Ambassador Whitman Remarks for International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) – Kenya, Jurist of the Year Award Ceremony
Remarks for International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) – Kenya, Jurist of the Year Award Ceremony
Ambassador Whitman Keynote Remarks for International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) – Kenya, Lawyer of the Year Award (JOYA) ceremony
Next-level Growth Requires Good Governance and Improved Access to Justice
Good evening. Thank you to the Kenya Section of the International Commission of Lawyers for inviting me to address this gala event recognizing the significant contributions of one individual to the fight for rule of law, human rights, and access to justice in Kenya. It’s an honor to be with you this evening.
The previous Jurist of the Year Awardees are an impressive group, and many are leaders in Kenya’s justice system. They have been instrumental in advocating for democratic principles, human rights, the rule of law, as well as the rights of women and minorities in Kenya .
The United States and Kenya enjoy close cooperation on justice sector reforms and shared priorities for governance. A significant number of previous recipients of this award are alumnae of our US exchange programs and have had the opportunity to learn about the US judicial system in the United States. Last week, Chief Justice Koome told me she participated in a US exchange program early in her career. This evening, the Chief Justice is unable to attend, because she’s currently meeting with leaders in Washington DC I’m sorry she’s unable to join us tonight as we greatly admire Chief Justice Koome’s efforts to improve access to justice by bringing courts closer to the public .
In the United States as in Kenya, we rely on the judiciary and its dedicated professionals to safeguard our civic space. A functioning democracy is not possible without the rule of law, good governance, due process in the legal system, and access to justice. Within the US government system of checks and balances, the judiciary safeguards the rule of law as set out by the legislative branch and implemented by the executive. Kenya’s constitution provides for similar protections. In both countries, civil society organizations such as the International Commission of Jurists play a vital role as watchdogs and advocates for a society governed by laws, rather than by individuals or vested interests.
Elections Proved Strength of Kenya’s Democracy
The strength of Kenya’s democracy was on full display during the August general elections. The United States supported that process with more than $18 million in funding for elections-related activities, including civic and voter education, training for electoral institutions, and peace messaging that reached 18 million people. While many different civic and religious leaders contributed to this success, I especially want to commend Chief Justice Koome and the Supreme Court judges for their role in supporting a free, fair, and peaceful election. When disputes arose, the parties took their petitions to the Supreme Court, and the justices ruled on the issues in accordance with the law of the country. While not everyone agreed with the rulings, they nonetheless respected the Supreme Court as the final arbiter of the Kenyan Constitution. Kenya’s Judiciary offered the world an example of how to resolve disputes through the courts rather than in the streets.
Question: How will Kenya Advance to the Next Level?
With the elections behind us, and the new administration settling in, how will Kenya advance to the next level of development and achieve the prosperity its citizens deserve? In my meeting with the Chief Justice last week, we discussed a number of priorities but I want to focus on one challenge that stood out. In my first few months as Ambassador to Kenya, as well as in my previous visits, I’ve been struck by the country’s vast potential – a young, educated and ambitious workforce, abundant natural resources, and reliable digital and physical infrastructure. I believe Kenya can achieve significant socio-economic advancement by addressing one issue – corruption.
Coincidentally, today is International Anti-Corruption Day, so it seems fitting to dig into the issue and strategies for tackling it. As we all know, corruption leads to misuse of public resources, hinders development, slows economic growth and job creation, and damages the investment climate. Corruption also undermines equal participation in the prosperity of this country and erodes public trust in institutions. On Monday, I was in the audience when President Ruto addressed the National Council on the Administration of Justice and said “zero tolerance to corruption is a meaningful proposition.” That sounds like a clear mandate for us all.
As US Ambassador to Kenya, my focus is on partnering with Kenya to increase bilateral trade and investment, promote regional peace and security, and support Kenya’s development goals. I’m not here to preach or point fingers – every nation struggles with corruption. But I do want to share something I’ve learned from my more than forty years as a leader: changing an entrenched culture requires commitment, transparency, and trust. It also requires strong partnerships. Strengthening governance, improving transparency, and standing up unequivocally for the rule of law and accountability, especially in the public sector, will enable Kenya to achieve next-level economic growth and prosperity. As we have done throughout our nearly 60-year relationship, the United States supports these goals and stands ready to offer additional resources and partnership, especially as Kenya seeks to strengthen its justice system.
