Building Strong Institutions Promises Long-lasting Gains in Adhering to our Constitution

By Phyllis Wakiaga

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

A clear indication of this shift is demonstrated by the fact that many MCAs and other representatives that could not show progress for their five years in office were not elected for a second term. This means that we are becoming more aware of our role in transforming our immediate societies by keeping track of our local leader’s promises and holding them accountable at the end of their five years.

Last week was a landmark moment for our country for two reasons; Firstly, our political parties choosing to use the locally available dispute resolution mechanisms to air their grievances on the election process was a commendable show of confidence in our local institutions and also a shift in our collective psyche in terms of our political development. Secondly, the Supreme Court’s decision demonstrated the Independence of the Judiciary and that indeed our public institutions are growing strong 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 or a wait and see approach adopted by many investors, both local and foreign before embarking on new projects or expanding on existing ones. Shares on the stock market fell by approximately ten percent and the shilling fell at 0.4 against the dollar, according to CNBC Africa. KAM’s survey of the industry prior to the August 8th Elections indicated that, the general outlook for 57 per cent of the respondents, for the next 3 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 the new leadership is elected; and even then the restructuring in Government that comes with any election will stall any major moves in the immediate term.

For the long term however, Kenya has now set on journey to strengthen its institutions towards a sustainable and inclusive future. It is in realizing 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. This means that we need to start visualizing elections, not as a stand-alone occurrence that paralyzes our lives and suspends the certainty of our livelihoods, but as part and parcel of our daily decision-making, whose milestone is symbolically marked after every 5 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 that corruption and bribery is normalized in our culture. However, when we build credibility in our formal structures and the organizational processes of public institutions, these tendencies will seep into daily practices and codes of conduct, they will be subconsciously taught in our homes and deliberately inculcated in our schools, thereby making transparency and integrity the norm instead of the exception.

The idea of building strong institutions must not stop at a national level. The future of our country lies in the devolved governments and we must begin to equip them to have their own credible and formidable structures. If we are to truly build a cohesive nation that prioritizes equitable distribution of resources then, we must bank on devolution as the vehicle to deliver this for us. County institutions need to be able to enhance governance, for example in terms of allocation of public funds towards public projects and provision of public services such as water and sanitation, roads and other infrastructure.

In essence, the only way to ensure the sustainability of this new trajectory in our democracy is to ensure that 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 leader over another, making us more decisive in our differences.

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

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