed cases have risen to 165,465 with 3,003 deaths as at 17th May, 2021. The pandemic has occasioned unprecedented challenges, at least in recent times, to the country’s political, economic and social systems. Its implications have, in fact, been directly felt within the OGP space, with the co-creation process having had to adapt to the disrupted space. Originally scheduled for March 2021, the official launch of the NAP IV had to be put off indefinitely due to the surge in the number of cases around the same time. 

Secondly, the NAP IV coincides with the country’s ongoing conversation around reforms, largely under the auspices of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI). Officially birthed on March 9th 2018, the process was designed to inform interventions aimed at securing the country’s long-term political, economic and social stability. Incidentally, the BBI Report, officially unveiled in October 2020, made particular reference to the OGP as a platform for intervention. Specifically, it identifies OGP as an actualization strategy to the prudent use of resources, noting that effort should be made toward full implementation ‘at both National and county levels of government, the Republic of Kenya Open Government Partnership National Action Plan including open contracting and transparency in public procurement and other policies..’ Thirdly, the implementation phase of the NAP IV coincides with the country’s 2022 electoral cycle during which period intensified political activities tend to largely distract from a dedicated implementation focus.

In deed the totality of the context did inform the shape of the NAP IV, including the commitments and respective milestones. In total, 8 commitments were adopted: Beneficial Ownership; Open Contracting; Open Data for Development; Public Participation and Legislative Openness; Improving Public Service Delivery Performance; Access to Information; Access to Justice; Building Open Government Resiliency. Emerging issues around COVID-19 pandemic related to accountability, particularly issues on procurement, influenced the choice of the transparency and accountability related commitments; Beneficial Ownership and Open Procurement. Acknowledging the centrality of public participation as an anchor principle in our governance, and the challenges it is facing to secure its meaningful sense was key in ensuring its inclusion in the NAP. Enhancing meaningful public participation requires information, hence the deliberate move to incorporate an access to information commitment. 

As the incorporation of the OGP in the country continues, this fourth phase of the NAP seeks to further entrench the initiative by way of institutionalization. The objective of the deliberate move is to partly insulate it (OGP) from the shocks largely associated with transitional tumults. Stakeholders are keen to push for establishment of OGP desks at the three branches of government: Legislature, Executive and Judiciary. But beyond that, actors in the space are alive to the country’s devolved governance system as ushered in via the Constitution of Kenya, 2010. As such there is growing interest in incorporating the devolved units into the initiative. Excitedly, the signs are very encouraging. Thus far about 5 of the 47 devolved units have joined OGP: Nairobi, Nandi, Elgeyo Marakwet, Makueni and Vihiga. Some of them are at an advanced stage in so far as setting up their respective Local Action Plans (LAPs) is concerned.

It is with this in mind that the Open Government Week emerges as a period of supreme significance to the open government enthusiasts. As the current Civil Society OGP lead, Mzalendo Trust seeks to exploit the week to raise the profile of the OGP and accord an opportunity for engaged stakeholders to amplify their voice. This we seek to achieve by facilitating and coordinating the commitment-focussed activities, all of which should culminate in a big tent Multi Stakeholder Forum (MSF) on 21st May, 2021.

Kiswahili Is a National Language Too, Let’s Use it to Our Advantage

Posted by on 11th May 2021

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Tanzania’s President Samia Suluhu Hassan made history on Wednesday, 5th May 2021 by being the first female President to address  Kenya’s joint Houses of Parliament, National Assembly and Senate. The cherry on the cake for this historic moment was her powerful, eloquent and uplifting speech delivered in the beautiful language of Swahili. The speech that captured a rejuvenation of the Kenya-Tanzania relations was also delivered with anecdotes that had Kenyan legislators and viewers at large hooked throughout its delivery..

During her speech, President Samia made light of the moment Senate Speaker Kenneth Lusaka struggled to read out a year in Swahili. She went on to express her fondness for  Kenya’s Parliamentary proceeding, particularly the debates that had members contributing in the ‘interesting’ Kenyan Swahili. Unlike Kenya, Tanzania’s larger population communicates in Sanifu Swahili, something that is mostly common in Kenya’s coastal region. This is largely attributable to the cultural similarities between that  Kenya’s coastal region and Tanzania.

