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January 17, 2019

Kamket bill only a first step

Tiaty MP  William Kamket  PHOTO/JOSEPH KANGOGO

I am inclined to agree with Tiaty MP William Kamket that there is an air of inevitability to the eventual passage of the Bill he has presented before Parliament for the return to a Westminster parliamentary system.

We have by now lived through over 20 years of many Kenyans discreetly arming themselves as election day draws nigh, fearing they may have to defend their families against marauding gangs who have been directed to where ‘members of the enemy tribe’ live by the very neighbours they live with as brothers and sisters.

Surely, we do not need any more proof that Kenyan presidential elections are inherently toxic. Of course, Kamket’s Bill cannot possibly be passed without alterations. But I shall find myself lost in amazement if come 2022, we are still expected to line up to vote for an all-powerful imperial President. For such a President would — in the nature of Kenyan politics — be guaranteed reelection in 2027 and would most certainly, thereafter, hand over to a pre-selected successor in 2032, irrespective of how Kenyans actually voted.

And if this presidential system prevails, then very likely at some point between now and 2038 —within the next 20 years — Kenya, as we know it, will cease to exist.

But of course, I do not expect this to happen. Maybe because once again, we have proved that our political culture — as opposed to our political system — has in-built self-correcting mechanisms.

Our existing political system may not be one that guarantees inclusion — much less electoral justice.

But our political culture and our political traditions are such that any reelected President always reaches out across the political aisle to accommodate the opposition leaders, who, just a few weeks or months ago, were his most bitter rivals.

However, be that as it may, the electoral justice Kamket’s Bill promises to deliver over time, is only a solution to our most immediate problem.

Just as we were to find out at Independence that political freedom was no guarantee of individual prosperity, so too is it now that electoral justice is no guarantee of something we need even more — economic justice. Here is how this concept of economic justice is defined: “Economic justice is a set of moral principles for building economic institutions, the ultimate goal of which is to create an opportunity for each person to create a sufficient material foundation upon which to have a dignified, productive, and creative life beyond economics.”

The emphasis here is on this “ultimate goal” of creating “an opportunity for each person to create a sufficient material foundation”.

In other words, economic justice exists where ordinary people have enough money to live ‘above the poverty line’.

This is no easy task. And it is absurd to underestimate the challenges we face here, by claiming the leaders and the people of other nations have found a swift and easy path to prosperity.

I personally have nothing but contempt for the many Kenyan intellectuals who every now and then will put forward the name of the fabled founding father of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, and groan over the fact that Kenya has yet to produce a leader of his calibre to guide us into the land of milk and honey.

The fact is this man had a pretty easy time of it, for all his 30 years in power. Not only was he an unchallenged autocrat, but — as one of his critics pointed out — he was basically the equivalent of ‘a mayor of a mid-sized city’ if judged by global standards.

Consider if he had faced something like what we have in Northern Kenya, for example, with its seemingly irreconcilable and deadly clan rivalries; vicious cattle raids sanctioned by ancient traditions; the pervasively irredentist mindset of some of our pastoralist tribes; the easy availability of AK-47 rifles from neighbouring states, etc.

Given similarly grim and unyielding political realities, would he really have brought his country From Third World to First in one generation, as he famously claimed to have done?

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