Opinion: Building strong institutions costly but worth the risk

By Soko Directory Team / September 6, 2017


If there is one thing the elections have demonstrated clearly is that civic awareness and active engagement is fast progressing. Our collective psyche with regard to Kenya’s political culture is changing and adopting a more visionary perspective that centres the country’s future at the heart of civic processes provided in law.

A clear indication of this shift is demonstrated by the fact that many elected representatives that could not account for their leadership in the past five years they were in office, were not re-elected.

This means we are becoming more aware of our role in transforming our societies by holding local leaders accountable at the end of their term.

Last week was a landmark moment for the country for two reasons; firstly, political parties chose to use locally available dispute resolution mechanisms to air grievances on the election process.

That was commendable show of confidence in local institutions and also a shift in collective psyche in terms of political development.

Secondly, the Supreme Court’s decision proved the independence of the Judiciary and that indeed our public institutions are growing stronger, thereby fortifying our democracy and transforming the essence of our political culture.

There is indeed a short term price to pay for this and it is quite steep. Our economy has been flat-lining since the beginning of the year and this typically happens in any election year in Kenya.

What we in business have witnessed, is a hesitation and a wait-and-see approach by many investors both local and foreign before embarking on new projects or expanding on existing ones.

Shares in the stock market fell by approximately 10 per cent and the shilling fell at 0.4 against the dollar, according to CNBC Africa.

Kenya Association of Manufacturers survey of the industry prior to the August 8 election indicated that the general outlook for 57 per cent of the respondents, for the next three months would be bleak in terms of new orders, profits, employment and volume of output.

This situation will be exacerbated by the fact that the decision making process will stagnate until new leadership is elected; and even then the restructuring in government that comes with any election will stall major moves in the immediate term.

For the long term, however, Kenya has set on journey to strengthen its institutions towards a sustainable and inclusive future.

It is in realising that change is a process and not an event, that we will overcome the idea of elections as a phenomenon to embracing it as a critical part of our collective work in progress.

We need to start visualising elections, not as a stand-alone occurrence that paralyses lives and suspends the certainty of livelihoods, but as part and parcel of daily decision-making, whose milestone is symbolically marked every five years at the ballot.

Institutions are, therefore, the key to this kind of transformational change that advances the rule of law and a vibrant democracy.

Not forgetting that strong, credible and transparent institutional processes also have the ability to impact the informal rules of any society from which customs, beliefs, routines and traditions stem.

For instance, we have often said corruption and bribery are normalised in our culture.

However, when we build credibility in formal structures and organisational processes of public institutions, the tendencies will seep into daily practices and codes of conduct, they will be subconsciously taught in homes and deliberately inculcated in schools, thereby making transparency and integrity the norm rather than the exception.

The idea of building strong institutions must not stop at the national level. The country’s future lies in devolution and we must begin to equip counties to have credible and formidable
structures. If we are to truly build a cohesive nation that prioritises equitable distribution of resources, then we must bank on devolution as the vehicle to deliver this for us. County institutions need to enhance governance.

In essence, the only way to ensure sustainability of this new trajectory in our democracy is to ensure the same spirit of transparency and accountability for public institutions starts to take root in county governments.

Coupled with issue-based politics, accountability will be the factor that motivates people to vote for certain leaders over others, making us more decisive in our differences.

This democratic maturity will catalyse our efforts towards building a prosperous nation,
bridging the poverty gap and ensuring broad based and inclusive economic growth.


The writer is KAM chief executive officer



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