National sovereignty and self-determination

Kenya, with a population of 47.56 million (2019 Census), covers 580,367 square kilometers of land. It borders the Indian Ocean and Somalia in the east, Ethiopia and South Sudan in the north, Uganda in the west and Tanzania in the south. It is the home of the picturesque Rift Valley geographical formation, but more importantly, Kenya is the cradle of humankind as evident in the fossils found in Turkana and surrounding areas.

The country attained independence from British colonialists in 1963 after a protracted struggle. The Founding Fathers dreamt of a country plenty in wealth, where all the disparate tribes and traditions lived in harmony and unity, where peace prevailed, and all lives and property were secure.


“Sovereignty” means the absolute or supreme power of an authority.

According to the Kenya Constitution 2010, “all sovereign power belongs to the people of Kenya. And the people may exercise this sovereign power either directly or through their democratically elected representatives. This power is delegated to Parliament, National Executive and Executives of the 47 devolved counties that form the Republic, and the Judiciary; which perform their functions in accordance with this Constitution”.

The Constitution provides that every Kenya has the right to life; clean and healthy environment, equality, equal protection and equal benefit in law, enjoys human dignity, is free and secure, is protected from slavery, servitude and forced labour, has the freedom of conscience, religion, belief and opinion, is free to express themselves, freedom of association, freedom of movement and residence, assembly, demonstration and picketing.

The Supreme law also ensures freedom of expression, the right of access to information, political rights and protection of property, fair labour practices and the right to economic and social rights (health, housing, food, water, social security and education), right to use of language and culture of one’s preference, consumer rights, and right of access to justice

It is not gainsaid that The Constitution is the Supreme law of the land and a person may claim or exercise State authority except as authorised under this Constitution. Implicitly, any attempt to establish a government otherwise than in compliance with this Constitution is unlawful. That apart, the general rules of international law shall form part of the Law of Kenya, even as any treaty or convention ratified by Kenya shall form part of the Law of Kenya under this Constitution.


The people exercise this sovereignty during elections that are held every five years. The elections have to be free and fair, and should ensure that not more than two thirds of the members of the elective public bodies shall be of the same gender. Free and fair imply that the elections are by secret ballot and conducted by an independent body, transparent, and free of violence and intimidation.

A statue of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya’s first post-independence president.

The Executive

The Presidency comprises the Executive Office of the President (which includes that of the Deputy President), Office of the First Lady, the Constitution, and the Former Presidents.

President Uhuru Kenyatta is serving his second and final term, which will last until September 2022. He is deputised by Dr William Samoei Ruto, and both come from the Jubilee Party. The Big Four Agenda is the President’s priority during this second term, and it addresses universal health coverage (UHC), affordable housing, food sufficiency and boosting the manufacturing sector.

First Lady Margaret Kenyatta is the brains behind Beyond Zero, an initiative that realises that no woman should die while giving birth. Mrs Kenyatta has dedicated her time and effort to complement the government’s effort to eradicate maternal and child mortality, and HIV/AIDS-related deaths. This initiative has launched unique flagship fundraising and awareness campaigns by galvanizing the general public, private sector, international organisations, and the media towards the goal of improving access to quality healthcare.

Kenya is governed by a Constitution promulgated in 2010. A move to review the Supreme Law intensified in 2020 under the aegis of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI).

Kenya plunged into grief and sorrow when, on February 4, 2020, retired President Daniel Toroitich arap Moi died, aged 95. Mr Moi, the second Independent President, ruled Kenya from 1978 — following the death of first President Jomo Kenyatta — to December 2002 upon retirement and being succeeded by Mr Mwai Emilio Kibaki. The man whose philosophy was Nyayo (in the footsteps of his predecessor Kenyatta) was buried at his farm in Baringo. Kenya has had four Presidents: Jomo Kenyatta (1963—1978); Moi, Kibaki (2002—2013), and Uhuru (2013—2022).

Executive Order: In early June 2020, President Kenyatta released Executive Order no.1 of 2020 which restructured the government’s portfolios and responsibilities. In the changes, the Cabinet — which hitherto didn’t exist as an institution — becomes an institution under the Office of the President. The Office of the President was renamed the Presidency, perhaps to remove some of the clamour once associated with the institution.

More importantly, the new structure accommodates the newly-formed Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS) that the President earlier formed to help in effective management of the capital city. The NMS, which is a national government establishment, takes some key functions from the Nairobi County Government.

Madaraka Day 2020: The annual June 1 holiday is celebrated nationally to mark Kenya’s attainment of self-rule. In this year’s address to the nation to mark the day in Narok, President Uhuru Kenyatta paid glowing tribute to the country’s Founding Fathers, among them Jomo Kenyatta (Kenya’s first post-independent President), Oginga Odinga (first post-independent vice president) and Tom Mboya (the architect of the economic blueprint, Sessional Paper no.10 of 1965, that’s considered the cornerstone document that has continuously defined Kenya’s economy). “To re-imagine our dream and nationhood, we must reflect on our history, because history has laws that show us the future,” he stated.

