Closing remarks at the launch of the SID Policy Brief “Why Corruption prevails and what can be done to eliminate it” December 25, 2015

The @SIDKDP policy brief can be downloaded here Why corruption prevails and what can be done to eliminate it

It is the not the absence of laws, agencies and policies that Kenya misses. What we miss is the moral imagination that adopts the humility to recognise not all is well and the audacity to declare a new course of action. Every time it shows up, we are left inspired and ready to act.

The true cost of corruption and impunity is not millions and billions of shillings, it is the helplessness we learn when our leaders, agencies and we do not take action in the public interest.

On June 26, 14 organisations made 12 recommendations to the Presidential Taskforce on laws related to corruption. http:// 11 of those recommendations have now been adopted in the report presented to the President. There is much that we can support in the AG’s Taskforce report

On November 5, ten organisations including TI-Kenya, CRECO, Mzalendo, Africog, Inuka, KCA, ICJ, SID ACAC and the Devolution Forum advised the President to sack Cabinet Secretaries and reshuffle the Cabinet, review procurement processes and press for company transparency. We also called for lifestyle audits. We gave the President 30 days.

17 days later on November 23 and yesterday with the refreshing of the cabinet, three of the four proposals had been taken up by the President.

The important lesson here is that the state listens. It may take long, it may not be recognised, but we have voice and when we act we have influence. This is the essence of democratic governance.

We may not be invited to State House to meet the Pope today. We may not be recognised in the state commendations for 2015. This may not be important right now. The only questions are whether

* We have kept the faith of integrity lived and expressed by Pope Francis?
* Have we spoken and acted in the spirit of the constitution?
* Have we acted with humility in the public interest?

Nothing else matters.

On December 9, we move to Central Park, join us in the park or any other space to talk to Kenyans on what actions can they take to #KataaHiyo and build #IntegrityKE


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Reflecting on owning a home in Kilimani

Robyn Emerson and Irũngũ Houghton were interviewed by Nancy Muthoni of the KTN Property Show, Sunday 2nd November 2015. Below is the interview. To watch the clip view start at 34:54

How did you start the journey to home ownership?

Irũngũ Houghton: This is the second house I have owned. I sold a house in Runda to come live in Kilimani. I found Runda very exclusive and wanted a home closer to the city. I liked the feel of Kilimani.
Robyn Emerson: I owned my first home at age 20 in Austin. It is always to pay a mortgage than pay someone else’s.

What strategies did you take to own a home?

Irũngũ Houghton: I studied which banks had the best fixed rates. Unfortunately, the bank I was with then didnt have the best rate so I shifted banks. I stayed there for four years. A couple of years later after selling the Runda house, I looked around again and changed banks for the second time. When shopping for a mortgage important to look beyond your personal bank.
Robyn Emerson: Identifying the home comes first, affordability, needs, securing a down payment through my savings and a family loan, educating myself on mortgage financing,

What challenges have you encountered?

Irũngũ Houghton: Interest rates are daunting, no wonder there is only 22,000 mortgages in a country of 43 million. We need to make this available to all by bringing this down to a single digit. Decent and adequate housing is a basic right but without a radical restructuring of the housing industry this will remain an uncashable cheque not just for those in Kilimani but Eastleigh, Kariobangi and Kibera as well.
Robyn Emerson: Kilimani is rapidly changing, our neighbor’s 1/2 acre and single dwelling house just got sold and a 40 unit apartment bloc is underway. Managing the construction within the bylaws of not working over the weekend etc has been a major challenge. Staying knowledgeable of County bylaws and policies is a challenge for most of us home-owners. Another of our neighbors has built a chicken and chips restaurant in his garden and the doors open onto a major road without consulting on change of use. He continues to resist the County’s attempts to stop him.

What would you say are your home’s best features?

Irũngũ Houghton: I like the intimacy of a medium size house. Love the way the sun floods the sitting room in the afternoons. I love the rapport we have with our neighbors. Over the last five years we have become quite close. Recently, we climbed Mt Kilimanjaro with them.
Robyn Emerson: I love the driveway. It is an unexpected beauty behind the gate. It is welcoming to come home to. I love the garden, love the birds that come to visit. Location is critical.

What would you say is the beauty of owning a house?

Irũngũ Houghton: Freedom to change the look and feel, upgrade the plumbing etc Invested in opening up walls, the mazeras wall, the french doors to the garden, the kitchen table, creation of a bigger room downstairs. Finding the right contractor, overseeing the changes, value for money
Robyn Emerson: Equity and also the opportunity to leverage the equity to invest in other properties or hand down a property of value

What is your advice to aspiring home owners?