Kiswahili is provided for as both a national and official language in the Constitution, unlike English, which is only official. Besides Members of Parliament (MPs) from the coastal region, majority of the legislators struggle to articulate their thoughts and ideas in Kiswahili as they easily would in English, something  their Tanzanian counterparts do with so much ease. President Samia’s ability to articulate matters on policy, development and trade between Kenya and Tanzania posed a great challenge to our leaders.

At  institutional level, Kenya’s Parliament recently translated the Standing Orders to Kiswahili, itself a step in the right direction. However, legislations are only available in English. On the other hand, their counterparts in Tanzania have started the process of translating over 400 laws to Kiswahili following guidelines that the Ministry of Constitutional and Legal Affairs issued in March this year. To that extent, our neighbors Tanzania have given themselves an edge in the pursuit of a more inclusive democracy. Through the translation of these laws, their citizenry is bound to have a more effective engagement with the law-making process.

The language barrier has also played out during the public participation processes conducted at national and county level. Gazette notices are published in English and the public hearings mostly conducted in English by the government officials. This has made it difficult for Kenyans to submit substantive contributions owing to fairly complex language  that characterizes legislative proposals.

The importance of having  sector lead stakeholders share views on laws pertaining to their respective fields cannot be downplayed. However, the ordinary citizen ought to have an opportunity to understand the implications that these proposals have on their everyday lives. Consideration of such views gives law and policy makers more perspective and, in turn, better informs the proposals they formulate to ensure they speak to the public’s needs.

Worth-noting is an attempt by Busia Senator in 2018 when he sponsored a Public Participation Bill that compelled authorities to publish and distribute documents in a language and form that can be used by the public, in this case Kiswahili. The Bill further proposed that authorities provide an interpreter for those participants who wish to make their remarks in their local language. If enacted the Bill could set the stage for transformative public participation by Kenyans.

President Samia’s excellent delivery in the national language proved that it is in fact possible to discuss, in detail, governance issues in Kiswahili. Many would attest that the ongoing conversation on a potential referendum has locked out a significant portion of the population that would have benefitted from the legal expertise, had it been delivered in Swahili. Given its national stature, coupled with the fact that majority of Kenyans understand it, embracing Kiswahili by Parliament in legislative processes would conceivably open up Parliament further to a wider public. It would likely excite public’s engagement with parliamentary processes to the benefit of public participation. It (public participation) remains a missing link in governance processes generally, and parliamentary engagements in particular, given its sub-optimal implementation.

Parliamentarians should also push for the enactment of policies/laws that would compel public offices and state organs to use Kiswahili in their decision-making responsibilities. The civil society, such as the Civil Society Parliamentary Engagement Network (CSPEN), should continue to double their efforts it ensuring that this becomes a reality.

Media: The Alternative Voice that Needs to be Protected at all Costs.

Posted by on 4th May 2021

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Kenya, on Monday, joined the globe in celebrating the World Press Freedom Day that is observed annually on 4th May with this year’s theme being “Information as a public good”. The 2021 theme proves relevant and timely for Kenya given the circumstances we find ourselves in.

Besides battling the Coronavirus pandemic, Kenya is currently operating in a very busy political environment owing to the conversation on amending the Constitution and the general elections that are just 15 months away. Both of which require the citizen’s involvement. Which then brings in the crucial role the fourth estate plays especially in the era of misinformation.

In Kenya’s fight against Covid-19, media has played a key role in educating the masses on the virus, highlighting violation of human rights by law enforcement, holding leadership accountable and unearthing corruption in relation to Covid-19 funds. This, however, has not been a walk in the park as journalists have been faced by a myriad of challenges in their quest to expose ills committed, especially by authorities.

For instance, information on Kemsa’s procurement was not readily available until the President gave a directive to the Ministry of Health to avail this information on Kemsa’s website for the public to access. This is despite Kenya having passed an Access to Information Act (ATIA) in 2016 that compels public entities to disclose information, including that which concerns contracts. Journalists were also subjected to harassment by police in their line of duty as was witnessed during the early stages of the enforcement of the 7pm nationwide curfew last year. Media also played a key role in dispelling misinformation that posed a great threat in the country’s efforts to fight the virus.

