NEW DEAL

No tinkering, Kenya needs radical wholesale reform

The discussions surrounding the possible referendum appear to be heading in the right direction.

In Summary

• While Kenya today is a shining example of African progress, we have our fair share of problems which indeed require wholesale reforms. 

• President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga cooperating on such a level in itself is a positive sign for Kenyans.

The BBI team addresses the press at the Intercontinental Hotel in Nairobi on July 15, 2019
The BBI team addresses the press at the Intercontinental Hotel in Nairobi on July 15, 2019
Image: JULIUS OTIENO

All politicians speak of reform. Indeed, as elected and appointed officials responsible for improving the lives of the general public, reform must and should be on the lips of all politicians.

However, some reforms are more revolutionary than others. Some issues require policy tinkering or basic legislation. Other issues can be tackled through simple marketing campaigns or superficial reforms. However, when it comes to the very political system and political culture of a country, the issues of the fair sharing of power, and the maintenance of peace and security, what is needed is wholesale reform.

And while Kenya today is a shining example of African progress, we have our fair share of problems which indeed require wholesale reforms.  What we need is a new political deal for Kenya.

The American New Deal in the 1930s, led by one of the great leaders of the 20th Century, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, included a series of wholesale reforms in numerous fields: public work projects, financial reforms and new regulation.  The US was coming out of the deep depths of the Great Depression. It famously focused on the three Rs, ‘Relief’, ‘Reform’ and ‘Recovery'.

It included groundbreaking programmes at the federal level, including the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Civil Works Administration, the Farm Security Administration, the Social Security Administration and others. Its bottom line, however, was to create a new reality, a new social structure that would provide a safety net to guard against the great tragedy which had afflicted the nation on such a horrifying scale.

Kenya now its own traumas and tragedies, episodes in our recent history that we would all like to put behind us for good, never to return.

Post-election violence, inter-communal struggles and tension and centralised closed politics have cast a shadow over our developing democracy for too long. It is time for our own wholesale reforms. While 1930s US had their three R’s, we must have our three Ps: Peace, Progress and Prosperity.

Peace lies at the heart of our progress, and progress will lead to our prosperity.  And in order to have peace, we need a new political deal that ensures peace, stability and inter-communal understanding. For too many years, we have had a situation where politics has not been about ideas or ideology. Instead of manifestos or visions, platforms or policies, our politics have been dominated by patronage and tribal loyalties.

How do we expect to move beyond the senseless tribal violence when the results of all our elections are a centralised power politics dominated by one or two large communities? It is time for a new political deal that helps create a new social framework for generations to come.

The discussions surrounding the possible referendum appear to be heading in the right direction. The constitutional reforms that are rumoured to be on the horizon, whilst still unclear, seem to be moving in the direction of ‘big tent politics’.

President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga cooperating on such a level in itself is a positive sign for Kenyans. Musalia Mudavadi (ANC), Kalonzo Musyoka (Wiper) and the likes of Senator Gideon Moi (Kanu)are also getting behind the proposals that would decentralise executive power and restructure the ‘winner-take-all’ political system. This sends positive messages from the various communities across our nation.

However, we need more. We need religious leaders across Kenya to put peace front and centre of their agendas and sermons. We need the elders and respected members of our tribes and communities to call for solidarity with their neighbours, putting past disputes firmly where they belong — in the past! 

Finally, it is vital that Deputy President William Ruto and his team, who currently appear to be leaning towards their own constitutional proposal, play a constructive role in this vital formulation of our new deal. Unity is key. We are in this together. We must live together in a fairer, more democratic Kenya whose politics are based on those three Ps: Peace, Progress and Prosperity.

The New Deal in the US only succeeded because the people came together to support it. More importantly, there was a political consensus. The executive worked hand in hand with the two houses of Congress. Unlike the broken and polarised state of the US today, back then things were different. In the face of a depressing past and an uncertain future, the leaders of that nation united for the sake of their own peace, progress and prosperity. Our leaders must now show the same responsibility.

Maoka Maore is Igembe North MP