Kenya at a critical moment to reshape its governance systems for the better

Kenya Parliament.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

By Mohamud M. Abdi

Every five years, Kenyans are afforded the opportunity to remake and reshape the nation for the better.

Like the moulting of birds and snakes, the changes of guard are meant to shed bad practices and implement new ideas and plans to better the lives of the people. This provides a critical juncture in our democratic and governance architecture. The critical decisions made at this moment can either spar the country to prosperity or condemn it to poverty and deprivations courtesy of the kind of persons entrusted with the leadership and the institutions of governance established.

Even with abundance of resources and opportunities, no country thrives at the behest of internal imperfections emanating from incompetent and unethical leadership. It is the biggest disaster that can befall a nation, for it denies generations the dreams of better lives.

History has proved that countries that leapt out of poverty and put in place strong institutions did so through decisions made by leaders at critical moments.

Ethical leaders have been the blessing at these moments. Such leaders have helped shape the trajectory of the country in terms of governance and economic development.

Daron and James, in the book, “Why Nations Fail: The Origin of Power, Poverty and Prosperity”, observe that decisions at critical junctures in history are the strongest determinants of a country’s economic and governance status today. They, however, advise that countries are afforded such moments to forge changes from time to time through new leadership and governments.

It is not by accident that countries like Singapore and Botswana, which are often quoted by analysts to depict the lost opportunities by Kenya, are doing better than Kenya in terms of good governance, democratic credentials, and public service.

These two countries have comparable histories with Kenya. They were British colonies and attained independence almost at the same time as Kenya; Singapore in 1965 and Botswana in 1963. However, they took different trajectories from that of Kenya after independence. Their strong values and productive public service traditions were sowed by their founding leaders.

President Ssereste Khama of Botswana and Prime Minister Lee Kwuan Yew of Singapore were the architects of strong discipline and values in public institutions. They were both passionate about the prosperity of their people. They endeavoured to put in place more accountable, disciplined, and transparent public sectors driven by integrity and public interest. Their credentials in instituting better cultures, taming theft of public resources and misuse of power, helped their countries to realise sustained growth and prosperity.

It should not be lost on any person that leaders at critical moments have the opportunities to change and reshape the path of a nation. Today, both these two nations show stronger attributes in terms of democratic credentials and integrity of their public sectors.

For instance, in the 2020 Democracy Index, Botswana and Singapore scored 7.62 and 6.03 out of 10 respectively, while Kenya scored 5.05.

The Mo Ibrahim’s Governance Index ranked Botswana 5th best in Africa with 66.9 percent, compared to Kenya, which it placed 14th with 58.5 percent.

On the Corruption Perception Index (CPI), the average score for Botswana and Singapore in last 11 years is 61.3 and 81 respectively, while Kenyan’s average is 27.4 in the same period.

In the 2022 CPI report, Singapore was the second-best country in Asia Pacific Region with a score of 83, while Botswana was the second best in Sub-Saharan Africa with score of 60.

These are strong indicators of the status of governance systems and practices in these countries, bequeathed by leaders at critical moments.

While the two countries were lucky to have two strong and ethical leaders committed to shaping their nations to positive paths to prosperity at critical moments, Kenya was not that lucky, as the seeds of general governance malaise were sowed at independent and further propagated by the subsequent governments. There were little or no serious attempts to undo the mess.

Apparently, it is strongly believed that the greatest leaders are born during moments of crisis. Kenya is at that moment. With a soaring cost of living, high inflation, a huge public debts burden, food insecurity, and ubiquitous corruption and bad governance, the moment calls for strong, visionary and ethical leadership.

The biggest challenge to the new administrations, both in the counties and at national level, is to reform the governance system by appointing ethical persons and infusing better values in public institutions.

The governance frameworks in the public sector institutions are enablers of the realisation of prosperity. Just as preparation of the land is prerequisite to better growth of seeds, strong, inclusive and responsive governance systems are necessary for national development. It is therefore imperative for any serious government to institute a better governance system as the bedrock of driving its agenda.

The new leaders have the opportunity to improve institutions and realise better service delivery and growth across the nation. Any attempt to ignore this will amount to sleepwalking into the future. It will be engaging in fool’s errands to expect great results from well-ironed extractive governance institutions albeit with great intentions and blueprints.


Mr Abdi is a lawyer and governance policy analyst. Email: [email protected]; Twitter: inasaney


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