STRUCTURE OF GOVERNMENT

Technocrats should work in ministries, but politicians make up Cabinet

We should go back to the old and trusted system

In Summary

• Technocrats, the thinking went, aren’t prone to tribal considerations and easily corruptible in the way politicians are.

• Well, the arrest and prosecution of some former Cabinet ministers proved that this isn’t true.

President Uhuru Kenyatta chairs a Cabinet meeting on April 18, 2019 at State House, Nairobi.
President Uhuru Kenyatta chairs a Cabinet meeting on April 18, 2019 at State House, Nairobi.
Image: PSCU

Whatever the final outcome, the Building Bridges Initiative has already reached one very important result: We are having a public discourse about the way we want to be governed.

Such discussions are crucial in any healthy democracy, which doesn’t want to fall behind and is aware of the fragile state of this complex form of government.

Over 70 years ago, Winston Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”.

I think all Kenyans can sign off this sarcastic saying whole-heartedly. Too many voters are swayed by cheap populism and unrealistic campaign promises, or vote along ethnic, tribal or religious lines —anything but ideological convictions. Too many are just a bit too lazy or too busy to keep up with everyday politics, which I understand. To feed a family and have a good social life takes up enough time as it is.

All these reasons might explain another well-known maxim: Politicians campaign in poetry, but govern in prose. This dissonance is, on the one hand, necessary so the politician can run a campaign that is interesting enough to catch the attention of the voter, but on the other hand, takes into account the harsh realities faced by all elected officials.

In the end, democracy isn’t a dictatorship, so a politician can’t just push through all his campaign promises after the election. There are just too many stakeholders that need to be on board and support policy decisions. This necessitates compromise, which often means compromising on campaign promises. 

Yet, the image isn’t black and white. Politics is rather a spectrum with many degrees, and the more a politician is accountable, the closer his campaign promises are to the actions he takes once elected. But here in Kenya, the continuous accountability of our elected representatives is severely limited. Once elected, they basically have a free hand and don’t have to care too much about their voters.

This is mainly because of our current system of government. As we elect parliamentarians in a system based on the “winner takes all doctrine”, too many counties exclusively vote for members of their tribe.

This form of tribalism is perhaps the most detrimental to the development of Kenya. We need to become a more inclusive society, where a mere coalition of tribes isn’t enough to wield power. That is the only way to assure that resources are deployed equally across the country and that cronyism becomes an evil of the past.

Thus, we need to have our constituencies to be represented more faithfully in Parliament. Each county should send representatives of all parties to Parliament, according to their share of votes. This would assure a fair representation of the local population, and increase accountability. 

A Parliament that is strengthened and more representative in this way should also be the source and the supervisor of the head of government. In our current system, the President is barely accountable to anyone except God and, in extreme circumstances, the Supreme Court. This system seems to almost invite undutiful behaviour.

Furthermore, the idea of technocrats serving in the Cabinet hasn’t proven itself to be worthy of continuation. In the beginning, we thought that separating Cabinet posts from politicians would improve the overall system. Let politicians legislate, and let technocrats execute.

Technocrats, the thinking went, aren’t prone to tribal considerations and easily corruptible in the way politicians are. Well, the arrest and prosecution of some former Cabinet ministers proved that this isn’t true.

We should go back to the old and trusted system, where technocrats work in the ministries, but politicians make up the Cabinet. At least they constantly have an open ear to the needs of the people!

We should be audacious when considering the possibilities of our future. It is a true stroke of luck that at such a crucial time in our history, we have a President who truly cares about the future of Kenya, and not only about his own future.

Uhuru isn’t afraid of taking tough decisions that so many politicians shy away from. In contrast to them, his focus is not on his political standing, but on leaving behind a stronger, more prosperous and more democratic country than the one he found.

MP Igembe North