Irũngũ Houghton: Look around, look around and look around some more. I looked at 40 houses before I settled on this one. Be bold. I looked at several homes across Westlands, Kileleshwa and Kilimani, only to find a house on the road I was already living on and made an offer within 24 hours
Robyn Emerson: Patience and have enough finances to buy and live comfortably after you have bought the house. Keep saving. Investigate the building projections in your area. Know your rights and responsibilities as a home-owner

Do you have a parting shot?

Irũngũ Houghton: Homes are enlivened by the wider community. After Robyn, I and some residents formed the Kilimani Project Foundation a new possibility of relatedness opened up for us. This is not just a home for us, but a community of dynamic and interesting people. We continue to volunteer in this and other communities. Rent or buy a home and then go build a community.

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Statement at the funeral service of Alex Madaga, Saturday 24th October 2015

IH speaking at funeralfamily and funeral  nation funeral coverage


The statement was on behalf of the Health NGO’s Network (HENNET), Kenya Legal and Ethical Issues Network on HIV and AIDS (KELIN) and the Society for International Development (SID)

The Health NGO’s Network (HENNET), Kenya Legal and Ethical Issues Network on HIV and AIDS (KELIN) and the Society for International Development (SID) expresses its deepest condolences to the widow, son and community of Alex Madaga today in Isitsi village, Vihiga County.

Alex should not have died in this way. His death is both tragic and an injustice. Was his death meaningless though? Can we find sense in what has happened? His death has not been meaningless. Today we honour the power of one. If it had not been for Alex Madaga, the Council of Governors would not have committed to upgrade most of the county hospitals. Members of Parliament would have been pressed to accelerate and pass the Health Bill 2014 currently in Parliament. Nairobi Governor Dr. Evans Kidero would not have ordered his County Government to launch investigations into public and private hospitals that do not admit emergency patients. He would not have threatened not to renew their licenses if they do not have a policy of emergency care. For all this we can thank Alex Madaga for. I ask McDonald to never forget this. His father’s death has had a national impact and he can be proud of this.

Today we can also honour also others with the power of one. Cousin Oliver Esemere who called Nation journalist Eunice Kilonzo who woke up the nation. We can honour Brian Odhiambo, the para-medic who accompanied Alex on a journey that could have taken him from Nairobi to Mombasa and back.

We will continue to keep Alex’s widow Jesca and son McDonald in our thoughts and plans. We will follow up with the various actions being taken including the Senate enquiry, the Medical Practitioners and Dentists Board investigation and the CORD legal case. We were very glad that the Medical Board confirmed the widow’s allegation that the Coptic Hospital and Kenyatta National Hospital were negligent and hence had a case to answer.

Lastly, we call on our Members of Parliament to consider the Health Bill the Madaga Bill and hasten it’s passing through National Assembly. Many other Kenyans have died and will still die without the legal protection it offers. The Health NGO’s Network (HENNET), Kenya Legal and Ethical Issues Network on HIV and AIDS (KELIN) and the Society for International Development (SID) expresses its deepest condolences to the widow, son and community of Alex Madaga today in Isitsi village, Vihiga County.


The statement was carried partially by The Star

The funeral was covered by the following media houses

K24 coverage on Alex Madaga’s funeral:


Should you wish to give to the family contribute via Mobile Money visit


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Issues impeding whistle-blowing in Kenya

Organised by Transparency International Kenya, over 70 men and women attended a half day public discussion on improving whistle-blower laws and protection mechanisms. In response to four questions, 70 people indicated they have a persistent complaint about corruption, 40 have gossiped about a colleague, 20 have reported a colleague to the relevant authority and only person has ever secured the successful prosecution of someone who has abused their office. The rapid survey reflects the extent of the problem facing Kenya. Too few of us are actively building a culture that underpins new progressive laws and policies.

In the context of gross impunity and grand corruption, whistle-blowing is the highest expression of active citizenship. It is the boldest demonstration of the spirit of Article 1 that vests all power in the sovereignty of people.

While laws and policies and mechanisms are critical and TI-Kenya have some critical recommendations in this regard, the greatest challenge lies in decisively shifting the behaviour of you and me.

The first fundamental step has to be to care enough about even the issues that indirectly affect us. Bribery, substandard public services, hate speech, domestic violence next door, abuse of public resources, exclusion of those in need. The second is to give up the language of being a tell-tale, a snitch, betrayer familiar since childhood. Are we loyal to our relatives, colleagues and ethnic group at the expense of being loyal to a core set of values and behaviour that works.

