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January 22, 2019

Rotational Presidency Not A Lasting Solution To Our Ethnic Problems

President Uhuru Kenyatta waves to his supporters after his official inauguration with his deputy William Ruto at the Kasarani stadium. Photo/HEZRON NJOROGE
President Uhuru Kenyatta waves to his supporters after his official inauguration with his deputy William Ruto at the Kasarani stadium. Photo/HEZRON NJOROGE

When I finished my book, Towards Genocide In Kenya: The Curse of Negative Ethnicity, I rejected rotational presidency as a false solution to the problem of our unending ethnic conflicts along with ethnic federalism – majimbo, military dictatorship, governments of national unity, non-party democracy and redrawing the map of Africa.

Notwithstanding, Miguna Miguna now proposes rotational presidency as the solution to our leadership and ethnic problems. And though I consider rotational presidency a false solution, to the extent that it has been tried elsewhere with varied levels of failure, Miguna Miguna’s proposal must be rejected before some people embrace it as a serious solution to our ethnic problems.

When I considered rotational presidency as a possible solution to our problems, my conclusion was that in Kenya, it would be a false solution that may satisfy some ethnic elites but only temporarily.

 As for those who champion the cause of rotational presidency, they believe it is a perfect tool for eating that ethnic elites of various communities can share one after the other.

Before rotational presidency gives a chance to all ethnic elites to eat, it must prevent elites of one or few communities holding on to power eternally, while other ethnic elites remain excluded from power and eating for what might seem like eternity to them. Indeed, rotational presidency is rotational because it will rotate among ethnic elites until all will have tasted the presidency, it's power and food.

But ethnic elites never speak in the name of their own interests. They conceal them in the name of their communities. Accordingly, under rotational presidency, communities that have produced a president, that is the Kikuyu and the Kalenjin, and have allegedly eaten, will not be entitled to another presidency until every other community will have had a president, which they believe will entitle them to eat together with their president.

And again, if one goes by this logic, some of the 42 Kenyan communities will wait for more than a century to eat with their president, and then wait for another hundred years before they can eat again.

The tragedy of rotational presidency is that it is premised on the community of the president eating while all the other communities and their elites wait to eat when their turn comes.

When the idea of rotational presidency was first mooted in Kenya, its most vocal advocates were the Kalenjin ruling elites who other Kenyan communities accused of committing ethnic atrocities against other Kenyans.  To them, a rotational presidency would have barred their worst political enemies, the Kikuyu, who already had had power under Kenyatta, from coming back to power again for years, and at the same time, protect the guilty Kalenjin from punishment and retribution from another Kikuyu president.

Going by this pattern, after the Kikuyu, it would be the turn of the Kalenjin to be barred from power. After 24 years of Moi rule, the Kalenjin will also have eaten.

At first rotational presidency was campaigned for through anonymous leaflets, to conceal its real authors who were ruling elites in the Moi government. For instance, one such a leaflet read: “Gikuyus must understand that the presidency is rotational. It is NOT theirs. They have had their time.” 

The leaflets continued to say: “In Yugoslavia, some ethnic groups wanted to force others to be their slaves. They said NO and the result was splitting Yugoslavia into several countries that NOW exist…We are seeing the same thing in Kenya. The Gikuyu want the rest of Kenyans to be their slaves to which we say NO! Enough is enough. Let’s go the Yugoslavia way.”

Already, we have started another round of distributing anti-Kikuyu leaflets.

But before Yugoslavia split into different ethnic countries, rotational presidency had failed to unite the various ethnic communities in the country. And when it failed, war and break up of the country seemed the only way forward. Once rotational presidency could not hold the centre, things fell apart.

In Nigeria, they have campaigned and achieved a rotational presidency but only between the elites of the Muslim North and Christian South of the ruling party. Many Nigerians communities like the Ibo that don’t belong to the ruling party are not part of the rotational presidency.

There are many reasons why rotational presidency cannot save Kenya from ethnic conflicts. 

First its language is ethnic violence and always ends in war and ethnic conflagration and splitting the country into ethnic states or republics.

Second, the logic of rotational presidency is the language of negative ethnicity that can never be a cure for ethnic conflicts.

Third, no communities or ethnic elites will seek to perpetuate rotational presidency that allows the president and the elite of his ethnic community to eat alone while the other communities and their elites look on and starve. 

Fourth, rotational presidency will kill nationalism and the idea of a popular vote and fair national elections based on merit.  It will let one community – by lottery, appointment, or a mere flip of the coin – to appoint a president who will starve all other communities. Far from ending ethnic conflicts, rotational presidency will only inflame it. How can the nation respect a president whose only qualification is ethnicity and whose only purpose in power is to eat while others look on?

In Kenya, the solution to our ethnic conflicts is not rotational presidency. It is humanist social democracy. To end ethnic conflicts and negative ethnicity, Kenyans need a system that is based on sharing power and wealth, a system that is not built on some people exploiting and hating others. This system must be socialist, democratic and humanist. Through socialism, it will distribute resources to all. Through democracy, it will give all people power and food. Through humanism, it will keep all people united. It has worked in Scandinavia. It can work in Kenya.

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