These challenges continue to stand in the way of the freedom and independence of media that is provided for under Article 34 of the Constitution. Recently, the country watched in shock as an expose revealed how police officers are in the business of hiring out their equipment to thugs who rob from and even kill Kenyans. As expected, the Citizen TV feature story caused an uproar among Kenyans who called for accountability among the police service. Surprisingly, the Director of the DCI, Mr George Kinoti came out to disown the firearms used in the expose, saying a ballistic examination showed that they didn’t belong to the police. He added that the Citizen TV crew did not consult the police before airing the story. This however could have amounted to interference of journalistic work especially since Kenyan media isn’t new to intimidation and harassment from authorities.

Shortly after the expose, there were reports that the police assigned to Royal Media Services, the mother company to Citizen TV, were withdrawn. As to whether or not this was linked to the expose, it brings another aspect of risk related to investigative journalism. This presents the need for the enactment of a whistleblower protection law that will provide a proper framework to protect journalists who risk their lives in the course of their work. Current Nyali MP and former KTN investigative journalist, Mohamed Ali aka “Jicho Pevu” had on several occasions been forced to flee to foreign land over threats on his life following damning exposes. Unfortunately, other journalists both locally and internationally were not lucky enough to escape with their lives.

Owing to the history of intimidation, harassment and killing of journalists, the state ought to provide a conducive environment for the media to operate in optimally. This can be actualized by enactment of laws that protect them and the full implementation of certain existing laws like the ATIA that allow media to execute their duties to satisfaction. It would be a tragedy if the media were subdued into silence when the citizenry and civil society heavily depend on them for an alternative voice.

Corruption Is Eating Away at the Country

Posted by on 28th April 2021

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A recent article by the Daily Nation highlighted a shortage in entrepreneurs bidding for tenders advertised at Kenya Medical Supplies Agency (Kemsa). On the other hand, some entrepreneurs are demanding upfront cash payment to do business with the agency pointing to the growing lack of trust, with Kemsa and other state agencies, that is rooted in corruption. It appears that entrepreneurs are wary about getting involved with an organization that attracts the attention of investigative agencies. Rightfully so, given that Kemsa is still under investigation concerning the Sh 7.8 billion scandal.

This revelation, however, does not come as a surprise. In a 2020 report by World Economic Forum, graft was pin-pointed as an impediment to foreigners doing business in the country. The result is that Kenya has missed out on key foreign investments that would elevate the country’s economic competitiveness in the region. There has been prior acknowledgement of demands for kickbacks that have driven the cost of business through the roof, making it unsustainable for the investors. That coupled with inefficient government bureaucracy and poor roads, again largely occasioned by corruption, have driven big foreign investors away, dragging the country’s development agenda.

These circumstances we find ourselves in are not accidental. Those keen on fulfilling their self-interests have been intent on digging the country into a deeper hole at whatever cost. For the corrupt, there are no ethics or morals. It doesn’t matter if doctors operate without protective equipment during the worst pandemic in recent times provided, they’ve pocketed their billions and are guaranteed of first-class treatment in facilities or countries that most Kenyans can’t afford. It doesn’t matter if millions of Kenyans miss out on the Covid-19 vaccines. It doesn’t matter if HIV patients go for weeks or months without their drugs.

The corrupt have made it such that they have to have their way and oversight authorities have been willing enablers. The Kemsa scandal is a good example. Not one person has been charged in the scandal yet the country is spending a lot of money in the name of investigations by the EACC and Parliamentary committee inquiries. There really hasn’t been proof of the leadership’s commitment to fighting graft that has been openly acknowledged even by the President himself, further eroding public trust. If there’s a legacy that the current government will leave for sure, it’s that of letting corruption thrive in epic proportions.

