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January 21, 2019

Ten actions beyond Uhuru-Raila political handshake

 President Uhuru Kenyatta addresses the media after he held a meeting with former Prime Minister Raila Odinga at Harambee House, Nairobi.Photo PSCU
President Uhuru Kenyatta addresses the media after he held a meeting with former Prime Minister Raila Odinga at Harambee House, Nairobi.Photo PSCU

Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga’s political handshake initiative was aimed at halting the further bleeding and possibility of imminent collapse of the country, not a legal binding accord. It was a statement of intent between the two.

The ‘software’ referred in the Uhuru-Raila statement is found in the failure to implement the Agenda Four aspect of the National Accord of 2008, the TJRC report, the African Peer Review Mechanism report and Chapter Six of the 2010 Constitution. Future talks will only be useful if the negotiations focus on actions and reforms that restore democracy and the rule of law in this country, not who wields power.

Unfortunately, what has always been the endgame of such initiatives is ‘promiscuous power sharing’, with little or no attempt to genuinely tackle the deep sources of the fragility. It won’t be easy. It needs binding rules of engagement, and well-structured and inclusive agency with a timeline to expect outcomes. The dubious role of the security apparatus must be addressed.

Our conflicts are essentially driven by competition for political power and its benefits. The inability, or unwillingness, of politicians to break from the colonial practice of divide and rule is the country’s gravest weakness. Poor leadership has been the central issue, rather than the colonial legacy per se.

The Uhuru-Raila pact is largely founded on elite patronage politics. The major players are willing to set aside different policy preferences in the interest of participating in government, in part because it is lucrative. Few would deny that both corrupt payments and “money politics” have become critical components of the way the political system works in Kenya.

This is not the first time Kenyans are hearing such words as ‘A New Beginning’ and, or ‘Never Again’. Recall the preamble of the National Accord and Reconciliation Act 2008: “This agreement is designed to create an environment conducive to such a partnership and to build mutual trust and confidence. It is not about creating positions that reward individuals. It seeks to enable Kenya’s political leaders to look beyond partisan considerations, with a view to promoting the greater interests of the nation as a whole. It provides the means to implement a coherent and far-reaching reform agenda to address the fundamental root causes of recurrent conflict, and to create a better, more secure, more prosperous Kenya for all.”

It is such a shame this remains a fantasy; with those in power opting to be blind to the truth.

The handshake came at a time when the country is contending with deepening democratic recession and the abandonment of the rule of law, authoritarian regression, suspension of key constitutional imperatives, attack on and crippling of independent institutions, curtailment of civil liberties, media freedom abrogation and silencing of civil society.

Beyond the handshake, we need to rebuild and deepen democracy, and this entails strengthening citizen participation, representation, and equality in the electoral process. Many areas will need courageous political resolve to address.

First, we must democratise the State by distributing power across different levels of government and institutions.

Though the elected government and political system are important pillars, the democratic state is more important. Dissatisfaction, disenchantment or fears against the institutions, systems and processes reflect their professional, credibility and integrity weaknesses, and failure to maintain their independence, especially during elections.

Second, we need to focus on strengthening electoral democracy, building checks and balances, transparency, accountability and citizen participation. It also means ensuring strong, efficient and independent institutions that reflect the multi-ethnic and diversity factors of the country with due attention to fair gender representation. This is the conundrum of our system.

Third, a healthy political system is just as important, if not more important, than economic transformation. Economic transformation can help but by itself cannot resolve political problems.

Four, a democratised state defines and sets limits on the power for which political parties compete. Moving forward, an independent non-partisan political and legal process should be instituted to review and recommend changes to the roles, and responsibilities, of county governments, their revenue base, the division of labour between national and county levels, and set forth processes to solve emerging differences and conflicts.

The distribution of power between these two levels of governments is important. The counties are closer to the people because it is where jobs and opportunities are, and, as a result, the concentration of power and resources in the national government complicate the survival of the devolved units. The goal should be to make government at the county level more responsive, effective and accountable.

Five, let’s have a democratic system that One, and most important, iprovides the basis and mechanism for implementing the principle of popular sovereignty; Two, recognises citizenship rights and treats them equally and Third, provides a means for peaceful competition for State power and resolving disputes. Fourth, should empower and accommodate civil society and independent media.

Six, apart from addressing the executive governance structure, the country has to tackle the electoral system. Representation in Parliament and the County Assemblies should be proportional to the population and diverse groups. To ensure minorities are effectively represented, it is necessary to adopt proportional representation for more inclusive democratic governance and address gender gaps, participation and equality.

Seven, is enforcing ethics, integrity and deterring conflicts of interest in the public service. Elected representatives and holders of public office must be committed to serve the public interest, not to personal enrichment. They should have a clean record. Those contesting positions should declare their assets and explain how they accrued them. Eight, in deterring a rogue state, the government must exercise State powers in accordance with the Constitution and other laws in the interest of the people. Protection of liberties and rights of citizens and groups are cardinal in democracy. Liberty is essential for citizens to realise their aspirations and to discharge their democratic responsibilities.

Nine, State power is the prize for which political parties compete. The exercise of State power must be a shared responsibility and function of all branches of government. Dispensing government funds, goods, contracts and services should be through impartial means. It is important to separate government from a governing political party because its a fusion of two breeds of corruption and abuse of State power.

Finally, the inadvertent tendency to fuse professional State institutions with the ruling party and elected government is completely wrong. This can be dangerous in that it can sap their professionalism, leading to corruption and abuse of power. Heads of the professional State institutions must provide professional advice and stand their own ground without being insubordinate or disobeying the incumbent government.


The writer is executive director, International Center for Policy and Conflict

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