Whistle-blowing is not personal, it is not an attack on the person being reported on, it is a commitment to integrity, rule of law and a culture that works for all. We can all name ten corrupt public and state officers, but it is more difficult to name ten whistle-blowers? We have to find ways of honoring them.

Much of the thinking around whistleblowing surrounds making disclosure easier and safer. This is great. We also need to create a proactive push around that encourages (to enable courage) citizens within public service and the public. Proactive policies and mechanisms that incentivise this. How do we honour head-teachers that block school land-grabs, users that demonstrate that basic service provision sabotage is designed for private profit, NGOs that press for the PBO Act, journalists that expose high and low abuse of office, state officials that agree to be investigated by independent bodies?

We need to think more about the informal spaces. The greatest impact of corruption is felt among the poor, marginalised and the “mahustlers” who suffer continually from the lack of quality public services, protection of their property and assets and autocratic harassment. They suffer the invisible injustices.

While legal reform is a pre-condition, the promotion of whistle-blowing as a national culture is the surest way of eliminating corruption. How could we encourage our children, families, friends and colleagues to take action?


For some excellent resources on whistle-blowing, see three policy briefs on building comprehensive laws, confidential and effective systems for whistle-blower protection

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Kilimanjaro: A place to shine


Eight weeks back, a dear neighbor Dorothy confided that hiking Mt Kilimanjaro was on a bucket list of things to do before she turned 50. Never one to pass up a challenge, my family agreed to join her family. Last weekend, seven of us left the comfort of our Nairobi sofa sets and hiked the length of the Machame route to the Summit. In doing so, we smashed all pre-conceptions of our capabilities and learnt a little about the beauty and promise of our East African region.

Team Kili Kili, we called ourselves. The first Kili was for Kilimani, the Nairobi neighborhood we live in. The second was for the rooftop of Africa. We were mostly Kenyan, adults and children ranging from 15 to 50 years old at various levels of physical fitness. Over the next 60 hours of hiking, we were to see few other East Africans and no families.


Each of us had people or causes we were making the climb for. They ranged from the freedom for Palestinians and peace in Syria to our mothers and ourselves. I walked for my late father who had attempted to climb the mountain in the eighties. He, my mother and sister had to turn back after a bout of mountain sickness. As the climb got tough, having reasons bigger than ourselves became important. If the reason was only oneself, it was increasingly easier to give up. For me, it would be giving up on completing the journey my father started. There is a broader life lesson here.


The challenge of the mountain started in Nairobi. What clothes and equipment did we need? Done properly, the investment per person could easily be Kshs 40,000 (US$400) for materials you may never use again. Could we rent the equipment and buy the clothes cheaply. Nairobi has a few outdoor shops but by far the most popular and economically friendly is Toi Market off Ngong road. Here, our neighbor Joy, was able to get all they needed at a third of the costs in the Malls. Friends quickly came to the rescue. Great, but my question still remains, why can’t Kenyans rent most of the stuff? Moshi does have a few rental shops but it seems there is a business opportunity for a rental shop in Kenya. Until then, Tanzania will still dictate access and the ease of domestic tourists from the region.

The five day climb to the 5,895 meter summit was easily the most physically demanding exercise we have ever done. 60 hours of hiking over 52 kilometers across four ecological zones mostly upward but also down into beautiful valleys. We climbed between 8 and 15 kilometers each day and slept in four tented camps. Each of the camps had 200 to 500 hikers from all over the world. Their size and organization reminded me of some of the refugee camps elsewhere in the region. Yet unlike refugees, we had chosen to be there. Unlike them, wrapped very carefully in plastic ziploc bags were our national identity documents that allowed us to go back to our homes if it got too difficult.

Mentally, I found myself preparing for team meltdowns and personal tantrums. How could I manage them? How could I bring out the best in the group? Each of us grasped for oxygen that dwindled with every step from Barafu camp to the Summit. Mark risked hypothermia every time he lay down on a rock. Nyambura struggled to overcome mountain sickness. Robyn kept muttering, “Exactly why are we here?” My 16 year old son Cuba demonstrated the reason for his name by displaying a personal resilience and purpose that still inspires me to this moment.

_DSC4927.NEF _DSC4928.NEF

With every step, I knew the team meltdowns and personal tantrums grew near, but they never happened. In the process I stumbled across an unexpected but important insight. Pre-judgements about others capacities have no reality outside the corners of our heads. While I spent time assessing and weighing each of us, each of them just got on with what was needed at every stage. No drama, just actions inside of their intention to summit, and then, all seven of us summited.