There’s nothing new under the sun that Kenya hasn’t covered on the matter of corruption. It’s been talked about on prime time shows, been studied and reported on, both locally and internationally. It’s evident that there is no political goodwill to deal with this vice conclusively. We’re currently watching as corruption eats away at the country. History will judge this current regime harshly for its reluctance to slay the corruption dragon, for failure to represent their constituents’ interests and conduct oversight where needed and allowing lives to be destroyed and lost in the name of corruption.

Because of corruption, Kenya not only loses huge sums of money but life-changing opportunities for its citizenry. There literally isn’t no sector that has not been affected by this. This is, therefore, a call to leaders to remember why they were put in the positions they occupy and do what is right by Kenyans. To fight corruption is to choose to value Kenyans’ lives and leaders ought to prioritize that.

Curfew Chaos Present Need to Rethink Approach to Covid-19 Protocols

Posted by on 21st April 2021

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In enforcing the 8pm curfew in the ‘one-zoned’ area, police on Saturday night placed roadblocks on Thika Super Highway leaving hundreds of motorists stranded. Social media was awash with videos of the snarl up and what followed was Kenyans’ anger being directed to the government for what they termed as high-handedness in implementing the curfew that targets Nairobi, Kajiado, Kiambu, Nakuru and Machakos counties.

Law enforcement has come under criticism again in their lack of humanity when implementing the Covid-19 preventive protocols as directed by the President and his cabinet. A year ago, there were reports of police brute force that led to the deaths of civilians on the premise of violation of the directives. Despite this, the police are yet to adopt more humane tactics in implementing these directives.

Majority of the Nairobians stranded on Thika Highway on the evening of April 17th 2021 were people who were heading home after their day’s hustle. According to the 2019 Kenya population census, 83.6% of the working population are employed in the informal sector. With the harsh impact of the global Coronavirus pandemic, companies in this sector are maximizing on their productive hours to generate as much revenue as possible to be able to sustain their businesses and pay their staff.

The other issue is that the nature of these informal jobs does not allow for one to work from home. This puts the roughly 15 million Kenyans said to be employed in the informal sector in a tight position where they have to choose between complying with the Covid-19 protocols or going out to make enough to fend for their households at the risk of being on the wrong side of law. This particular section of the population relies heavily on public transport to commute to and from work hence the long queues in the Nairobi CBD on most evenings and the heavy traffic on most roads. It is also worth noting that there is ongoing construction on major roads that has cost Nairobians hours and hours in traffic.

With these realities in mind, authorities should have extended grace in enforcing the 8pm curfew to civilians. Punishing Kenyans on account of something that is beyond their control, poor public transport system, is not only unfair but also uncalled for. The long queues witnessed at bus stops prior to the Saturday incident should have informed authorities of the challenges the public transport system presents to the millions of Kenyans living within and outside Nairobi.

The Saturday incident does in fact confirm the view that the 8pm curfew in the ‘one-zoned’ region is elitist. It is very unlikely for a middle-class Kenyan working in the comfort of their home and having the luxury of personal transport means to experience the same challenges as the common mwananchi who relies on public transport.

The government should reflect on these directives while leaving room for changes to comfortably accommodate the needs of Kenyans. English journalist William Godwin once said, “Law is made for man and not man for the law. Wherever we can be sure that the most valuable interests of a nation require that we should decide one way, that way we ought to decide.” If the directives keep putting the citizenry and the authorities at loggerheads, it may be time to reflect and revise accordingly.

 

What kind of Chief Justice should Kenyans expect?

Posted by on 14th April 2021

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The Judiciary is the watchdog of the rule of law and access to justice in Kenya. Through its processes, disputes are resolved, alternative dispute resolutions are promoted and there is enforcement of Constitutionally protected rights. Chapter 10 of the Constitution of Kenya 2010 creates the Judiciary; together with aligning provisions on its independence, system and hierarchy of courts and the Judicial Service Commission.

These provisions particularly come to mind as the process of recruiting the Chief Justice is ongoing. With Chief Justice David Maraga’s retirement in January 2021, the Judicial Service Commission has begun the process of interviewing applicants for the topmost seat in the Judiciary. There are 10 applicants who have been shortlisted and whose interviews started taking place this week. These include: Hon. Juma Chitembwe, Prof. Kameri Mbote, Hon. Martha Koome, Hon. David Marete, Philip Murgor, Hon. Nduma Nderi, Hon. William Ouko, Senior Counsel Fred Ngatia, Prof. Moni Wekesa and Alice Yano.

