How did we get here?
I wrote this on a Previous Blog in May 2018 –
In most of 2017, Kenya mirrored the behavior exemplified by Abunuwas cutting a tree branch he was sitting on. After the January 30th 2018 swearing-in ceremony for the People’s President of The Republic of Kenya, Raila Odinga there seemed to be no way back. The fission looked complete. With two ‘Presidents’ installed in the same country, only fire and brimstone clouded the horizon. The fall-out from eons of neglected historical injustices, the bitterly yet closely contested election in August 2017 and the consequent brutality meted by state players on the opposition, the nullification of that entire process and the farcical fresh election seemed to have pushed us to the edge of the precipice. Battle lines had been drawn and positions entrenched so deeply the tension arising was virtually palpitating. In most households in the opposition strongholds, murmurs of secession were evident and poignant for all to see. And these sentiments were no doubt justified. Hateful rhetoric was spewed from all quarters and the same leaders who we elected as our symbols of unity, morphed to become the very wedge that was splitting asunder the gargantuan woody tree representing what we have learnt to call our motherland, Kenya. Dubious and quite shady characters; some purporting to be members of some ‘business community’, were co-opted on an inexplicable basis to militantly protect the interests of the majorly unpopular but imposed ‘majority’. Polarization was the order of the day and like a living cell that is in the Telophase stage, a seismic split was definitely on the cards. Then the seemingly unexpected happened, an anticlimax of sorts. On the 9th of March 2018, a meeting was secretly concocted at the President’s Office between him and his bitter rival catching both ally and foe speechless. The aftermath of the meeting was an unexpected handshake between the bitter antagonists and a cessation of hostilities.
This was the beginning of the Building Bridges Initiative which seeks to take advantage of the cooling of existing tensions between the antagonizing fronts to create space for national dialogue and sort out the issues that have eternally threatened to split Kenya into smithereens every time a General Election is called, putting us on a needless warpath with our erstwhile good neighbours. For nearly one and a half years the taskforce for the implementation has been working on developing the problem statements and county to county traversing to ask the citizenry of the major issues that bedevil them seeking for a panacea to the ills that impede our nationhood and the prospect of every citizen avowing pride to be a Kenyan. This document urges Kenyans to make the deliberate jump from merely being a nation united by blood ties to a body that finds concord in aspiring to a set of predefined values and mutually satisfactory ideals. This can only be achieved by amending the injurious sections of the 2010 constitution while adding new elements and call for greater seriousness in enforcing the culture of constitutionalism by the relevant authorities.
CHAPTER 4: ENDING ETHNIC ANTAGONISM AS BOTH A CAUSE AND CONSEQUENCE OF POLITICAL COMPETITION
Diversity is a beautiful thing. The Almighty in his infinite wisdom made every person though similar in form and shape but unique in his/her own way. However, in Kenya diversity has turned out to be our Achilles’ heel. First it begins with innocuous taunts over long-standing ethnic stereotypes, developed over many years of folklore and interaction with neighbouring communities. Unfortunately, this morphs into actual contempt, insults, frayed emotions, injured egos and ultimately outright brawls. When the strife for resources like jobs, prosperity in business, prime residential & commercial real estate, multi-million shilling government tenders becomes a function of belonging to a particular group – either by default or design, then inevitably conflict must result. Political power invariably pours fuel into this powder keg. Diversity is meant to be celebrated and enhanced. If we continue finding sadistic pleasure in spreading hatred then we are merely setting the stage for shared doom. Even the current benefactors of this state of affairs will lose, even to the interminable, transcendental generations after theirs.
