The Star on its front page on Wednesday had the picture of ODM MP Babu Owino and Jubilee MP Charles Njagua (erstwhile bitter enemies given to exchange of nasty insults and accusations, almost coming to blows) shown as cheerful and ready to hug each other. What does it signify? That Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga have resolved the nasty relationship among politicians overnight and we are now on the way to a utopia, full of love and prosperity? What has happened to fundamental values that politicians are supposed to espouse — kissing each other without really knowing what Uhuru and Raila have agreed to.
Not every politician is so elated, for somewhat personal, not policy, reasons. Not William Ruto (allegedly heir apparent) and his friends (undeterred by unsavoury rumours about his conduct, and driven, unquestionably, by “loyalty” to him, not his policies, if they exist at all) whose immediate reaction is to abandon the Kikuyu and start wooing other tribes, even in Raila’s backyard. The Church, keen as always to please politicians, has continued to provide its holy sanctum to propagate his “ideology”.
There is no discussion of what Ruto stands for other than greed and means to satisfy it, and the wealth in which his hangers-on hope to share. Nor can Jubilee entirely disregard his ambitions: Here is typically Duale’s assurance to Ruto: “His [Raila] coming is a small thing when it comes to our succession politics!”
Who is going to be laughing a year hence? Politics as before or politics as ordained in the Constitution? Here is the clash between the two protagonists, the heroes of peace, unity, prosperity and justice on the one hand, and those espousing and promoting the ideology of ethnicity — from which they alone benefit, at enormous suffering of millions of citizens. Raila is without doubt a crafter and strong champion of the Constitution (and thus comes with credible credentials).
Uhuru, from his record in his first and second (so far) terms in the Presidency, has amply demonstrated he would like to tear up the Constitution (and has in some key areas, including capture of the police, indeed succeeded in this endeavour). He reinforced the worse aspect of the nature of the police — far from protecting us; the police harass and steal our money on a good day, and kill us on a bad day. Through unconstitutional laws, administrative practice, and personal agenda, Uhuru has damaged the Constitution and with it, us all. Some of the damage has been retrieved by the Judiciary — not Uhuru’s favourite institution.
So why should people now have confidence in Uhuru’s good faith? I think public opinion would shift towards belief in it if he were to admit that his father became hugely rich through the plunder of the State and citizenry and that he intends immediately (from that ill-gotten wealth) to set up a trust for the poor, deprived and handicapped individuals and communities. What his business friends, his primary sponsors, would think of such selfless, indeed historic, sacrifice is not hard to fathom. I do not personally rule out a total change in Uhuru’s values (nor deny his affection for Raila), moving towards human rights, social justice, democracy, care for the poor, turning slums into places of safety, indeed conviviality — where the police are the friends and protectors of the inhabitants.
Let us turn to more realistic scenarios. The agenda that Raila presented in his negotiations with Uhuru, and which we are told has now been adopted as central policy, will ensure (or threaten?) a fundamental change in the Kenya we have known for several generations. The readers of the Constitution will recognise its provisions as the basis of the manifesto of NASA. Raila has long claimed his loyalty is to the Constitution. But unlike Uhuru, he has not yet had the opportunity to prove his loyalty. His immediate advisers are undoubtedly people of great talent and integrity — but will they continue to exercise their influence, and shift national policies towards the NASA directions? There are undoubtedly many seasoned politicians in NASA ranks, whose values may not coincide with the manifesto. Perhaps those of NASA who are upset by Raila’s adventures, will explore possibilities of joining those in Jubilee who might be disenchanted by Uhuru’s adventures. Powered by the rich and the unscrupulous, this new alliance might well present a real threat to the Raila-Uhuru venture. They care little for what Uhuru and Raila have agreed to deliver to Kenyans, particularly the poor, the sick, the vulnerable, minorities, pastoralists, children, and the elderly. Nor are they enamoured of the promotion of good education, good medical services provided by the State — their wealth (often acquired through the plunder of the State) gives them access to private schools and hospitals.
Finally, let us see how realistic is the ambition of Raila and his advisers — and true followers. Following largely the framework of the Constitution, the Raila team (it is premature to say it is NASA) starts with the objective of Nation Building (with the emphasis on “Being Kenyan”, a common identity); State Building (departing fundamentally from the colonial model) with clear division of responsibilities and the participation of the people, and the Devolution of State powers; Transforming Governance, Realising Social and Economic Rights; Creating Jobs, Eradicating Poverty; and Regional and International Co-operation.
A constant theme is national identity and inclusion — the foundation of our social cohesion. Ironically, our politicians have deliberately destroyed this cohesion, principally by cultivating ethnicity, as a barrier to unity — nay more than that, as the basis of conflict and killings. This has been very obvious in elections, in breach of numerous constitutional provisions, which are geared to promote national identity, unity and integrity (values little appreciated by either political leaders or the institutions regulating elections). Our politics have become the manipulation of ethnicity, to the extent of bribing and deploying violence. There is no real discussion of our social and economic situation, fairness, equality and consequently no policies. Almost all of the discussion is about politicians (and their fortunes) and succession to the Presidency. Politics are reduced to the satisfaction of greed (of candidates and voters).
How do we get out of this morass? Raila, in common with numerous organizations, civil society, and caring people, should emphasise the responsibility and restructuring of the State—fully implementing the 2010 Constitution. The uniqueness of the Constitution is that it addresses a range of issues and problems (including those listed in this article) and requires remedial processes and action that are obligatory for all the people. Its detail is unusual, a sort of a manual, on how to achieve the objectives and aspirations of Kenyans—and avoid bad policies and practices. Do not mess with the Constitution without working out if a change is necessary. The major problems which are now attributed to the Constitution are really due to the greed and obstinence of politicians—an excellent example being the mutilation of the electoral system—the root of our problems. Nor are the politicians, with their bias and self-interests, qualified to assess the working of the Constitution or to change it. This task is best left to independent experts --more on this in another article
The agenda that Uhuru and Raila have adopted of the total re-ordering of our effective values and institutions is enormously ambitious, but open to disruption by powerful vested interests. In the best of times, it requires more than four or so years. Thought needs to be given to how the period of transition can be increased, and the fundamental values and procedures of the Constitution are embedded in our culture.
Yash Ghai is a director of Katiba Institute