Article 166 of the Constitution provides for the criteria for the appointment of the Chief Justice. This includes at least 15 years’ experience as a superior court judge or as a distinguished academic, judicial officer or legal practitioner. While the Chief Justice is formally appointed by the President, he/she is recommended by the Judicial Service Commission and is vetted by the National Assembly. This clearly outlines the separation of powers and the checks and balances that each arm has on the other. Despite this, the independence of the Judiciary cannot be overstated with its principal foundation in the Constitution.

Kenyans should expect a Chief Justice who is aligned to the principles encompassed in Chapter 6 of the Constitution on Leadership and Integrity. This should be a person who has a high moral character, integrity and impartiality. Any aspersions cast on the impartiality of the Chief Justice would further lower the public perception that the Judiciary is weak. This should be an individual who is able to promote public confidence in the Judiciary, entrench constitutionalism and entrench the principles of transparency and accountability.

It would be remiss to say that, in the recent past, the Judiciary has faced unique challenges that have hindered the effective implementation of its much-needed work. There have been concerns that the independence of the Judiciary has been undermined with judicial officers being complicit in ensuring that the courts are used a tool for political suppression. Secondly, a trend where court orders are not obeyed especially by members of the Executive, erodes the confidence of the authority from the sovereign people of Kenya that is delegated to the Judiciary. Thirdly, the Executive has been seen to force its hand in the affairs of the Judiciary; noted by many to be the silent retaliation for the Supreme Court’s decision to annul the 2017 Presidential election. This has been evident in two main ways. This is through budget cuts despite the need for resources and through the lack of appointment of 41 judges who had been approved by the JSC. Despite a court decision declaring that the President is constitutionally bound by the recommendation of the Judicial Service Commission, the judges are yet to be appointed leading to the closure of some court stations across the country.

All these, coupled with the never-ending complaints on case backlogs and unnecessary delays have lowered public trust and confidence in the institution. The situation has also been aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic that temporarily halted operations, causing further delays and inaccessibility to much-needed justice.

A heavy plate is what awaits the new Chief Justice. While retired Chief Justice David Maraga promoted access to justice through the Sustaining Judiciary Transformation Agenda, there is still a lot to be done. This includes leveraging on technology to deliver justice while maintaining fair trials and protecting constitutional rights.  Further, judicial accountability of judicial officers at all levels will ensure that there are fair and well-reasoned judgments with proper complaint/appeal mechanisms. Additionally, there should be synchronous cooperation among the three arms of the government. This will ensure that the Judiciary receives the support it requires without compromising its independence.

Lastly, with the Building Bridges Initiative taking centre-stage in the coming months, the Judiciary’s role will be fundamental in determining the various constitutional issues that arise from the political process. In this, the leadership of a strong-willed Chief Justice will be necessary to ensure that the will of the people is heard and articulated well.

As Kenyans, we hope that the best candidate succeeds to guide the judicial system accordingly. In closing, we reiterate the words of John Rawls, ‘laws and institutions no matter how efficient and well-arranged must be reformed or abolished if they are unjust.’ Key reforms should take place to reduce any unjust outcomes perceived by litigants as they interact with the Judiciary at any level.

Strategic Plan 2021-2025: The New Dawn

Posted by on 6th April 2021

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On 31st March, 2021, Mzalendo Trust launched its five-year Strategic Plan, intended to inform our work for the next five years until 2025. The Plan informs and is informed by a totality of the ‘geography of action’ ranging for the obtaining political, economic and social ecosystems. Firstly, it is largely guided by the ecosystem as shaped by the Constitution of Kenya, 2010. As such, it identifies with three of the key guiding values and principles of governance: Openness, inclusion and accountability.