United States Focus on Fighting Corruption
Corruption is by no means just a Kenyan problem. It affects every country around the world and every socio-economic class. Fighting corruption is a priority for the United States as well. Last year President Biden launched the US Strategy on Countering Corruption, and we are implementing a new Corporate Transparency Act. We also hold US companies and their representatives around the world accountable through the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
In fact, anti-corruption is a pillar of President Joe Biden’s Initiative for Democratic Renewal and Summit for Democracy. As President Biden pointed out, “Corruption threatens United States national security, economic equity, global anti-poverty and development efforts, and democracy itself. But by effectively preventing and countering corruption and demonstrating the advantages of transparent and accountable governance, we can secure a critical advantage for the United States and other democracies.”
US-Kenyan High-Level Cooperation on Democracy
The United States and Kenya are cooperating at the highest levels to strengthen democratic institutions and build public trust in the justice system. Kenya was an important contributor to President Biden’s inaugural Summit for Democracy one year ago. At the Summit, Kenya reaffirmed its commitment to strengthening the fight against corruption by continuing to develop accountable institutions. And I’m pleased Kenya will participate in the second Summit for Democracy next March. Kenya is a key participant at the US-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, DC next week, which features a Civil Society Forum focused on building sustainable partnerships. We remain committed to working with Kenya to promote good governance and improve public trust in institutions.
US Supports Range of Programs in Kenya’s Justice Sector
The United States has supported judicial reform efforts in Kenya for over a decade, and we will continue to support these efforts in part because they are central to the fight against corruption. To name just a few examples: the United States funds a $5.3 million capacity-building project at the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) that has improved the quality and speed of investigations into human rights abuses, impunity, and corruption since 2015. Since 2020 , the United States has assigned a Resident Legal Advisor to Kenya to train, mentor, and advise Kenyan investigators, prosecutors, and judicial officials on effective handling of anti-corruption cases.
We also provided support for the Milimani [mil lee MAH nee] Anti-Corruption Court. During the pandemic, we provided two open-air tents as well as technology allowing court to continue processing cases despite the restrictions on in-person hearings. Earlier this year, we sponsored 10 anti-corruption jurists on a visit to Washington, DC to witness court proceedings, meet American judges and attorneys, and learn about case management best practices in our federal courts. Just last week, we hosted a workshop for 39 members of the Court Users Committee focused on active case management, interagency cooperation, and integrity assurance. The US government is also launching a six million dollar anti-corruption program with Kenya to decrease fraud, waste, and abuse in key service delivery sectors at the county level and will partner with key institutions such as the Ethics and Anticorruption Commission.
Benefits of Strengthening Governance (Anti-Corruption)
The United States and Kenya have a strong partnership on these issues, but there is always more we can do together. I invite you all to join in partnership to strengthen the rule of law and put an end to corruption in all its forms. The fight against corruption starts with each of us as we go about our daily lives. We can and we must expect more of ourselves, our neighbors, our colleagues, and our leaders. Rooting out corruption is what ultimately will unlock the next level of economic development and growth for Kenya.
As we continue this fight, more Kenyans will begin to see the economic, political, and social benefits of a more just society. Public trust in Kenyan institutions will rise, more young Kenyans will be hopeful about the future, and Kenya will attract greater levels of foreign investment. This momentum will unlock a virtuous cycle of benefits for the Kenyan people and reinforce Kenya’s regional and global leadership role.
In closing, I want to stress one final point: your work matters. Lawyers, judges, independent commissioners, journalists, human rights defenders, and civil society activists all play a vital role in shaping public values, raising public awareness, and providing important public and private sector oversight. The group assembled here this evening is particularly well positioned to champion good governance and the importance of integrity in the public awareness and to ensure the law applies equally to all Kenyans. Your work to fight for rule of law strengthens the public’s trust in democratic institutions, combats systemic injustices, creates a more level playing field – all crucial contributors to economic prosperity. I look forward to the announcement of this year’s awardee, whom I know will serve as an inspiration to the people of Kenya, the African continent, and the world. Asanteni sana.