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KENYA: Room to Improve on Governance

Isaiah Esipisu

NAIROBI, Oct 9 2010 (IPS) - Kimani Wanyama*, a homosexual man living in Nairobi, knows what human rights violations are all about. His attempts over three years to receive treatment for reoccurring rectal gonorrhoea had resulted in verbal abuse and intense stigmatisation from the very people who were meant to help him.

“In many clinics the medical experts called me names and made me believe that I had committed a very bad sin for having anal sex,” he said. “Every time I went to a medical centre for treatment, I got a very cruel reception. And for the three times I was treated, the disease reoccurred.”

After three years of suffering, eventually Wanyama was properly treated at Liverpool VCT, an NGO. And though progress is slow, attitudes are changing in Kenya.

In August 2010 the country signed into law a new constitution which provides for political, land and gender reforms. But in a country that saw two months of post-election violence and ethnic killings from December 2007 to January 2008, issues of human rights and governance still have to be addressed.

The Ibrahim Index on governance released on Oct. 4 indicates that much still has to be done to move towards good governance, as Kenya’s governance rating declined since the last index.

The 2010 survey by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation listed Kenya at 27 in general governance, a drop of five places from its ranking of 22 in 2009. The country scored 55.5 percent in human rights and participation. This was far ahead of Egypt which scored 35 percent but was in position 10 for general governance; and Tunisia which scored 37.7 percent in participation and human rights and ranked eighth in governance.

But Kenyan Human Rights Lawyer, Catherine Mumma, believes that the fight for human rights is gaining momentum and slowly leading to good governance. Recently Kenya’s Special Programmes Minister Esther Murugi publically supported the right of the gay and lesbian community to access healthcare services like everyone else. “I have no apologies to make. The gay community is classified under high risk HIV/AIDS populations; thus, they have the right to access healthcare services, and should not be stigmatised,” she had said.

Similar bold activism in support for human rights saw Kenyan prisoners vote in the recent referendum polls, which led to the August promulgation of a new constitution in Kenya. “This is what we have been fighting for as the civil society through the Kenya National Human Rights Commission. All Kenyans must have equal right, regardless of their health status, religion, beliefs, lifestyle and so on,” said Mumma. “Governance either facilitates or obstructs human rights.” Participation and human rights was just one of the four indicators used to gauge governance in all the 53 African countries listed on the index. The other three included safety and rule of law, sustainable economic opportunities, and human development.

“With the new constitution in place and (with an) active civil society, we expect major changes in the country’s governance system,” said Dr Ekure Aukot, a human rights lawyer, who headed the Committee of Experts of the recently promulgated constitution.

Though, he says, this might not be easily achievable without political goodwill and commitment of law makers.

“As many experts say, Kenya has drafted and promulgated the best law in the region that can highly improve the way it is governed. However, it will remain a useless document if it is not implemented in totality,” he added.

He observed that good governance depends on the type of leadership and the unity of citizens in a given country.

“It is interesting to see how countries are worlds apart in terms of governance, despite being on the same African continent. It all begins with the leadership, and unity of citizens in a country,” he said.

However, experts believe that apart from corruption, political instability in a country is a major cause of poor governance, and hence the poor livelihood of citizens.

“We must ensure that the political side of governance in Africa is not neglected. We have seen from evidence and experience across the world that discrepancy between political governance and economic management are unsustainable in the long term,” said Salim Ahmed Salim, a board member of the Ibrahim Foundation – in a statement released at the launch of the report.

“If Africa is going to continue to make progress, then we need to pay attention to the rights and safety of citizens,” he added.

Aukot notes that observing the governance indicators has a huge role to play in order to achieve the Millennium Development Goals in Africa.

“Leaders must consider this index as an important tool, which will help them learn where their countries have performed poorly, and improve by learning from countries that have performed well,” said Aukot.

All the poorly ranked countries on the Ibrahim Index have high child and maternal mortality rates, high levels of poverty and lawlessness.

*Name has been changed.

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