Openness seeks to secure processes that are accessible to the public, both in Parliament and county assemblies as provided for in Articles 118 and 196 of the COK, 2010. The former provides that “Parliament shall (a) conduct its business in an open manner, and its sittings and those of its committees shall be in public; and (b) facilitate public participation and involve­ment in the legislative and other business of Parliament and its committees” (Art. 118 (1)) The latter, focussing on county assemblies, provides that any “County Assembly shall (a) conduct its business in an open manner and hold its sittings and those of its committees in public; (b) facilitate public participation and involvement in the legislative and other business of the Assembly and its commit­tees.” (Art. 196 (1))”

Inclusion focusses on the realization of a governance ecosystem that incorporates all segments as reflected in the society. Particularly, it strives to have the hitherto marginalized segments rightly represented in governance: Women, youth, persons with disability, marginalized and minority communities. Accountability ties institutional responsibility to public wishes. It rightly acknowledges that sovereign power ultimately belongs to the people, and that only according to their wishes can it be exercised.

The three values and principles thus inform Mzalendo’s new mission: ‘promotes open, inclusive, and accountable Parliaments in Kenya and Africa.’

Consistent with the COK, 2010, the Plan identifies sub-national legislatures (county assemblies) as areas of interest. It thus seeks to ‘devolve’ focus to cover the county assemblies in addition to Parliament at the national level.

In addition to the COK, 2010, ongoing conversations and developments have shaped the Plan as well. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and its implications have informed the design of Mzalendo’s engagement. Particularly, attention is on how to ensure that the threat to civic space is neutered. More importantly, it seeks to explore innovative ways to ensure that the unprecedented disruption occasioned by the pandemic does not ground public’s involvement in the governance processes. Public participation, a running theme throughout the Constitution, must be optimally sustained. Civic tech is therefore a key plank in the conversation around the pandemic.

The Plan intends to further entrench Mzalendo’s role in the Open Government Partnership (OGP) and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) spaces, which Mzalendo has secured an active role in. Regarding OGP, Mzalendo is currently the civil society lead on the development and implementation of Kenya’s National Action Plan IV (NAP IV), 2020-2022.

The Plan readily acknowledges the place of partnerships in enhancing the chances of realizing stated institutional objectives. Consequently, it requires broadening of partners’ base to include diverse actors, stakeholders and duty bearers. Those identified include political parties, oversight bodies, civil society organizations, media and citizens. Further, it readily identifies the place of international partners in championing the cause.

Noticeably, Mzalendo seeks to make a strategic shift, angling toward being a bolder organization. It intends to engage in vigorously in issues of public interest but which have the potential to be defined as ‘controversial’. We intend to engage in more, beyond the traditional innocuous and less controversial spaces. One such space is the fight against corruption, one which almost always invites controversy and an elevated sense of risk to involved actors.

With the launch of the Plan, which effectively ushered in the more defining implementation phase, Mzalendo looks forward to working with all actors in the space for a more open, inclusive and accountable governance system.

 

 

Covid-19 in Kenya: Reflecting on the Last Twelve Months

Posted by on 30th March 2021

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President Uhuru Kenyatta issued the second public order of 2021 on Friday, March 26th  imposing new restrictions in the wake of the third wave of Covid-19 that is currently ravaging the country. In his fifteenth address on the Coronavirus pandemic, the President ordered a lockdown on five counties; Nairobi, Kiambu, Machakos, Kajiado and Nakuru which he termed as the ‘zoned area’ that have attributed to 70% of the positive cases reported in the country.

He further adjusted the curfew hours for the zoned area to now begin at 8pm while the rest of the country still operates with the 10pm curfew. To manage the rising cases of Covid-19 in the country, the president also directed that food establishments operate on take-away basis, banned gatherings and traveling in and out of the zoned area.

Coincidentally, his directives come exactly one year since his first address on the pandemic. The country at the time had to adjust to a 7pm nationwide curfew, wearing of face masks and hand-washing upon entry into establishments. In the process of adjusting to this new way of life, human rights violations were reported as police used brute force in enforcing these new rules. On reflecting on the last 12 months of the country’s fight against Covid-19, one is left wondering whether we have made progress in restoring normalcy in the country or in fact, took many steps back.

