Carole Ayugi was a child when her mother, Francisca, lost her pension. Now, as one of Kenya’s top labour lawyers, she knows it was this blow to her family that determined the course of her life.
“My mother did nothing wrong,” she says, “she had been asked to take early retirement but then wasn’t paid out her pension and didn’t have the tools to fight for what was rightfully hers. There have been so many times that I wish I could go back in time and help her sort it out.”
The impact of what happened to her mother was a tremendous anxiety and frustration for Carole’s father, Dalmas, who had studied law for a short time at Makerere University in Uganda and who tried to use the little he knew to help his wife but to no avail.
At home Dalmas, a disciplinarian with a strong value system, encouraged his children to read, especially his old university law books and, as he fought their mother’s case, he dictated letters for his daughters to type, honing their listening and writing skills and building within them the ability to structure an argument.
“What I took out of that time in our lives – what my father made all his children understand – was that if a person knew the law and how to apply it, you could look after yourself and not be treated unjustly,” she says. “The result is that today I know Kenya’s employment and pension laws inside out.”
When Carole told her father that she intended becoming a pilot in the army when she finished high school at Loreto Convent Valley Road, he dashed her dreams.
“I was going to the University of Nairobi to study law.”
Her sister, Rose Ayugi, followed the same course and today is a senior law lecturer at Kenya’s Moi University.
Employment and pension law in modern Kenya is a far cry from what it was in her mother’s day, she says, but it is complex and the Employment Act, revised in 2007, is open to misinterpretation.
“There are a number of ways employment relations are regulated –the Constitution being the main one but also through statutes and regulations.” On top of that there are Orders, individual labour contracts and practices created over time by a company.
“People read the Employment Act and think they know what it means and how to apply it but there is case law and context that need to be considered. There are general orders that are a hang-over from the past regime that are still in place. It is always advisable for clients to use a lawyer to ensure this law is properly applied.”
The Act defines the fundamental rights of employees – the basic conditions of employment – and all related matters, Carole explains. It is considered to be an important Kenyan law as it sets the minimum standards for all employment in the country. She points out, that pension law remains in transition and there are regularly bills being passed to update pension legislation. For her, what has been especially relevant, is the updating of the Pensions Legislation (1997) which now protects the rights of the member and ensures good governance of the fund.
“In the modern Kenya my mother would have been protected,” she says.
Despite a political hiccup with the presidential election in 2017 (when the results were contested) Kenya is politically stable with an expanding economy.
“The middle class is growing and there is a strong appetite for goods and services,” she says.
The country is moving away from a solely agricultural and tourism-based economy into new sectors like fintech (the mobile banking system Mpesa is an example); mining but done in partnership with local communities (oil, gas and titanium are areas of growth); ICT (Kenya has some of the fastest internet speeds in Africa); and infrastructure development.
“There is a wave of change sweeping the country with a concerted focus on the president’s Big Four agenda which is universal healthcare, manufacturing, affordable housing and food security – all of it underpinned by an expansion of skills and knowledge.”
All of this has been a positive spin off of the fraught political time around the election.
“The election tested our country’s ‘corporate governance’, and in particular the judiciary. It was tough but we made it through the test. People have the willingness to make Kenya prosper.”
It means now that lawyers need to ensure they are equipped for a changing country in a highly technological world where ordinary people have access to information with the click of a button.
“In coming years so much related to law will be automated and it is up to lawyers to ensure they keep pace with change so that they can continue to serve their clients and remain relevant,” she says.
For Carole, what is most encouraging is seeing the push towards gender equality, the involvement of the youth in the economy and watching how, gradually, people turn away from tribalism.
“People are no longer ignorant, they read and they want to create a country where they can thrive. Lawyers are a major part of this and we have to ensure we contribute in a positive way.”
On a personal note she thinks back to her parents with great affection but with a touch of sadness. “They were put through a lot and what happened to them was wrong but Kenya has changed and is still changing. Ordinary people, people who are like my parents, can now realistically imagine a better society for themselves and future generations.”
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