Strife for resources and clout are a natural phenomenon. Kenya is consisted of a multiplicity of ancient nations, linguistically diverse, culturally rich with variance in models of governance and dispute resolution. With time these nations learnt to exist side by side and even wrought mechanisms for regulation and solution of cross-border conflict. Unfortunately with the advent of colonialism, came the winner take all system and belief that ‘might is right’ using state machinery as a tool for disenfranchisement and oppression. We inherited this rottenness and sharpened it to brutal levels at the attainment of independence. This is at variance with our traditional consensus-led model for political and social dispute resolution. Politics here has consequently mutated to an ethnic census where the winner takes all in absolute disdain to our cultures of yore. We are denied capable stewards with a strong, national vision to rally us to shared prosperity. The result is pettiness, insincerity and leaders keen to create dog-whistles that only work to resonate to our primal instincts, pitting ‘us’ against ‘them’. The result of all this is seldom peace and prosperity. Group antagonism due to the tribe, family ties, religion, familiarity, friendship, clans, race among other considerations is ultimately to the bane of us all. Regional Integration with our neighbouring countries is one means to escape this insidious descent into anarchy. Political Federation into the East African Community will stop in its tracks this phantom of tribalism as the parochial ethnic politics of today will find no space in a greater community as the tribes become only a minority stirred into our soup of the East African Community. Sovereignty will only be short-lived before we join each other legally, policy-wise and administratively.
The Recommendations reached to end our needless ethnic antagonism include:
- Build & Enhance ties that bind us as opposed to rifts – From a young age everyone will be incentivized to respect ethnic and religious diversity. This principle will have its physical manifestation in public service constitutionally stipulated. School curriculums will be enthralled to feature compulsory courses on history, cultural & religious diversity as these attributes’ interlink with the practice of constitutionalism. Additionally, public boarding secondary schools will be compelled to have not less than 50% of the student body from outside counties. The National Museum Society will forthwith be compelled to showcase without diminishing importance, the cultural diversity of Kenya. Cultural Centres will henceforth become a feature of every county.
- Scrap forthwith the ‘winner-take-all’ model for Presidency, opting instead for a more consociational (power-sharing) model that thrives for ethnically-divided societies – Many a hopeless romantic have regaled their damsels with tales of giving them the moon, in absolute disregard to the obvious reservations with what then will illuminate the path for the rest of us at night! Madness that is quintessential of romance notwithstanding, this is the same question that Kenyans have asked for eon – If the winner takes all, what becomes of the loser? Going forward, we are urged to be more consensus-oriented as opposed to appealing to our ethnicities as our primary mode of political competition. This will sound a death-knell to the archetypal do-or-die style of politics that is endemic of our societies today. The Executive (Cabinet) should reflect the face of Kenya highlighting the political will of the nation and not lean heavily on the President’s region of extraction in the guise of coaxing loyalty merely by aboriginal association.
- Resource distribution should be fair with this impartiality trickling down to the grassroots – All Kenyans should be deemed equal in resource allocation. The per capita share of national resources inclusive of healthcare provision, agricultural dividends, social services, natural resources and access to livelihood opportunities has to be equitable and guaranteed to every citizen of the Republic of Kenya. An Equalization fund should be set up to ensure those previously or currently being marginalized are given extra support to come up to speed with the rest of the nation. Institutions mandated with resource distribution should report their work clearly, periodically, without withholding information or erasure to all Kenyans.
- Committee of Elder Statesmen (Baraza la Washauri) – In cognizance of the President as our national symbol of unity, he should benefit from the advice of eminent, experienced and venerable citizens serving in a Council of Advisors as pro-bono consultants.
- Accelerate Regional Integration – a means to escape the diabolically interminable cycle of ethnic political competition by federation with our neighbouring countries. To the uninitiated, The East African Community Treaty is already part of our Laws and Government. Political and economic federation is the ultimate aim of EAC. Federation will result in the major tribal groupings of Kenya merely being reduced to minorities within a Federated nation which is much welcome.
- Institutionalization of Agenda-based politics by National Political Parties – All Political parties will be compelled to reflect the Face of Kenya in Ethnic, religious, regional and most importantly gender terms. A dearth in the level of refereeing; the term referee here alluding to the Registrar of Political parties, has resulted in the chaos we now witness in the name of democracy. Going forward, we seek a financially and ethically strong, assertive, independent and proactive Office with regard to political party registration. It’s appalling that since the establishment of this ostensibly august office in 2007, it has lacked a substantive Registrar in absolute breach of not just our constitutional order but also the Political Parties Act. As a deserving gift to an audacious new Kenya, we need to recruit and appoint a substantive registrar; in so doing maintaining the position in future with a keen eye on the stipulations of Functions of the Chairperson of a Chapter 15 commission. A new office empowered to monitor the implementation of the Political Parties’ Code of Conduct and sanctioning those who flout it.
