Reflecting on socio-politics worldwide, Prof Francis Fukuyama’s conclusion in ‘The End of History and the Last Man’ holds that the strongest democracies are those with fewest social differences (read, the fewest tribes). There are always going to be biases, but where they are harder to identify, politics becomes a little bit more sophisticated. It’s no longer a choice between “our people and their people” but rather, a question of “who amongst our people is better”. It is the reason western and Arab nations manifest a stronger sense of nationalism compared to say, sub-Saharan Africa.
The richer the people are, the less time they have for pettiness. Economically empowered people are less concerned with whoever is president. Local politics takes centre stage, if at all, because people are more concerned with the effect policies have on production at a personal level. You may limit their political rights without getting a reaction unless you touch their money. It is the reason benevolent autocracies survive.
Kenyans neither have the money nor the means of production. But everyone wants land which, because of past injustices and high demand, is a scarce commodity. With every tribe fighting for this most precious resource, the need to have “one of our own at the top to protect our interests” becomes a primary concern.
This rot traces its origin to the first few years of independence when, with the aid of British funds, Kenyatta transferred the former white highlands to a cabal of cronies and other small holders on a first-come-first-served basis, leaving many Kenyans, and more so the original land owners, landless. The result is a modern Kenya where the Kikuyu permeate the Rift Valley, the Coast, Western and so on, as landlords, while the Kalenjin, the Maa, the people of Western Kenya and Mijikenda wallow in poverty. It’s our version of the Palestine-Israeli crisis with elections seen as a crusade against “the invaders”.
It’s with this background that Kenyans need to ask asses the solutions offered by, inter alia, the Building Bridges Initiative and the Punguza Mizigo campaign.
In forming the Technical Committee, President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga identified ethnic antagonism and competition, lack of national ethos, inclusivity, divisive elections, corruption and shared prosperity. In summary, the main point of the nine issues was that when we end tribalism, corruption, impunity and electoral theft, nepotism and politically motivated development and employment, then the glass ceiling will be broken for all Kenyans to realise their fullest potential. It is a fair assessment.
For solutions, the team suggested a parliamentary system of government which, in its view, would make the competition for leadership a contest of ideas through political platforms as opposed to ethnic warfare. It also suggested proportional representation or mixed member proportional representation, and full implementation of the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission and Waki Reports. On inclusivity, the team recommends changes in law to guarantee that the two thirds rule applies to every cadre of public service. It also recommends that appointments to all cadres of public service be proportionate to communities’ share of total population.
The introduction of a powerful Prime Minister simply shifts focus to the premiership. In other words, voter biases will remain, only that this time they will campaign vigorously for the party to ensure that the favourable leader it offers rises to the top. Once there, the party will work hard to remain at the top. Vote buying in parliament will be rampant.
What the country needs is for Kenyans to feel that they have an equal shot at the Presidency (or premiership). Whilst it is an improvement from the current presidential system, the changes would be much more welcome if the Executive were expanded to a council of members representing all regions, who will execute presidential functions as a unit. This way, the process of decision-making will be more rigorous and inclusive. At the very best, it minimises biases while spreading the “rewards” of proliferation to seven tribes at worst.
To sum up, while the changes proposed by the BBI and Punguza Mizigo campaign are largely good, they fail on the critical aspect of homegrowness. In other words, they do not mirror Kenya’s socio-economic dynamic. Commendably, Punguza Mizigo campaign has taken this issue into perspective. While BBI talks of expanding an already large government, Punguza Mizigo guarantees savings of some Sh32 Billion. While imperfect, it is a start. (