During his first address, the President not only issued safety protocols to be observed by Kenyans but also gave tax reliefs to cushion economically vulnerable Kenyans. This move was much welcome as thousands of Kenyans had been reported to have lost their source of income following the restrictions imposed locally and globally. The tax reliefs would later be reversed by Parliament that cited the need to cater to the revenue shortfalls. Tax reliefs were, however, not provided this time around with many Kenyans online, particularly those in the zoned area, expressing concerns over their ability to put food on the table following the new restrictions.

Unlike last year when the state’s priority was acquiring PPEs for healthcare workers, the state is presently mainly focused on acquiring vaccine doses for its population. Both instances have brought to the fore matters of allocation of funds, procurement of the items and oversight of the spending. In the midst of the fight against the pandemic this past year, a scandal brewed as Kemsa, the agency tasked with acquiring medical supplies, could not account for Sh 43 billion. The reality for the country is that the fight isn’t just against the pandemic but also the corruption that is threatening the wellbeing and lives of Kenyans.

Several Parliamentary committee investigations later and not one person has been charged for the looting that took place in the midst of a pandemic. The concerns raised by whistleblowers within the media and civil society remain valid as the country sets out to procure more vaccine doses for Wanjiku. Will the government guarantee transparency and accountability this time around?

Parliament proposed the altering of the calendar for their sittings to reduce the risk posed by the third wave of Covid-19. Coincidentally the legislature also went on recess a time like this last year causing legislators to receive a lot of criticism. But with the incorporation of virtual sittings for both plenary and committee, it would be safe to assume that Parliamentary business will carry on effectively. Once again, attention will shift to the August House to see whether Wanjiku’s representatives will propose any cushioning measures and carry out their oversight mandate as the country actively undertakes vaccination for Covid-19.

While a post-Covid future currently remains bleak, it would be key for leaders to reflect on the past year and pick lessons to have better informed decisions even as the country works towards a recovery plan.

Pan-African Parliament (PAP) launces PAP Day

Posted by on 23rd March 2021

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The Pan-African Parliament (PAP) launched its official “PAP Day” which is set to be commemorated every year on the 18th of March. The PAP Day celebrates the inauguration of the first Parliament of the Pan-African Parliament on 18th March 2004, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The occasion was marked by a virtual celebration to reflect on the journey of the institution 17 years after it was inaugurated. The Pan-African Parliament Day was officially launched by Hon. Chief Fortune Charumbira, Acting President of the Pan-African Parliament, who indicated the importance of reflecting on the journey of the Pan-African Parliament as it strikes conversation on the vision and purpose of the institution, which can be traced directly to the Pan-African ideals of cooperation and unity among African states.
The main objectives of this maiden annual celebration were to reflect on the 17-year PAP journey since its inauguration, position PAP as a Parliament for all and a representation of people of Africa, empower stakeholders with knowledge on the Pan-African Parliament and its function as a legislative organ of the African Union and galvanize people on the need to ratify the Malabo Protocol and encourage actions aimed at engaging leaders in speeding up this process.
The launch of the PAP Day comes just months after African Parliamentary Monitoring Organizations (PMOs) came together to establish the African Parliamentary Press Network (APPN) that seeks to create more awareness and understanding of the Pan-African Parliament’s mandate, amplify its work through member states and PMOs with the aim of enhancing public participation by member states at the regional body. During the launch of the PAP Day, the network’s members made their commitment to continuously work to bridge the gap between PAP and member states’ Parliaments to see to it that the PAP protocols that member states are signatories to, are ratified and implemented.
In his remarks, Hon. Charumbira mentioned that declaring a dedicated “PAP Day” will serve as a reminder to decision-makers around the continent to fulfill their commitment by ratifying the Malabo Protocol and strengthen the powers and functions of the Pan-African Parliament.
Other dignitaries that also attended the launch were the Speakers of the ECOWAS Parliament and the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), Hon. Sidie Mohamed Tunis and Hon. Martin Ngoga, respectively, who reiterated the importance of amplification of African voices to achieving a bright future for the region through sound legislation and implementation of laws. Mr Ngoga emphasized on the importance of partnership between PAP and EALA for coordinated access to vaccines against Covid-19 and the post-Covid recovery plans as a common Africa continental response to the pandemic. This call proves timely especially given the rising cases of infections in Kenya and the African continent and the emergence of new variants of the virus.
Representing the Civil Society, Prof. Frans Viljoen, Director of Center for Human Rights described the day as” a great milestone for the continent.” He also commended Africans for their efforts in preserving the Pan-African Parliament despite the numerous challenges it has had to face in the last 17 years. He added that, the Pan-African Parliament being taken down to grassroots levels is exciting for the civil society as they to work with institutions that are people driven and promote Pan-Africaniism.
The launch of the PAP day sets the stage for increased collaborations between the Pan-African Parliament with other regional Parliaments such as EALA and ECOWAS Parliament, between Parliaments from member states and between the regional Parliaments and African PMOs to best represent and address Africa’s unique needs.

