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February 21, 2019

We need systems, not dynasties


When I left for Germany the atmosphere in Kenya was still very much poisoned by the debate over whether or not there will be a presidential election on October 17 as planned by the IEBC.

There have been many analyses describing our current political crisis as being the epic conclusion of a decades-long contest for supremacy between the Kenyatta and Odinga political dynasties.

This of course makes for enjoyable drama (so long as there is no violence) but is pure nonsense. Kenya’s problems, in this case as in so many others, is due to systemic factors rather than any unbridgeable rivalry between political dynasties, and the tribal communities that support them.

I have often put down President Uhuru Kenyatta’s critics with a simple question: “If Uhuru is really such a hardcore Kikuyu supremacist as you are claiming, then how come he was a founding member of the Raila Odinga-led Orange Democratic Movement back in 2005, when it was dedicated to uprooting Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu President who had almost 100 per cent support from the greater Kikuyu community?”

And as for the former PM Raila Odinga, you only need consider just how many leading Kikuyu technocrats serve as his key advisers and strategists to wonder how anyone can believe that his core agenda is the dispossession of the Kikuyu entrepreneur class. Yet that view is held as an article of faith in much of Central Kenya.

There is no reason why Raila and Uhuru should not work together at one point; later part ways to form rival political alignments; and subsequently compete for top political office — all without subjecting the nation to the toxic levels of vilification that we have seen in recent weeks. What divides them is not as great as might initially appear.

As I said, our problem is systemic, not dynastic. We have an all-or-nothing presidential system which necessarily makes the presidential race a do-or-die affair. And that is what leads to the kind of crisis we now face.

If we had a system as they have here in Germany — a federal system in which coalition governments are the norm — the political crisis currently roiling Kenya would never have arisen in the first place.

I remember on a previous visit to Germany, about four years ago, I was in Berlin to attend the Falling Walls Conference. This high-level event is defined as “an international conference on the future breakthroughs in science and society” and is held every year on November 8 and 9 to commemorate the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1991, which paved the way for German reunification

That year, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was scheduled to give the keynote address at the conference, but in the end, was not able to make it.

The organisers explained that she was still in the middle of negotiations for the creation of the next coalition government. Apparently, those negotiations had taken rather longer than expected.

It is this kind of thing we would have now in Kenya, if we had adopted the Westminster parliamentary system when writing our new Constitution back in 2010.

There would be quiet backroom negotiations aimed at creating our next coalition government, instead of toxic tribal stereotypes being proclaimed at campaign rallies. And all our leading politicians would already have secured easy victories for their parliamentary seats.

But what am I doing here in Germany, since this is certainly not the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall?

Well, my reason for being here is something far more important to Kenya than the question of who gets to be our next President. I am attending ‘The Future of Farming Dialogue’ hosted by the global chemical and pharmaceutical giant, Bayer AG. What this means, practically, is that I am learning about advanced German agricultural technology, potentially a key to creating rural prosperity in largely agricultural economies like Kenya.

And I must add that the grinding agrarian poverty which is tragically prevalent in most of rural Kenya is yet another example of our political elite’s systemic failures.

Given the right material support and policy framework by the government, our hardworking small-scale farmers would not be condemned to a lifetime of servitude.

More on that next week.

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