Working for social transformation through the Kenyan Constitution | Why We Invested: Katiba Institute
Kenya’s 2010 Constitution brought many changes to the country aimed at making the government more accountable to its citizens. These changes included implementing a more decentralized government, limiting presidential powers, creating a greater check and balance system on branches of government, and transferring ownership of responsibility for services such as healthcare and education from the national government to local counties. While the 2010 Constitution is progressive, implementing it has been a slow and challenging task. Some laws that are incompatible with the new Constitution remain in place, and additional incompatible laws have been passed in the last eight years.
The Katiba Institute (KI) plays a critical role in addressing these issues, using the Constitution as an instrument to achieve social transformation in Kenya. KI works to promote the implementation of the Constitution, its political, social, and economic agenda, and its values and principles. Their work is based on the fundamental belief that bringing the Constitution to life and instilling a culture of constitutionalism in Kenyan society will result in social change, stronger institutions, and better living conditions for all who live in it.
KI works to improve the quality of leadership and its integrity, and to ensure human rights are respected for all. An important focus of their work is ensuring that all Kenyans, regardless of gender, religion, and community, are treated fairly and able to participate fully in national life. They tackle devolution and how it can truly bring decision-making close to the people, and they work on electoral issues, facilitating public participation in governance and the accountability of public institutions. In addition, KI carries out research and publishes reports that aim to support academics, public servants, and citizens in making the Constitution a living reality. Their impact on the lives of ordinary Kenyans has been just as deep as the list of their activities is long.
Arguably KI’s most influential work has been done by their expert in-house Public Interest Litigation (PIL) Unit, which has brought and won many ground-breaking constitutional cases. The team also plays a leading role in educating and supporting other lawyers on how to conduct PIL and frequently supports PIL matters brought by their partners in civil society, leveraging their extensive experience to assist others with case strategy, research, and drafting of documents.
KI also plays a crucial role in facilitating transparency and accountability. Over the past few years, KI has been one of the most active users of Kenya’s Access to Information (ATI) Act in the course of their broader work, such as advocating for service delivery and monitoring for corruption. In many cases, attempts by state agencies to obstruct their access to relevant information has led them to take a leading role in litigating to establish legal precedent for public access to information, and advocating for a more comprehensive implementation of the principle of transparency. The continued opacity of government operations and lack of public knowledge about their activities is a critical contributing factor to ongoing corruption, misuse of public funds, and poor service delivery.
Since the ATI Act was passed in 2016, KI’s work on access to information has mushroomed as the focus shifted from passing the Act to overcoming the many barriers to implementing it. KI has won some foundational cases forcing government to release information relevant to the public and frequently assists civil society partners in their efforts as well.
KI is now seeking to establish a more systematic body of work that will use research, advocacy, and litigation to expand the number of people from civil society, the media and the general public who use Access to Information as a tool. KI’s work also seeks to solidify the principle in both case law and the consciousness of public officials. Doing so can improve citizen oversight of government activity, disincentivize corruption by shining a light on the actions of public bodies and officials, and support better service delivery by allowing for greater participation in decision-making.
Supporting transparency and accountability is a core component of our strategy at Omidyar Network, and so we are supporting KI to deepen and expand their Access to Information work in Kenya with a grant of $900,000. The grant will support KI as they build on their extensive expertise in public interest litigation, research, and advocacy to improve the public and civil society’s ability to access information that is critical for them to meaningfully participate in the decisions that affect their communities and to hold authorities accountable.
Katiba Institute’s chair Yash Pal Ghai notes; “The constitutional right of Access to Information allows the Kenyan sun to shine on and reveal much about the workings of government. It is a major tool among KI’s techniques for ensuring improved governance, greater justice and inclusion, and the protection of the rights of individuals and communities.”
We are proud to support Katiba Institute’s impressive efforts towards constitutionalism, transparency, and institution building in Kenya.