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We can build better governance in Africa

Monday April 15 2019

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It was Alan Dershowitz, an American lawyer and academic, who made the following penetrative observation in relation to governance:

We all learn in school that the judicial, legislative and executive branches of government must check and balance each other. But other non-state institutions must participate in this important system of checks and balances as well. These checking institutions include the academy, the media, religious institutions and NGOs.

In Kenya, while the executive and the media have in the past few months been vocal on the issue of corruption, all the other institutions in Kenya that are supposed to support or disapprove allegations by other institutions have largely remained silent.
The tragedy is that no one questions the veracity or seeks to establish the impact of corruption anymore. The academia, just like a street vendor, relies on rumours to tell part of their story on corruption.

If the academia bothered to understand the relationship between corruption and economic development or the impact of corruption and institutional efficiency, they would help intensify the fight against corruption and shed some light on the responsiveness of each institution with respect to citizen needs.

The Judiciary, for example, has been on the receiving end for what is alleged to be its impediment to justice but no legal scholar has helped to explain how we can strengthen judicial integrity in the face of corruption.

To change the corruption narrative from where we are at the moment and make steps toward improvement, research must inject more information. We have millions of data sets in the form of wealth declaration but it is never used to reconcile with suspect wealth.


Cartels behind corruption are known and they can fix anybody through Kenya’s case law management that begins with the police and ends up in Judiciary but no credible study has ever been done to expose glaring loopholes.

Many cases have gone through our courts and most of them are in the public domain through the digitisation of court cases at the Kenya Law Reform Commission, but rarely do we see legal scholars combing through these records to review the cases as a strategy to validate the rulings based on the maxim of checks and balances or to compare such jurisprudence with African traditional morality and international norms.

Such reviews will send warning to judges that their work is being monitored and that at some point in future their decisions will be revealed to have been nothing but obstacles to progress. How else can we deal with the acrimonious relationship in the justice system if such reviews don’t exist?

In the past, we have suggested digitisation of Kenya’s case law management from the police occurrence book to the Judiciary, but there has been spirited resistance with strange excuses like the cost of digitising tools being fronted. A simple smart phone could easily capture data and have it stored in the cloud to avoid tampering of evidence.

This too is a huge area of study by a multidisciplinary team of researchers to give evidence on building of a robust case law management. Instead, nothing changes and that is why the current corruption narrative seems to be leaning more towards being a socially tolerated menace as evidenced by politicians calling on their communities to stand behind their indiscretions.

The Civil Society and other interest groups in their role of checking institutions need credible evidence to confront other institutions but in the absence of research even their arguments can pass as opinions.

It is also time for these institutions to change tact and begin evidence-based interventions. Activist Okiya Omtata, although seemingly running a solely managed outfit, has done more legal research as a public defender than some of the well-oiled institutions.


Religious organisations, despite sometimes adding their voices to the fight against corruption, have also been receiving dirty money.

Even as the Catholic Church refused a gift that in their wisdom may have compromised their integrity, many other religious institutions have served to fuel corruption and as a result compromised their ability to speak out.

In governance, there are sacrifices that we each must painfully make as a strategy for building a better future. Religious groups must not just be heard condemning corruption but must be seen fighting it.

If we all did our part to change this country, we could effectively deal with most of the problems we face. The irony is that we accept and empathise with those who claim to have been falsely accused of corruption instead of asking them to reconcile such wealth with what was declared a few years back.

It is President Harry Truman who said, "You can't get rich in politics unless you're a crook." As we move closer to 2022, politicians are splashing money but no “checking” institution has asked the source of such wealth. Our silence means that the corruption scourge has become part of the fabric our society.

We are all in one way or another part of the watchdog institutions and as such have some responsibility as to what happens in this country.

Let us stand up and be counted. And that is how we can build a better governance system for our country.

The writer is an associate professor at University of Nairobi’s School of Business.@bantigito