Ideas & Debate

Let’s get serious about our national values

national cohesion
Discussion on our values has been timid and limited, with insufficient attention being paid to it at the highest levels. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Today is the first day of the Multi-Sectoral National Anti-Corruption Conference, and underlying the theme are the values by which we live in our society. And while Article 10 of the Constitution laid out our National Values (seventeen of them — yes 17), it turns out they’re just a long list of hidden words, too hard to be brought to life.

I have written before about how other countries such as Rwanda and Singapore have crafted a much smaller number of punchy, powerful values statements, ones that are referred to frequently by their leaders, and to which people relate and respond.

But for ours, who can quote any never mind all of 17 words? Who among our leaders ever refers to any of them? Very few.

What many people are not aware of is that we have a Sessional Paper on National Values. And that following on from Kofi Annan’s Agenda 4 recommendations a fully-fledged Directorate of National Values and Cohesion was established. Quietly, behind the scenes, it has been engaging with a wide variety of stakeholders, from political parties and the media to business member organisations and co-operatives, and they have also been working with change agents from the arts and sports, women and youth. This at all levels of society, from the family to the community to the national.

They have seen the living of values incorporated into performance contracts, albeit with only a one per cent weighting (along with 3 per cent for ethics and anti-corruption). They input to the President’s Annual Report for his State of the Nation address to Parliament, linking performance to values. And through other initiatives they have worked on inducing behaviour change leading to a societal transformation that will help actualise Vision 2030, including through improving corporate governance and attaining the Social Development Goal (SDGs).


They also commissioned Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis (KIPPRA) to carry out a baseline survey on values — which showed that both awareness and compliance were low.

But Director of the Values Directorate Josiah Musili is very conscious of the need for more civic education on values; that they must be branded in suitable language; and that we must devise standards for what adherence to these values entails. Just as Article 232 of the Constitution (that deals with the Values and Principles of Public Service) has been operationalised, so must Article 10 on the National Values themselves.

Others in government are also concerned with our national values. The Vision 2030 Delivery Secretariat, under its Director of Social and Political Pillars Ada Mwangola, has been working with youth organisations to develop a values framework that will resonate with citizens, and she and her colleagues are also looking to find ways of coming up with a smaller and more memorable number of values statements.

Not be left out, the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC), under its Director of Research and Policy Vincent Okongo, commissioned a survey which showed that over 70 per cent of Kenyans are keen to join the fight against corruption. The EACC has been focusing on Chapter 6 of the Constitution, the one on Leadership and Integrity, and this has resulted in an Act, along with the Public Officers’ Ethics Act. Plus there’s the resulting Code of Conduct, which all public officers have to sign on to.

The EACC has been training public officers to raise awareness of the issues, and it is producing monitoring and compliance reports so as to provide feedback. Now they must identify their foreign banks accounts, and having them requires EACC approval.

I have for long been worried that discussion on our values has been timid and limited, with insufficient attention being paid to it at the highest levels. And I have also been concerned about the large number of institutions (including National Commission on Integration and Cohesion of course) that are active in trying to help us with our values.

But from what I have been seeing more recently I have been greatly encouraged: by the enthusiasm, the spirit of collaboration, the dynamic and practical approach to the whole subject, very much including all the players in the multi-sectoral grouping.

I love the desire to translate the 17 formal values to more punchy, on target statements; and I love the desire to keep things simple.