Sessional Paper no.10 envisioned Kenya as an Africanised economy, largely locally-owned; whose industries were producing for regional markets, and in which technology was the light and heat of commerce. Mboya’s book, Freedom and After, states that great things are a sum of a series of small steps.

Oginga Odinga’s book, “Not Yet Uhuru”, published in 1967, argues that Independence isn’t complete until the economy is in the hands of Africans. “Jaramogi envisioned a Kenya that was unapologetic about its “Kenyaness”, a Kenya that “could stand on its own feet in a world unfriendly to the African people”, and a Kenya that is “capable of enterprise and development in fields beyond our shambas”, said the President.

On his part, the Founding Father of the Nation, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, imagined a free Kenya as far back as the 1930s, while at Manchester in the United Kingdom. His dream is painted in his book, “Facing Mount Kenya”, published in 1938. In this dream, he cautioned us that the seed of freedom will only take root if our mindset is focused on the right thing. In the business of building the nation, he warned, we must not focus on what has been done; our focus should be on what remains to be done.

Building Bridges Initiative (BBI): The move to review the Constitution 10 years since it was promulgated gained ground countrywide. The team jointly appointed by President Kenyatta and Opposition Leader Raila Odinga (leader of the Orange Democratic Movement party) to spearhead the collection of views continued with the exercise, even after presenting the two leaders with a draft document in November 2019. The proposals, which could lead to drastic restructuring of the Executive to make the country more cohesive and united, may see the creation of the Prime Minister seat.

About 5,000 delegates converged on Bomas of Kenya for the launch. Leaders spoke of the BBI offering the country a chance to speak to itself even as they called for a moment of reflection if the country was to make that important turn that the ‘handshake’ between President Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga sought to achieve when they came together early last year (2018).

“We cannot build Kenya in one day. Let us focus on what will put us together. We have 42 different cultures that we should be proud about. Let us embrace our culture and tradition,” President Kenyatta said at the launch. In his comments, Mr Odinga said: “This report is not about me or President Kenyatta. Today we are here, tomorrow we shall not be there, and Kenya will remain”.

Deputy President William Ruto, President Uhuru Kenyatta, and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga at the launch of the BBI report at Bomas Kenya.


Parliament consists of the National Assembly and the Senate. Among its role is to protect the Constitution and promote the democratic governance of the Republic.

National Assembly: It plays a number of roles, including representing the people and enacting legislation. It determines allocation of national revenue between the levels of government, appropriates funds for expenditure by the national government and other State organs, and exercises oversight. It also approves declarations of war and extensions of states of emergency, even as it reviews the conduct of the office of the President, the Deputy President and other State officers and initiates the process of removing them from office.

It consists of 290 members elected by registered voters at constituency level, 47 women elected at county level, 12 members nominated by parliamentary political parties according to their strength in the House — to cater for special interests — and the Speaker.

Senate: It represents the counties, and serves to protect the interests of the counties and their governments, participates in the law-making function of Parliament by considering, debating and approving Bills concerning counties, determines the allocation of national revenue among counties, as provided in Article 217, and exercises oversight over national revenue allocated to the county governments, and participates in the oversight of State officers by considering and determining any resolution to remove the President or Deputy President from office.

It consists of 47 members elected by voters at county level, two representatives (a man and a woman) of the youth, two representatives (a man and a woman) of people with disabilities, and the Speaker, who is an ex-officio member.

Status 2019/2020: The Jubilee Party and the National Super Alliance (NASA) undertook far-reaching changes in parliamentary leadership, for both the National Assembly and the Senate. The Deputy Speaker and the Leader of Majority in the Senate were replaced, while the composition and leadership of several House committees were reconstituted last June, in a move both parties — Jubilee and ODM — said were to streamline parliamentary business in readiness for the envisaged Constitutional changes. Also replaced were the Leader of Majority and the Majority Whip of the National Assembly.

Both Houses (Senate and National Assembly) debated and passed several legislative pieces in 2019/2020. The President assented to the Copyright (Amendment) Bill 2017 in November 2019, and the Physical Planning Bill 2017 in July 2019.

Impeachment: The Senate in March 2020 ratified the impeachment of then Kiambu Governor Ferdinand Waititu. He faced a number of accusations, among them violating the Constitution, misconduct, and grabbing of land. Three months later, the same Senate poured cold water on an attempt by the Kirinyaga County Assembly to impeach Governor Anne Waiguru. In its wisdom, the Senate came to the conclusion that Ms Waiguru hadn’t committed offences that warrant her dismissal, and instead asked the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate some of the charges the Members of the County Assembly (MCAs) had leveled against her.