CHAPTER 5: DIVISIVE ELECTIONS
It’s an open secret that Kenya’s glaring failure is understood even internationally to be in her governance and the poor leaders that our weak system churns out. Conflict is the hue that colours our political contests every 5 years interrupting almost every facet of life. We have a crude, adversarial system devoid of any middle-ground as it’s ‘us’ versus ‘them’, albeit Angels versus Demons tags to our contests. This is worse for the Presidential race, whose contestation more often than not is the major source of these destabilizing elections. This current status quo ensures that every five-year period we morph into gladiators for our ethnic identities, fighting it out with our good neighbours for no other reason than our candidate versus yours. The desire for inclusivity fuels this quandary as access to resources has for eon been primitively attached at the hip to whoever gets the presidency. The perception of personal gain from being the clients of a successful political leader means that as a populace we become ready to pull all stops for a victory. This is in antipathy to us being 7 years into the era of devolution, where resource allocation was supposed to be decentralized. Consequently, as other nations seek to bake bigger cakes, Kenya is trapped in the loop of trying to share the little that is available. Going forward, we need an election that guarantees peace, economic stability, personal security and an opportunity to fete meritocracy. This can only be secured by an end to the winner-takes-all system of leadership to stop the exclusion of other taxpayers from state largesse. As we have seen with the 7 years of Jubilee Party, even where the winner appoints members of other tribes to his own Cabinet including the losing side; more often than not, tokenism is the only thing in play rather than meaningful expressions of genuine goodwill.
In the past, before the promulgation of the 2010 constitution, we elected our Presidents through a plurality system in which a winning candidate had to secure a simple majority in universal suffrage with at least 25% of the mandate from 5 of our 8 former provinces. This yardstick obviously did not pass muster with instances like the 1992 election where despite the benefit of government machinery consequent to incumbency, Daniel T. Arap Moi still managed a paltry 36.6% of the national vote. The current system raised the threshold to 50%+1 with a provision for a run-off if the leading candidate during the first election does not meet this exceedingly high threshold. This has only whet universal appetite for greater representation of their political interests in the executive. Not just that, but Kenyans have demanded for greater social and political accountability from their leaders at the high table of both county and national government. A do-or-die dimension to our presidential contests have seen extreme skepticism and mistrust of the electoral process. It is no secret that the quest for victory in the national elections has seen the major players even resorting to uncouth tactics like outright rigging of the polls and sometimes even the rejection of credible results. There are seldom winners’ medals for the Electoral body no matter how good a job they do as the opposing side will always cry foul in such highly charged contests.
Prima-facie, the Kenyan Government purports to have equality and equity in governance and distribution of national resources. While the law attempts to deliver oversight necessary to achieve this, high-level corruption suggests that officeholders still exercise a level of discretion that is vulnerable to abuse and ostracism of other Kenyans. Moreover, Kenyans have noted that few communities have ever had a chance to have their kinsman at Statehouse as Presidential Elections in Kenya are oft an ethnic census. The BBI puts great emphasis on strong, multi-ethnic and nationwide parties that permit leaders of stature to grow no matter their tribal inclination. The desire for greater inclusivity, equality, fairness, equity and accountability was observed among most Kenyans. It has proven a stumbling block for a political class that owes oodles to tribalism as a rallying call for them to turn round and cultivate the political will to downgrade its importance. Certainly, this can be only achieved by concerted efforts by enlightened and determined leadership able to shift this paradigm, by so doing, lay the foundations for stable, ideology-based politics for future generations. In the antiquated dispensation, size & inefficiency of government contributed to this current debate. Equally useful to bear in mind, a model that works for Kenya must entail a cohesive and strong leadership cadre that assures of decisiveness at critical times without the paralysis induced by bureaucratic sibling rivalry courtesy of ill-defined constitutional parameters open to double-entendre style misinterpretation by diverse opinion holders.