2015 Kilimanijaro

Kilimanjaro is epic in many kinds of ways. The myth of Kaiser Wilhelm demanding Kilimanjaro from Queen Victoria. The call by Mwalimu Julius Nyerere to light a torch on Kilimanjaro to signal hope for the total freedom of Africa from colonial rule. The fact that 25,000 people from seven continents attempt to climb it each year but only 66% ascend to the Summit. The fact that it is the highest point in Africa. All this, informs its majesty.


Foreign and domestic tourists also earn Tanzania upwards of US$50 million annually. Personally, the first time the porters sung the song “Jambo bwana, habari gani, karibu Kilimanjaro” I cringed inwardly. I cringed not because I have a problem with the tourism industry that has spawned this, but that hospitality falls short of the understanding and friendship that is possible on Kilimanjaro.

Rather than serving those of us that climb this mountain, the thousands of guides and porters own this mountain. Whether they have come from Nairobi, Singida, Arusha or Moshi like our guides Dickson, Nuru and Albert, Kilimanjaro belongs to them. As their temporary guests, we owe it to them to mobilise leaders and citizens to act and stem global warming. Should we succeed, our children and theirs in turn, will have the opportunity to also stand on the snow rooftop of Africa and see one of the wonders of the world.


For those of you yet to climb the mountain the local Wachagga people call Kibo (snow) and in Swahili “ngara” (to shine), we went literally from the couch to the mountain. Not for the fainthearted perhaps, but then again I don’t know what you are capable of. Do you?

2015 Kilimanijaro-001

Thanks to The East African for carrying the story in full on 14th September

Kili EA article


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Sister Michelle, Obama just had an Af-ROmance: Reflection note on President Obama & Public Benefits Organisations leaders exchange, Sunday 26th July

obama IH

Still reflecting on aspects of Obama’s visit last week, three memories will probably linger on from a face to face encounter at the newly built regional Centre for the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) in Kenyatta University. Firstly, the last two years of acute tension between the Kenyan State and PBOs have been costly. Mutual trust and suspicion has probably been at their lowest since the early years of the 1990s and the re-establishment of multi-party democracy. More importantly than the historical comparison, these tensions have blocked the possibility of Kenya taking decisive steps towards a non-discriminatory, democratic and active society. Yet, they are transformable, as Obama’s personal journey from Community Organiser to the Presidency demonstrates this.

The second issue lies in a growing sense of global connectedness. Fifteen years ago, I remember being coached by an American NGO lobbyist to invoke the memory of the Twin Towers crashing to the ground on September 11 to illustrate the impact of HIV/AIDS in Africa to an American Congressman. The parochialism of the American leadership was probably at an all-time high. Watching President Obama in the last week powerfully rebuke third term hugging African leaders in their presence at the African Union Headquarters or firmly draw parallels between gay rights and civil rights in Nairobi or gingerly challenge the absence of democratic traditions in Ethiopia, I was left with a greater sense of a policy sophistication with regards to Africa.

Yet, a wider review of US policy to Africa during his tenure will probably be less impressive. Over the last six years, the US has missed opportunities to decisively side with African nations on the global issues that have mattered to them. This includes climate change, trade reform, UN Security Council reform, financing for development and tax justice. Which will be the real legacy – 30 hours of Nairobi euphoria or previous years of neglect?

Having said this, Kenyan citizens seem increasingly to be connecting and learning from the daily struggles of ordinary American people as much as from their leadership. We have common challenges. Some of these include speaking and acting for all to be equal under the law. #BlackLivesMatter but so do #SomaliLivesMatter when fighting terrorism in East Africa. We can do more against corruption and the stripping of public spaces, public and natural resources by those with power and privilege.

I hope President Obama and President Kenyatta both internalised the sheer diversity, passion and professionalism of the Public Benefit Organisations (NGOs). Less leaders of Organisations, what I felt in that room with Obama was what informed and active citizens look and sound like. There were those innovating community conservancy approaches, peace-building, governance policy reform and whistleblowing to the boy mentors and the rescuers of girls from female genital mutilation. Activism looked very diverse and resilient in that room that afternoon. Finally, it is worth noting that very few of us in that room were USAID grantees.

The third lasting appreciation for me is that Kenya is still in a transitional moment. Our practices are short of our constitutional vision on integrity, public participation, non-discrimination and devolution. While as PBOs and citizens we must guard our right and responsibility to act independently of the state, we must look for new ways of deepening these freedoms. National self-depreciation and “disruptionist” thinking may have protest value but it has little power to guide us through the transition.