The Constitution of Kenya 2010 creates a decentralised system of government where two of the three arms of government — Legislature and the Executive (known as County Assembly) — are devolved to the 47 political and administrative counties. The primary objective of decentralisation is to devolve power, resources and representation down to the local level. To this end, various laws have been enacted by Parliament to create strategies for the implementation framework and the adoption on which objectives of devolution can be achieved.

According to the Constitution, the objectives of the devolution of government are:

  1. Promote democratic and accountable exercise of power;
  2. Foster national unity by recognising diversity;
  3. Give powers of self-governance to the people and enhance the participation of the people in the exercise of the powers of the State and in making decisions affecting them;
  4. Recognise the right of communities to manage their own affairs and to further their development;
  5. Protect and promote the interests and rights of minorities and marginalised communities;
  6. Promote social and economic development and the provision of proximate, easily accessible services throughout Kenya;
  7. Ensure equitable sharing of national and local resources throughout Kenya;
  8. Facilitate the decentralisation of State organs, their functions and services, from the capital of Kenya, Nairobi; and,
  9. Enhance checks and balances, and the separation of powers.

County governments shall be based on democratic principles and separation of powers, reliable sources of revenue to enable them to govern and deliver services effectively, and that no more than two-thirds of the members of representative bodies in each county government shall be of the same gender.

Council of Governors: A non-partisan organisation comprising the governors of the 47 counties. Its main functions are to promote visionary leadership, share best practices, and offer a collective voice on policy issues. It is currently chaired by Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya.

Ministry of Devolution: The National Government established a ministry responsible for Devolution matters in order to manage the process of implementation of the devolved system of government. The National Government thereafter provided administrative support through secondment of critical staff to assist in setting up county structures before counties acquired capacities to do so.

It has two departments — Devolution and Development of ASAL (Arid and Semi-Arid Lands).

Through the State Department for Devolution, the Government has been facilitating implementation of the devolved system of governance by developing the requisite policies, laws, guidelines and regulations in collaboration with the relevant institutions. Considerable progress has been made in the implementation of the devolved system of government since 2013.

The State Department for the Development of ASALs is a special vehicle for affirmative action, mainstreaming development issues of Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASALS), coordinating, implementing and fast-tracking investment for long term sustainable development.

Status 2019/2020: The year 2020 has been a race against time for county governments, as they move to build their respective capacity to manage the novel COVID-19 pandemic. By June 2020, the national government instructed all the devolved units to each set aside at least 300-bed isolation units for COVID-19 patients. At the time, June 30, 2020, Kenya had reported a countrywide tally of 6,366 positive cases from 169,836 people tested since the disease struck the country in March 2020.

Allocation: In the Budget proposals for 2020/2021, county governments were to receive Sh316.5 billion. Although the amount has been rising gradually, from Sh280 billion in 2016/17 to Sh302 billion and Sh314 billion in 2017/18 and 2018/19, respectively, the allocation for the year 2020/21 of Sh316.5 billion is about the same as of the previous year.

Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS): On March 18, 2020, President Kenyatta commissioned the Nairobi Metropolitan Services to deliver key services to the residents of Kenya’s capital city. This followed the transfer of some functions (among them waste collection and disposal, water and sanitation, housing and urban development, and transport and urban works) from the City County Government to the National Government, as made possible by the Constitution.

On June 30, 2020, the NMS marked 100 days of operation. In his assessment report, the President stated that progress had been made in implementing the Nairobi Urban Mobility Plan, effecting the Non-Motorised Transport Strategy, reviewing the development approvals process, improving solid waste management, streamlining urban renewal projects and reviewing and improving the governance and transparency models deployed in service delivery.

“The evidence of this progress can already be seen. Our neighbourhoods are beginning to look cleaner, hundreds of young people, especially those in poor and vulnerable communities in the city, are earning a living; thousands of households are receiving water closer to home; affordable housing projects are now ready to break ground; road infrastructure is beginning to see the much needed maintenance works; and pedestrian and cyclists corridors in our business districts are beginning to take shape,” stated the President.


According to the Constitution, Judicial authority is derived from the people and vests in, and shall be exercised by, the courts and tribunals. And in exercising judicial authority, the courts and tribunals shall be guided by the following principles:

  1. Justice shall be done to all, irrespective of status;
  2. Justice shall not be delayed;
  3. Alternative forms of dispute resolution, including reconciliation, mediation, arbitration and traditional dispute resolution mechanisms, shall be promoted, subject to clause (3);
  4. Justice shall be administered without undue regard to procedural technicalities; and,
  5. The purpose and principles of this Constitution shall be protected and promoted.

