“The SDGs are best served by good governance”

Rose Adhiambo is a lawyer in Kenya. She is the recipient of two DAAD scholarships, most recently for a doctorate on good governance in Africa.

DAAD alumna Rose Adhiambo

How important are the SDGs for the people in your country?

They are very important, as issues. Access to health or food is a topic that Kenyans relate to directly, especially when they feel its lack. But ordinary people don’t know about the SDGs as a concept or vision. The language of the 2030 Agenda is too formal and elitist for them.

What do the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs mean to you?

I’m concerned mainly with SDG 1, the eradication of poverty, in combination with SDG 16, good governance. Because those are the two that help Africa progress. If we work towards ending corruption and economic crimes we can diminish poverty. The SDGs are best served by good governance.

Are any other SDGs relevant for you?

Yes, definitely. I’m a woman in Africa. The SDG that is geared towards increasing women’s participation in governance and schools and creating more gender equality is very important to me. And the goal of quality education affects me directly. Without the help of the DAAD, access to higher education would have been impossible for me.

Is your field of study, law, still male-dominated in Kenya?

It is strongly dominated by men. The Chief Justice is a man, the Attorney General is a man. Up to now women have played only a secondary role within the legal and justice system in Kenya. We are not yet adequately represented.

So you will have to become for Kenya what the US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg was for the US ...

That’s the vision. But my idol is actually Ursula von der Leyen, President of the EU Commission, because she has taken over a powerful position at the international level. It’s the policies she stands for – she doesn’t limit herself to EU matters but looks beyond. I’m also impressed by her ideals and her advocacy skills. She inspires me.

What is your personal goal in more concrete terms?

I’m interested in an international tribunal that addresses economic issues because I believe a breach of an economic law is a breach of human rights. But I’m also very much interested in governance and institutional change. So it doesn’t matter where my path leads me as long as the goals are poverty eradication, good governance and the protection of human rights.

How did you get to where you are right now?

The outcomes of my national exams allowed me to enrol for law at university in Kenya, where I soon got engaged in the Kenyan Human Rights Commission. After graduating, I went to Cape Town to do a master’s in law. The programme was mainly about economic crime. I really, really liked it; I learned about international criminal law, anti-corruption and money laundering. After that I went back to Kenya and, supported by the DAAD, got a second master’s degree in regional integration, which allowed me to look at economic issues from an institutional point of view.

And soon you will go to Tübingen to work on your PhD, right?

I’ll move to Germany in autumn 2020 and stay there for three years, until 2023, again with a DAAD scholarship. I’ll be doing research in Tübingen and field studies in several African locations. My topic is normative supranationalism and good governance in Africa. I’ll be looking at laws that supersede the national level and how they function. The EU has a regional policy on human rights and on democracy; it has regional laws on almost everything. And they seem to be working.

At the end of your work, will you formulate recommendations on how to better implement regional laws in Africa?

That’s the idea. If we have no knowledge about the informal systems that influence our governance structures, those can’t be effective. If we don’t acknowledge these factors, we will always be 3,000 steps behind in realizing the SDGs.

Bad governance is one factor that slows down achieving the SDGs. What about Covid-19?

The reality is that, because of the coronavirus, we have had to put a pause on a lot of the SDGs. For instance, we’ve seen an increase in human rights violations, police brutality, theft and corruption. We’ve had to sideline the goals. Covid-19 has become a virus that also infects the SDGs. That’s very unfortunate.


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