I for one, have drawn several lines. The first line is against entertaining “anti-nation” thinking in future. That the corruption or the ethnic and gender based chauvinism is genetically Kenyan. That we have the leaders we deserve or we are just like the leaders we may despise. Like its twin “disruptionist” thinking, this keeps us in protest mode and unable to powerfully create and own constituencies in the public interest.

The third addresses the holy grail of NGO development. As new international leaders from the global South have argued, the NGO project model with its flawless logical frameworks and activity based budget lines has no more power to transform our reality than an umbrella in a hurricane. We have got to get more connected to citizens’ collective action around public interest issues. We have got to find ways of building a progressive nexus between business – state – citizens. Many of the democratic and development issues we are passionate about, are now constitutional promises and national values.

We can walk into the middle of the room and inclusively lead.



Categories: African Union, civic education, Democracy, Kenya | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Is the Government going in circles over PBOs?

An abridged version of this article was published in the The Star Newspaper, 22-07-15

The establishment of a Taskforce to review the Public Benefits Organisations Act (2013) by Cabinet Secretary Anne Waiguru in November 2014 broke what was becoming a predictable tradition of “NGO legislation by ambush”. It was hoped that consensus could be built on any necessary changes. It was also hoped that the Act, already dormant for two years, would finally be commenced. Seven months from the establishment of the Taskforce, it is difficult to see whether Kenyan taxpayers have got value for money.

The Taskforce Chairperson Sophia Abdi Noor handed over the Taskforce report to the Cabinet Secretary in the presence of the full Taskforce and the Media on May 21st. The report was not shared with the other 13 Taskforce Members, the Press, the 1,943 men and women who gave their views or the public. Only after three terse PBO press conferences, social media pressure and lobbying, did NGO Coordination Bureau Director Fazul Mahamed finally release the report to the public on July 6th by twitter.

28 of the report’s 40 pages are devoted to an unbelievably large number of pie-charts and matrices of those that participated in the consultations between January and April 2015. If you have ever wondered how many different ways you could describe the participation of 1,943 men and women in ten regional meetings, this part of the report is for you. Granted that a wide range of citizens, citizens groups, public benefits organisations, foundations, public officials and development partners had an opportunity to speak before the Taskforce, but did we need ¾ of the report to cover this?

The remaining ten pages contains the substance of the issues generated by the Taskforce. This is probably the most disappointing part of the report. Under eleven headings, the report regurgitates without coherency, seemingly random thoughts and ideas many of them not deserving of legislative attention. Little attempt is made to forge a clear set of recommendations that improve on the existing Act.

The first of the recommendations is that the Act needs to concretely define what a PBO is. The Taskforce however makes no suggestion nor explains why the clear definition that is in the Act, namely “all organisations serving the public or acting in the public interest” is insufficient. Five of the ten recommendations relate to strengthening executive control, introducing new taxes and representation of the Interior Ministry within the PBO Authority, the entity to replace the NGO Coordination Bureau. Another of the recommendations bizarrely addresses the danger of NGOs promoting terrorism and “indecent acts” in a single sentence. Do we still wonder why our efforts to counter extremist violence seems to lack singular focus?

The ten recommendations fall short of what we might expect from a process that pre-occupied the attention and time of 14 otherwise busy civil servants, PBO leaders and experts and the Kshs 20 million it probably cost. More tragically, the outcome that the Cabinet Secretary probably had in mind in establishing the Taskforce was lost. The consultations offered an opportunity to end the mistrust caused by clumsy legislative attempts to restrict civil space over 2013 and 2014. The decision by NGO Coordination Bureau Director Fazul Mahamed to not release the report to the public has now punctured any progress that had been made by the Taskforce.

The three PBO bodies on Taskforce namely the National Council of NGOs, The Inter-Religious Council of Kenya and the Kenya CSO Reference Group have now disavowed sections of the report, claiming manipulation by the NGO Coordination Bureau. They have also called for the Cabinet Secretary to immediately commence the Act that was passed nearly three years ago by the 10th Assembly.

Whether you hold the view that the sector is critical for eradicating poverty, fighting corruption and advancing human rights or is so corrupt that it needs closer regulation, nothing can explain why the Ministry of Devolution and National Planning has shown little resolution in closing the thirty six month legal vacuum. The Cabinet Secretary’s argument that she requires changes seems fair until you compare the public accountability provisions in the PBO Act (2013) and NGO Coordination Act (1990). The comparison is like a Porsche racing a Vitz on Mombasa road. As someone said recently of the impasse, “If you aren’t confused, you ain’t paying close enough attention”.

