A professional colleague who teaches in the United Kingdom was in the country the past two weeks conducting interviews. I was not able to have a session with her until she travelled back.
Last Thursday we got the chance and spoke about the duties of citizens in realisation of the right to a clean and healthy environment.
It is not the discussion about the environment that I would like to share, even though due to the climate crisis, environmental management is a topical agenda. Rather it is the constitutional responsibilities that citizens have.
In her questions, the colleague sought to know why the Kenyan Constitution vests duties on the State to collaborate not just with State agencies but with other citizens in the realisation of environmental rights. In answering the question, it dawned on me that the vesting of the above responsibilities is not just an everyday occurrence.
It has design significance. This reality is one that all citizens need to appreciate and apply. Way too often citizens engage in public processes expecting some actions from the government and those in public positions. When these are not met, they get disillusioned.
Their reaction is incessant whining and a promise to be more objective when they get to engage in such public processes.
However, in many instances, citizens end up taking a back seat or not acting in their self-interest when the next opportunity arises. This is not an isolated occurrence but traverses all public engagement, whether it is the decision to elect their leader at the local level, the process of holding a leader accountable or engagement in a school event.
Invariably citizens look up to some public-spirited individuals to raise those inconvenient concerns that they are unable to raise themselves.
It is important that all citizens recognise that the provision of rights to be meaningfully enjoyed envisages the exercise of civic responsibilities too. We all have a duty to ensure that society functions properly and that all public processes are geared toward the larger good and not for private gain.
Achieving this requires active engagement by the citizenry. The concept of the linkages between rights and duties is such that if you do not exercise your responsibilities consistently and in a manner that delivers greater public good then the impact on your rights will be direct and painful.
Claiming rights under the Constitution has to be accompanied by a recognition and exercise of the responsibilities bestowed on citizens too. Additionally, citizens need to be aware that the ultimate responsibility for the quality of life that they live rests on their actions and not that of an external player.
When the Constitution speaks of the fact that sovereignty rests with the people, it is not just a question of power and authority but one of responsibility.
When we recognise that reality, we will stop complaining about the quality of service delivered at every level of society.
Instead, we will demand and engage to ensure that those services reach the standards that are commensurate with the expectations we have of society. And those that live and work in it.
The writer is a law professor at the University of Nairobi.