Informed citizenry, a virtue of self-governance

Dr. Nyatundo George Oruongo.

The sovereign people are the source of all Constitutional Power in Kenya.

This Constitution binds all persons and all State organs.

It commits to nurturing and protecting the well-being of the nation by recognizing a government based on the essential values of human rights, equality, freedom, democracy, social justice, and the rule of law.

Consequently, the government is subordinate to the people and power is a trust to be exercised solely for the common good of the general society.

But the aspiration of the people for a transparent and accountable government hasn’t reached its crescendo.

Thus, state officials continue to claim, hold and exercise public power without legitimate authority under law and the Constitution.

This is true even as we are celebrating the sixth anniversary of the Access to Information Act, 2016 (ATI).

Accordingly, we can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark but not the tragedy of adults being afraid of the light.

The Right to Information law has undeniably been critically empowering to the people.

It has been employed comprehensively for a range of issues.

It has also been used to fix deficiencies in the delivery of essential services by local governments and bureaucrats.

It holds a place in safeguarding basic rights and entitlements.

It has been directed at the high and mighty on their decisions, conduct, and performance.

Indeed, this law’s global career has been illustrious.

With the ATI Act of 2016, Kenya had set its transparency credentials on the right trajectory.

This people’s law is anchored under Article 35 of the Constitution of Kenya 2010.

It provides that every citizen has the right of access to information held by the State; and information held by another person and is required for the exercise or protection of any right or fundamental freedom.

The State shall publish and publicize any important information affecting the nation.

Its paramountcy arises in the psyche of stakeholders due to its near monopoly creation by the state.

The sources of this information include all arms of government, instrumentalities, agencies, departments, and even political parties.

It is of concern as well since it throws radiance on the perpetual connection that subsists amid the governance of a commune and acquaintance of its regulations, among information and action and between knowledge and duty.

In law, for instance, the initial point is the propagation of knowledge and the claim for the standard that communication to the general public of a decree ought to be a precondition for its imposition.

This produces twin outcomes. The existence of official gazettes in which all official Acts must be available prior to their implementation.

And its analogy, the conjecture that immediately after it is accordingly published; the citizen has effective notice of the law, as articulated by the adage ‘ignorance of the law is no excuse’.

The standard for public information should be even higher.

The state is mandated to inform and educate the public.

This means the provision of credible and reliable information even without any formal application or request from the citizens.

Not paper-based communication that’s in bare bones.

This is a prerequisite that originates from the exigencies of the edifice, design, and virtues of self-government.

It is an inference from the basic democratic understanding that matters that demand public attention shall be determined by informed citizens through collective franchise and other democratic actions and choices.

ATI, therefore, is a prerequisite for a healthy democracy.

August 2016, marks the time our young republic had set in motion the process of restructuring power from the elite few to the general public through the ATI Act.

It has ignited the charge of converting the nation into a true participatory democracy.

It’s one of the few legal instruments in the country that empower the citizens to regulate the government.

We the People must be endowed with the abundant and necessary information to facilitate knowledge indispensable in considering political, social, and economic questions explicitly.

Such consideration should be without any apprehension of governmental castigation or chastisement if our democracy is to be vibrant.

Indeed, access to information is the fuel of democracy.

Further, the practice of the state to progressively inform the public on important matters affecting the nation increases faith and trust in government creating a conducive existence of shared agreement among the government and its people.

Sadly, the immediacy of this law has been ignored.

Such neglect has rendered its implementation increasingly fractured and ineffective.

Public education will go a long way in ensuring the success of the transparency law.

The government should nurse the newborn in ATI as other stakeholders including the media, civil society, and the citizen midwife the essence and successful implementation of the right to know.

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The author is an Adjunct Lecturer at the School of Law, Africa Nazarene University, and Visiting Lecturer, the School of Law, Kisii University. Contact:

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Dr. Oruongo is a Kenyan Legal Scholar based in India. His contact:


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