Many of the structures and the functions established in the NGO Coordination Act (1990) have expired or become redundant. The terms of the Chairperson and members of the NGO Coordination Board have long expired, the Board has not met in several months. Only the Bureau still exists. The important work of registering NGOs, processing work permits and applications for tax exemption no longer passes through the Board. The Bureau, where it does take action, runs the risk of overstepping its legal mandate. Where it does, many NGOs have complained about the inordinate delays in processing applications or receiving a response from the Bureau.

More recently, some international organisations have received visits from Bureau staff to press them to establish local governance boards with at least three of the Directors being Kenyan. While this is a desirable provision in the PBO Act (2013), it is not a provision in the NGO Coordination Act (1990). It would seem that the Bureau wants to selectively use some provisions while ignoring others.

While Kenyans wait a few more months for yet another set of amendments to the PBO Act (2013), the sector continues to work in legal limbo. The one-man show of a NGOs Coordination Board will continue to operate without the guidance of its Directors long gone. Important national and county level partnerships that could be forged to eradicate poverty and build institutions of integrity both within PBOs themselves and in the State will remain adolescent. Lastly, Kenya will continue to reflect hostility to a forty year old sector to the international community ahead of its hosting of the next Global OECD High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in 2016.

Having said this, the 1,493 men and women who gave their recommendations can be happy to hear that the Taskforce has buried many of the destructive recommendations in previous amendments. Gone is the 15% cap on foreign funding, compulsory re-registration of faith-based organisations and foundations and restrictions on domestic philanthropy and freedom of association. Let’s hope that the process of developing an amendment bill does not allow for them to be re-introduced against the wishes of Kenyans.

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Five Challenges facing the PBO sector in Kenya

By Irungu Houghton[1]

As the issue of shrinking CSO space inevitably will come up again during the US Kenya talks this week, it is worth republishing this article that I wrote a few months back that summarises the major tensions between the Kenyan state and its Public Benefits Organisations. It was published by The Star Newspaper. The original paper was written in response to Dr. Alex Awiti’s February 24th article “Has Civil Society outlived its Use”

Dr Alex Awiti makes an important call for Public Benefits Organisations to reinvent themselves. Two years ago, the passing of the Public Benefits Organisations Act of 2013 by the National Assembly and its assent by H.E. Mwai Kibaki attempted to do just that.

The Act emerged from a consensus between the state and PBO sector on the need for a strengthened and revitalized sector. It also brought NGO law in line with the new Constitution and developments within the sector. Twenty four months later, it is yet to be operationalized with the Devolution Cabinet Secretary declining to commence the Act citing the need for amendments.

This week sees a crucial moment in the future of the sector. After ten regional consultations, the PBO Taskforce is set to conclude its public consultations on amendments to the PBO Act (2013). How it packages its findings and what eventually ends up in the National Assembly will place Kenya either on the path of trust and collaboration or the path of mistrust and confrontation between National Government, PBOs and County Governments.

Over 2013-2014, the National Government made five attempts to amend the PBO Act of 2013. They included two separate sets of amendments under Miscellaneous Amendments Bills (November 2013 and June 2014) and a Memorandum containing 54 amendments (October 2014). In November, the Ministry of Devolution and Planning gazetted a PBO Taskforce under the leadership of former Member of Parliament Sophia Abdi Noor and successfully amended the PBO Act through amendments to Security Act Amendment Bill (November 2014).

The five interventions have four similarities. They were brought to Parliament without prior public notice or consultation with the majority of Public Benefits Organisations. They have sought to increase executive power over the registration, regulation and funding of the sector. All with the exception of the Ministry of Devolution/Hon Moses Kuria memorandum of October 2014 have attempted to pass substantive amendments within Miscellaneous Amendments Bills. Lastly, all have revolved around five policy questions.

Strengthening the public accountability clauses within the Act is probably the issue that PBOs and the National Government can agree on. Like the Government, inefficiency, corruption and funding diversion is a curse to the sector. The PBO Act (2013) introduced a number of important new requirements. They include prohibiting governance boards from being paid and having to sign conflict of interest registers. Publishing audited accounts and making them available for citizens to see on request is another important step towards public accountability.

The issue that has caused most domestic and international controversy has been the proposal to cap foreign funding to 15% and channel all funding through the yet to be set up Government PBO Authority. It was probably singularly responsible for the rejection of the November 2013 amendments by the National Assembly. Notwithstanding this and the consultations over 2014, this proposal re-emerged in October 2014 coupled with the proposal that those organisations that receive more than 15% could be classified as foreign PBOs. There have been many arguments against this amendment ranging from the negative impact on development, poverty eradication and foreign exchange to the destruction of a 40 year sector. It may not be necessary to rehash them here.