The Gendered Face of the Pandemic

Posted by on 16th March 2021

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During the week of the International Women’s Day, Mzalendo Trust released a report on the impact of Covid-19 related corruption on women dubbed “The Gendered Face of Covid-19”. The study set out to examine the impact of Covid-19 related corruption on women livelihood, analyze whether changes in the livelihood exacerbated gender-based violence, including sextortion and finally examine the impact of Covid-19 related corruption on women’s access to mental health, reproductive and general health services.
For context, the study cast the relationship between Covid-19 related corruption and its implication on women within the broader context of the pathways of the socio-economic impact of the pandemic. The first channel that the impact of the pandemic is observed is through the direct effects of the sickness brought about by Covid-19, which arises when the bread winner becomes ill. This leads to an overwhelmed health sector and manifestation of corruption in terms of failure to prudently manage allocated resources causing shortage of medical supplies, ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPEs) for medical staff. In this instance, Covid-19 related corruption would have a multiplier effect on the access to healthcare services because financial resources are diverted for personal gains.
The second channel is the indirect effects of Covid-19 occasioned by “aversion behavior” emanating from the fear of catching the virus, which in turn leads to a fear of association with others and reduced labour force participation, closure of places of employment, disruption of transportation and restriction of entry of citizens from afflicted countries. This in turn affected the general economic output of the country which has been felt all the way to the household level.
Other ways in which the pandemic impacted women was that there was increased women’s childcare responsibilities and expectation to do the same owing to the closure of learning institutions in response to the pandemic. The resultant effect of this is that women’s participation in work outside the home was likely to fall. Additionally, healthcare resources normally dedicated to reproductive health were directed towards emergency response bringing the potential risk of higher rates of maternal and infant complications and mortality.
At the time of the study, 32% of the respondents felt that Covid-19 related corruption had a direct and extreme effect on their livelihood while another 49% felt it had an average effect on their livelihood. On the question of the financial position of the respondents in the wake of the pandemic, 45% noted a change in lifestyle. This particular change was a direct effect of either a loss of employment or pay cuts that then forced the respondents to make huge adjustments in their household, whether dietary, location of residence etc. to be able to make ends meet. While some of these changes could have been addressed with the stimulus packages being offered by the government, the lack of transparency and awareness on the stimulus packages led to some of the respondents feeling left out and/or missing out on the packages that could have offered financial relief.
63% of the respondents felt that economic hardship and loss of employment put them at greater risk of gender-based violence. Within the first three months of the pandemic, there was a significant rise in cases of domestic violence inflicted on women. This has been attributed to their loss of economic power and financial dependence on their partners. Experts further linked this to the rise in cases of stress, depression among their partners who then take it out on their wives. With minimal movement from their homes, majority of the victims felt they could not report the cases to local enforcement because they had no where to seek help from.
The findings of the report revealed that the Covid-19 related corruption only exacerbated other forms of corruption that were already prevalent and further weakened service systems. The diverted monies meant to cater to hospitals and the health care system at both national and county level meant that hospitals could not broaden their capacity to treat patients with general illnesses and Covid-19 hence turning away some patients who were met with overstretched hospitals and medics.
This study is basically a call to the powers that be to quickly intervene and bring corruption to a stop but more importantly to bring the responsible persons to justice and recover the stolen public funds. The fact remains that corruption, of any kind, steals from the potential of a state and her people and stunts the growth of the country.