GOVERNANCE

Looking towards Swiss model of government

Our priority is to ensure presidential elections are not equated with outbreaks of genocidal violence.

In Summary
  • Inclusivity would be achieved by having a rotational presidency; a small cabinet with clear regional representation;
  • and other instruments for ensuring that no corner of Kenya feels politically marginalised

The origins of Kenya’s thirst for democratic reform were really quite specific: The focus of the opposition leaders who championed reforms in the 1990s was to find a way to ensure that the serving president of the time, Daniel arap Moi, would not end up being a president for life.

It was then essentially, a search for a constitutional solution to the problem that Kenya had a long-serving president who simply could not lose an election, no matter what the opposition did to try and dislodge him.

Moi never got beyond 40 per cent of the votes cast in a presidential election. But he had an undeniable capacity for creating schisms among those who opposed him. And to those of us old enough to remember the political mood of those days, it is somewhat hilarious that the roughly 60 per cent of the country which opposed Moi moved from a delirious conviction in 1992 that Moi would lose, to a defeatist assumption just five years later – in 1997 – that this political maestro simply could not be defeated in an electoral contest.

 

All the legislative as well as the constitutional changes that followed were essentially intended to ensure that Kenya would never again be ruled by a classic African Big Man such as Moi had been: Ruling for decades with his image on all currency, and with universities, schools, roads, bridges and airports named after him.

The new governing structure of devolution that came with the 2010 “new constitution” for example, was intended to take away from future Kenyan presidents, one of Moi’s standard tools for domination. This was that he used to personally direct which regions of the country received “development”, and which did not.

This was no small matter in a poor country, as such decisions controlled key development indicators such as which regions got clean water, and in which regions children had to drink filthy cholera-infested water; who could easily transport farm produce on well-maintained roads and whose crops “rotted in the fields” due to impassable roads, especially during the rainy season; etc.

Now as we approach yet another critical political juncture, we should remember that a new problem arose shortly after Moi’s departure from the presidency in 2002. By the 2007 election, the previously idealistic opposition parties, now in power, had a major fallout. This then led to horrors unimagined in the Moi era: election-related violence on a cataclysmic scale.

And of course, the introduction of presidential term limits had ensured that even the most resourceful and cunning of future Kenyan presidents, would only serve for a maximum of 10 years.

So, if you consider such reforms in terms of the specific and particular political problems that they were intended to resolve, you could say that Kenya has a pretty good record on political reforms. We now have two retired presidents living quietly in the countryside – a scenario which would have seemed an absurd fantasy, in Moi’s heyday as the authoritarian leader of a single-party state.

Now as we approach yet another critical political juncture, we should remember that a new problem arose shortly after Moi’s departure from the presidency in 2002. By the 2007 election, the previously idealistic opposition parties, now in power, had a major fallout. This then led to horrors unimagined in the Moi era: election-related violence on a cataclysmic scale.

And so our great national priority now, is no longer to prevent a return to single-party authoritarian rule, but rather to ensure that Kenyan presidential elections are not equated with outbreaks of genocidal violence, and Moi-era levels of police brutality.

 

Given the experience of the past decade or so, I believe Kenyans may now be ready to seriously consider a possibility which was first raised by the celebrated veteran columnist, Macharia Gaitho, roughly 20 years ago. This was that we consider incorporating into our societal superstructure, certain key elements of the unique Swiss model of government.

In this context, inclusivity would be achieved by having a rotational presidency; a small cabinet with clear regional representation; and other instruments for ensuring that no corner of the country feels politically marginalised.

Back then, this seemed to be a Utopian suggestion, as there were many who believed that the only real challenge before us as a nation, was that of “kicking Moi into the dustbin of history” as some eloquently put it.

But by now – and given what we have seen of our national potential for election-related violence – I think this Swiss model is an option worth considering.