The third policy issue relates to the treatment of domestic philanthropy and tax incentives for companies and citizens who may wish to contribute to development. The overreliance on overseas development assistance has been an active source of concern to the PBO sector. As far back as 1992, a consortium of NGOs had begun organizing the biannual East African Fundraising Conference that worked on diversifying income for NGOs through direct mail appeals, events and corporate social responsibility giving. These efforts intensified supported by the emergence of community foundations in the 1990s and then corporate foundations in the 2000s.

Prior to the PBO Act, there had been close to a decade of efforts to reform tax and fiscal law to create incentives for collaboration between the Government, private sector and the not for profit sector. The Act sought to enshrine and expand this option. With this in mind it was dismaying to see that the October 2014 Memorandum proposing to delete the entire schedule within the PBO Act that promoted corporate and citizens social responsibility. Taken with the proposals to cut foreign funding, the impact would be to starve the sector of both domestic and foreign resources.

The fourth tension revolves around executive regulation and self-regulation. In its current form, the PBO Act embraces both approaches to accountability. It proposes a Regulatory Authority, similar to the current NGO Coordination Board and a PBO Federation to replace the NGO Council. The Authority is largely appointed by the Cabinet Secretary while the Federation is the sector association. The Federation will have representation on the Authority.

The spirit of the amendments since the Act has been to weaken the principle and mechanisms of self-regulation and strengthen executive regulation. These amendments are backed by arguments that self-regulation has failed to hold the sector accountable to the common norms and standards in the NGO Code of Conduct. The problem with this argument is that it fundamentally shifts ownership and responsibility away from the sector to the Government. Rather than creating agreement on a set of common values and normative standards, the sector would inevitably come to be governed by rules and the regulatory capacity of Government. The size and the complexity of the sector does not lend to easy regulation by an external party, even one the size of the Government of Kenya. Successive autocratic Governments under former President Moi have tried and failed.

The Act seeks to bring more than 350,000 non-profit agencies acting in the public interest and providing benefits to the public under one legal umbrella. The Act contains various incentives for agencies currently registered under Trusts Act, Companies Act and the Societies Act among others, to voluntarily migrate to the new Act.

New amendments have sought to make migration to the PBO Act compulsory arguing that only compulsory migration will ensure accountability for handling funding in the public interest. While migration to the PBO Act is desirable, making this compulsory could have an negative impact. Trusts and Foundations have pointed out to potential huge capital losses as they transfer fixed assets and real estate to new legal regimes. Secondly, the lumping together of very diverse and historically distinctly different organisational types will not necessarily generate a more unified sector.

All five of these issues have dominated the various hearings. The failure to reach consensus in the amendments and the inordinate delay in commencement of the Act has also led to a consistent call in all the recent hearings for the immediate commencement of the PBO Act cited the two year delay. The treatment of these five issues and whether the country has to wait another two years for commencement will ultimately shape the future of the PBO sector and its relationship with citizens, the national Government and the 47 County Governments among others. Of the two paths; mutual trust and cooperation or mistrust and confrontation, as a long standing servant of this sector, I pray it is the former.

1,230 words

[1] Irungu Houghton is currently the Associate Director for the Society for International Development having worked in the PBO sector for over 20 years. Email, Twitter @irunguhoughton

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Lessons in Leadership from Africa for young African Americans in North America

act, dont interrupt

Session Purpose:

By the end of the session, we will have;

1)   Reflected on the examples of leadership provided by Professor Wangari Maathai, President Kwame Nkrumah and President Julius Nyerere

2)   Discussed the relevance of achievement (all), Resilience (Maathai), Vision (Nkrumah) and Humility (Nyerere) for the contexts in which the participants come from

Facts about Africa[1]

  • One of the oldest civilizations flourished in Egypt
  • Second fastest growing continental economy second only to Asia, faster than Europe and North Americas
  • At 30 million hectares, Africa is the world’s second largest continent, 54 countries
  • 1/ of the world live in Africa
  • 30% of the world’s mineral resources, 40% gold, 60% cobalt
  • Place of history, plenty and promise

Resilience, humility and vision

Resilience: Wangari Muta Maathai (passed on 2011)

