Twenty Questions for Candidates

Reading the Washington Post online, I came across an item about 20 questions on science and technology that American scientists propose that candidates for election as President should debate publicly. As the Post said, it won’t happen. But it got me thinking about what our politicians, and candidates for political office, ought to be able to think and speak about. Not just about science technology and environment, of course, though I found it surprising how many of the scientific issues could be related to the Constitution.

I have put together 20 questions for Kenyan candidates—especially those standing for President. Everyone would have their own questions but, because my main expertise is constitution related, and because this is “Katiba Corner”, all these questions have a link to the Constitution. Questions that have an asterisk(*) are inspired by the American scientists’ questions—though often changed significantly— in case you are interested.

  1. Everyone has the right to education. The Human Development Index for 2014 shows that the mean number of years of schooling of Kenyans is 6.3 while the expected years of schooling are 11. Do you agree with these figures, and what would you do to improve the number of years and the quality of education for ordinary Kenyans within your term of office?
  2. One of our national values under the Constitution is sustainable development. What does this mean to you and how do you propose that Kenya should achieve it? Please include your views on climate change, and how your administration would act on those views.*
  3. The Constitution provides that international agreements Kenya has accepted are part of Kenyan law. One of these is the Convention on Biological Diversity. Biodiversity can provide food, fibre, medicines, clean water and many other products and services. Scientists are finding that the variety and variability of life is diminishing at an alarming rate as a result of human activity. How do you see this as relevant to Kenya? What steps will you take to protect biological diversity in Kenya?*
  4. Under the Constitution, everyone has the right to privacy. The Internet has become a foundation of economic, social and government activity. What steps will you take to protect vulnerable infrastructure and institutions from cyber attack, and to provide for national security while protecting personal privacy on electronic devices and the internet?*
  5. Everyone has the right to the highest attainable standard of health, and the right to life. Are you aware of current figures on the rate at which women in Kenya die of pregnancy related causes? Why do you think they remain high, and what would you do about it?
  6. Mental illness is among the most painful and stigmatized diseases, yet in Kenya it is very neglected. What will you do to reduce the human and economic costs of mental illness?*
  7. How would you better protect Kenyans from emerging diseases and other public health threats, such as antibiotic resistant bacteria, heart disease and diabetes?*
  8. Under the Constitution, everyone has the right to clean and safe water in adequate quantities. Are you aware of what percentage of Kenyans do have this access, and, if elected, what steps will you take to ensure access to clean water for all Kenyans?*
  9. Kenya has taken initial steps towards nuclear power. Why do we need it when we have geothermal power, wind and an abundance of sun? How would your government ensure that these plans include sufficient guarantees that Kenya will not have its own Fukushima or Chernobyl disaster, especially as Kenya is a country with some risk of earthquakes, if not very high? Would you agree that government has the responsibility, morally and constitutionally, to protect its citizens from risk of this kind?*
  10. Under the Constitution, agriculture policy is a matter for the national government. And everyone has the right to food. What are the main agricultural policy initiatives that your government would develop to ensure fulfilment of the right to food while also ensuring sustainable development? *
  11. Among the responsibilities of national government under the Constitution is protection of the environment and natural resources with a view to establishing a durable and sustainable system of development, including, in particular fishing. Vision 2030 recognise declining fish catches as a problem. What concrete steps will your administration take to reverse this decline?*
  12. The Constitution speaks many times of equality and equity. For example, every person is equal, and public expenditure must promote the equitable development of the country, including by making special provision for marginalised groups and areas. But it is said Kenya is a very unequal country. Can you tell us your perspective on the various types of inequality in the country, and what would you do once in office to create a more equal society?
  13. The Constitution particularly mentions gender equality at a number of points. What is your personal assessment of the state of gender equality in Kenya at this time, and what are the three priority measures you would take, or you would encourage other to take, to ensure gender equality?
  14. The Constitution stresses that marginalised groups and communities all have rights, that these include full participation in society, and that when necessary special steps should be taken to ensure their rights. Which groups and communities do you think of as marginalized, and what would you do to ensure that their rights to full participation in society are achieved?
  15. Can you tell us your views of civil society? What do you think the phrase means in the Kenyan context? And what are your intentions and plans for drawing on the strengths of Kenyan civil society in the future?
  16. The Constitution speaks repeatedly about public participation. Can you tell us how public participation has affected your own decisions in the last year or two [for those in public office already], and how you would intend to increase the effectiveness of public participation in the future if elected?
  17. Accountability is a national value under the Constitution, and a repeated theme. If you are elected, to whom will you consider yourself accountable and what steps will you take yourself to make that accountability a reality?
  18. What do you think are the main benefits to Kenya of devolution—including benefits realised so far and potential benefits for the future? What do you intend to do in the future to ensure that devolution delivers these benefits in reality?
  19. The Constitution insists that public money shall be used in a prudent and responsible way. But the reports of the Controller of Budget and Auditor General reveal many examples of poor use of public money (even without considering outright corruption). What measures should be taken, and what measures would you take if elected, to avoid this waste?
  20. Corruption is a major cause of waste of public money. What concrete steps would you take if elected, especially in the light of the need to respect the independence of the EACC, the DPP and the courts? How would those steps differ from what has been done in the past?

Does this seem a lot to expect? Yes, it is. But we have a right to expect a lot. Candidates should be able to talk in an intelligent and well informed way about the issues facing the country and to have workable proposals to deal with them. There are existing policies on some of these issues. But candidates should be aware of them, and should have some sense of how they are working and whether they can be improved.

Dealing with issues like these is what governments are—or should be—elected to do. Not to steal from the people and benefit (or promise to benefit) “their own” people.

Jill Cottrell Ghai is a Director at the Katiba Institute


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