The recommendations to sort out this conundrum include:
i) An autochthonous (homegrown) National Executive – Since independence, we have experimented with the three major Western models to the Executive. Circa 1963-64, we had a pure Parliamentary system; moving onto the Hybrid semi-presidential system between 1964 – 2007 which was an abject failure. Between 2008 -2013 we tried Hybrid Cohabitation that proved a slight improvement but ballooned the government wage bill. After 2013, we have experimented with the Pure Presidential system that has been abysmal to put it generously and an utter farce as far as the actual state of affairs is concerned. A homegrown inclusive system is now sought as we had in pre-colonial times. Kenyans want a system to guarantee not just a strong President for decisive leadership, but also an accountable Parliament. Not in the least, a strong opposition is needed to offer checks and balances to the government of the day.
-The President will continue being elected under the strictures of the 2010 constitution. He remains as Head of State, Government and Commander-in-Chief. He will Chair a Cabinet consisting of the Deputy President, Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers. He retains the 2 term limit.
-A new feature of this pristine system is the reintroduction of the Prime Minister. Within a stipulated period after an election, the President shall appoint a PM. He will be an elected Member of the National Assembly from a party with a majority of members and will be forced to canvass for the seat among his colleagues to gain the support of an absolute majority of them. Parliamentary approval will be mandatory in an absolute vote.
Afterwards, his roles will include:
- Authority over control, supervision and execution of the day to day functions of Government.
- Leader of government business in the National Assembly.
- Chair of Cabinet sub-committees on presidential prodding.
He/she will earn a normal MPs salary with none additional to his role. Additionally, this appointee may be dismissed in case of a vote of no confidence.
-The Seat of Leader of Official Opposition will make a comeback, this person being the runner-up of the Presidential Election. He will be an ex-officio Member of Parliament. The holder of this position will have no presence in government by being a coalition member with the winning party or individually. This individual shall have his shadow cabinet. During a prescribed Question time, the opposition will play a key role in putting a PM and Government Ministers to task over their dockets.
-Principal Secretaries will be free from parliamentary approval as their accountability will be strictly administrative and technical.
ii) A Mixed Cabinet – It’s still up for decision whether to go the American way: With technocrats or Our old British way: with MPs. The Members will be appointed in consultation with the PM. They will be a mix of technocrats & Politicians. A Minister of State will be tasked with shepherding the political and parliamentary accountability side of things. The Position of Cabinet Administrative Secretary to be scrapped.
iii) Popular Representation – It is to be upheld through free, fair & transparent systems. The principle of equalization of representation shall reign supreme as the Gender rule and other measures of inclusion are enforced. All 290 constituencies will be retained. We will have 360 members each elected by registered voters from both the 290 constituencies and 70 more from single & multiple-member constituencies. We will have a Senate with 94 members, a man and woman nominated from each county.
Independent candidates will continue to contest. Devolution of political parties will be urged to the counties with political fora to hold elected leaders accountable throughout their term. Nomination lists will be completed transparently overseen by the Registrar of Political Parties and IEBC.
iv) The Referee Body – Leaders of Political Parties will have a say on the recruitment of the Head of Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission and their fellow commissioners. Non-partisanship is greatly encouraged, with a sound record of accomplishment and integrity. Known political activists and supporters of political parties will be shunned. All IEBC staff henceforth should be appointed on 3-year contracts renewable only once for good performance. This will end the culture of error propagation to the next team. Returning Officers are to be hired through a competitive process and basis for appointments be available explicitly, handling only one election.
Any person with at least 15 years of management experience is urged to throw his/her hat into the ring for appointment as Chairman of IEBC. It should no longer be the preserve of ‘learned friends’! However, at least one commissioner should be a Lawyer. The composition of Electoral Commission must reflect the face of Kenya. Provisions enshrined under Article 86 of the current Constitution regarding simplicity, security, accountability and transparency of the voting process still remain.