The Judiciary and its related institutions (Judicial Service Commission (JSC), Kenya Law; previously National Council for Law Reporting (NCLR), Tribunals and the Judiciary Training Institute (JTI) administer justice, formulate and implement judicial policies, and compile and disseminate case laws and other legal information for the effective administration of justice.

The court system has been decentralised, with the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal having their own presidents and the High Court having a Principal Judge, as heads of the respective institutions. The High Court comprises a number of judges to be prescribed by an Act of Parliament, and has a Principal Judge, who is elected by judges of the High Court from among themselves.

The Judiciary also consists of the Environment and Land Court as well as the Employment and Labour Relations Court, which are courts of equal status as the High Court, and the Environment and Land Court. And then there are the subordinate arms consisting of the Magistrates’ Courts, Kadhis’ Courts, Courts Martial, and any other court or local Tribunal established by an Act of Parliament.

Status 2019/20: The Chief Justice is Mr David Maraga, who is the President of the Supreme Court. From July 2019 to May 2020, the Supreme Court had dispensed with 26 matters, including providing advisory opinions.

International law

In six years, Kenya finalised its national policy, which marked a milestone in crafting the country’s intended relations with the larger family of nations. This blueprint provides a broad framework on Kenya’s foreign relations and diplomatic engagements within a contemporary globalised environment. It further outlines the evolution of the country’s foreign relations and engagements with its partners. It drives Kenya’s Foreign Policy Agenda in the pursuit of a “peaceful, prosperous and globally competitive country” in order to “to project, promote and protect Kenya’s interests and image globally through innovative diplomacy, and contribute towards a just, peaceful and equitable world”.

To many Kenyans, the country’s recent elevation to the UN Security Council was the product of intensive lobbying at continental and overseas levels. But not many understood the elevation to mean an absolute trust in Kenya’s role in the family of nations. Over a half-decade since it attained self-rule, Kenya has been a beacon of peace, and a symbol of envy worldwide. Yet the nation has been fast in defending its territorial integrity if threatened. On occasions, terrorists from the neighbouring country of Somalia have been repulsed. But in all this, Kenya has acted with restraint.

Status 2019/2020: In March 2020, Kenya warned Somalia not to attack its sovereignty and territorial integrity. This followed a meeting of the National Security Council chaired by President Kenyatta, in response to an incursion into Kenya by the Somalia National Army on March 2, 2020. The Somali army had attacked and destroyed property in the frontier town of Mandera.

“This action amounts to an unwarranted attack by foreign soldiers with the intention of provoking Kenya. In keeping with our longstanding and distinguished tradition in peacekeeping and peacebuilding in the region and beyond, and in particular in Somalia, Kenya acted with total restraint,” said a dispatch from State House.

That apart, Kenya’s military contingent continued to secure its conflict-strewn neighbour as part of AMISOM (African Union Mission in Somalia) Command.

Maritime border feud: In May 2020, the International Court of Justice decided to delay to March 15, 2021 the public hearing of a case in which Somalia is claiming part of Kenya’s maritime territory. “The Court reached its decision, having duly considered the views and arguments of the parties, following Kenya’s request for a postponement of the oral proceedings in the case owing to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said The Hague-based court in a press release.

Defense and internal security

Chief of the Kenya Defence Forces, General Robert Kibochi visiting KDF soldiers in Somalia operating under AMISOM. He met soldiers stationed in Afmadhow, Billis Qooqani, Tabda and Hoosingo.

Kenya has pulled all stops to ensure that the country and its people are protected within and without its borders. The National Police Service is involved in maintenance of law and order, preservation of peace, protection of life and property, investigation of crimes, collection of intelligence, prevention of crimes, enforcement of laws, and apprehension of offenders.

The Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) is responsible for the defence and protection of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic. It assists and cooperates with other authorities in situations of emergency or disaster, and reports to the National Assembly whenever deployed in such circumstances; and may be deployed to restore peace in any part of Kenya affected by unrest or instability, but only with the approval of the National Assembly.

Status 2019/2020: In April 2020, General Robert Kariuki Kibochi succeeded General Samson Mwathethe as Chief of Defence Forces. Earlier, in December 2019, President Uhuru Kenyatta, who is the Commander-in-Chief of the Defence Forces, launched the newest infantry barracks (Modika Barracks) in Garissa County to serve the larger North Eastern region that is prone to terrorist attacks orchestrated mainly by al-Shabaab and their sympathisers. The new barracks will also provide a conducive environment for soldiers transiting to and from operational areas.


Kenya is a country of a people free to exercise their own choice. Indeed, in every five-year cycle, the people go to elections to exercise their sovereign power, in a multi-party democratic set-up. The next election is scheduled for August 2022. Thus the people will determine who will lead them in the following five years. The elections allow people to make their choice, and in the end be proud of their political determination. This tradition has lived on for decades.

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