Born on slopes of Mt kenya, first class student, flew as part of the 1960 Kennedy airlifts to study at University of Pittsburgh. Organised against air pollution in Pittsburgh. First Kenyan woman to get a PHD doctorate in Botany. She struggled for equal pay for women lecturers, to be an elected leader, to stop the ruling party from grabbing public land and planted 47 million trees through her organisation The Green Belt Movement. She was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, first African woman in history. She was known to say all just and stable societies live on three legs like a traditional African stool; “The first leg stands for democratic space, where rights are respected, the second represents sustainable and equitable management and resources and the third stands for cultures of peace. You need all three to be of the same length”

Vision: Kwame Nkrumah (passed on 1972)

First President of Ghana and founder of the Organisation of African Unity, left to study at the University of Lincoln, Pennsylvania, cleaned toilets and other jobs in Harlem in the 1950s, was described as a student who whatever paper he was given to write he always used the opportunity to write about the freedom of the African people. Attended the 5th Pan African Congress and returned to his country Ghana to unify the four territories of the Gold Coast and learn how to govern. In 1966, he was overthrown by the Ghanaian army with the help of the CIA. He left behind industries and the Volta River Dam that today continues to provide energy for Ghana.  He was known to have said, revolutions occur when people think as people of action, and people act as people of thought.

Humility: Julius Nyerere (passed on 1999)

First President of Tanzania, teacher “Mwalimu” formed the party that was to kick the British out of Tanzania. Conceptualised African socialism or Ujamaa, called for leadership in service, equal opportunities and raising living standards over private wealth and consumption. Was the backbone of opposition to the system of apartheid, racialism that kept the majority of black Africans slaves in their own land.  Always self-critical, self-challenging, brought personal integrity to the level of service above self.  Was known to have said; “leadership has a duty not just to the present but to our ancestors and descendants”. In 2015, the Vatican is considering calls for him o be beatified as a Saint within the Catholic Order

Implications for you and I

USA in crisis and change no different than the most important times in history including the 1960s. Protests at the deaths of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner. ¼ out of school or out of work. ¾ have a different vision for their lives, want to get ahead. 6.7 million black boys and men

  1. How could sacrifice, humility and vision give you more power to be somebody in your home and community?
  2. What would you have to stop doing, start doing to be a person of action based on thought?
  3. What would the examples of these great Africans look like in your community? What would they do?


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Thoughts on the Mo Ibrahim Leadership award 2015

On March 2, the prize committee of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation awarded the 2015 Mo Ibrahim Leadership Award to former Namibian President President Hifikepunye Pohamba. Reflecting on a few of the questions asked of me, I offered these thoughts

1. Does it make sense to give already wealthy presidents $5 million? Is it an incentive to African president to strive for excellence?
Although this is the largest cash prize for leadership globally, it is not really about the money. It is about identifying servant leaders and generating a public dialogue about building democratic societies in Africa. Prestige is often fuelled less by the money than by the symbolism of public recognition.

2. And what is your overall view of this award? Is it more effective to channel this money towards institution building rather than individuals as President Obama remarked in Ghana “Africa does not need strong men but strong institutions”?
If I was giving the award I would focus more on institutions and involve citizens more in the selection process. It would be interesting to crowdsource citizen’s views on possible prize awardees half way through final tenure to encourage better performance. However, I am not Mo and I don’t have US$5 million to give away each year.

3. Who is to decide a leader is good? Mo Ibrahim or the people themselves? You would imagine that the legacy of leaders in most countries remains a contentious issue.
The award is based on the political, economic and social trends captured by one of the most governance comprehensive indexes on Africa. Obviously a more powerful legacy is the way a leader is respected by the public after they leave office. Too many leaders flee their countries or live in constant worry of arrest for crimes committed while in office.

A more worrying tradition for me is the election of the African Union chairperson. The regional rotational principle allowed probably one of the worst autocrats currently in office, Robert Mugabe to be elected to represent Africa in 2015. Is it not time for the African Union to adopt criteria based on its own norms and policy standards? Perhaps this prize could be awarded in Addis prior to the January African Union summits to energise the selection processes. Location matters.

4. Can we compare the leadership qualities needed to govern a small country of half a million people to those required to ran a country like Nigeria with complex social, political and economic challenges?

While scale may differ the principles remain the same. The capacity of vision, anticipation, service, humility, charm and care are important whether leaders are running a local school, a country with a population of one million or another of over a hundred million. Complexity is important but the type of choices leaders make, are the decisive factor. In this regard, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation could do more to share some of the specific choices their nominees make. There is power in the anecdotes of former Cape Verdean President Pires leaving office carrying only his humility. That is servant leadership. That, is a story that can inspire Africa.

Categories: Africa, African Union, civic education, Democracy, pan Africanism, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

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