Raila best suited to lead Kenya after referendum

The first people to occupy a new outfit or lead a new institution give it character that defines its trajectory.

In Summary

• The referendum is likely to divorce the functions of the State from those of Executive.

• This will present a new and unprecedented era that requires innovative thinking to give the offices character and shape.


ODM leader Raila Odinga.
FUTURE PRESIDENT: ODM leader Raila Odinga.
Image: FILE

Recent statements attributed to Cotu secretary general Francis Atwoli and Jubilee vice chairman David Murathe point to an initiative to galvanise the country around a Raila presidency in 2022.

Raila Odinga's allies led by Homa Bay Woman Rep Gladys Wanga and Suna East MP Junet Mohamed, however, downplayed the impact of the statements. They instead insisted Raila is focused on achieving the nine-point BBI agenda.

Raila himself has consistently avoided any discussion of 2022 succession politics. Instead, he has repeatedly implored Kenyans to commit themselves to finding lasting solutions to the perennial electoral injustices. However, if the BBI report results in a revision of the executive structure of government, then Raila should not remain aloof.

The referendum is likely to divorce the functions of the State from those of Executive. If the functions of the state are organised around the presidency, then those of the Executive will most likely be performed by the Prime Minister. This will present a new and unprecedented era that requires innovative thinking to give the offices character and shape.

It also requires leaders with the necessary wealth of knowledge and experience in government administration to establish the foundations firmly. Just as the pioneer governors and senators have given these positions their current character and posture, so will the first president and prime minister post-referendum.

To avoid the pitfalls of relapsing in old habits that die hard, Kenya needs to identify leaders who will make the necessary sacrifices to make the positions worth the referendum process. There have been several attempts to correct the anomaly in our national governance structure with little success.

Since the reintroduction of multiparty democracy in 1992, the winner-take-all approach has invariably resulted in violence and untold suffering among Kenyans. It is hoped the BBI process will cure this malady.

While the final report has not been released, representations to the Yusuf Hajji-led committee made several recommendations to restructure the Executive arm of government.

Many agree the Executive should not exercise the authority of the State. The State is a super structure above the Executive. The head of the Executive should be different from the head of state. In a similar fashion, the heads of Parliament, the Judiciary and the military as the other arms should be subordinate to the State and its head.

The conceptualisation of this system may be fairly easy to comprehend but the operationalisation will present a huge challenge owing to the country’s political heritage and experience.

The immediate challenge is petty rivalry and unwarranted competition. The holders of the two offices (head of state and Executive) may find themselves in a quandary performing the roles in a confused manner, as has been the case with the Senate and the National Assembly.

The Senate-National Assembly conflict should be an eye opener to Kenyans as the BBI process recommends changes in the Executive. It is instructive that the people to whom you assign responsibilities give life to the offices.

The first people to occupy a new outfit or lead a new institution give it character that defines its trajectory. They create the life of these institutions to mirror their personal traits, even within the confines of the statutory provisions.

For instance, some MPs, who are now senators, created the Senate while in the National Assembly. As MPs their egos prevented them from assigning separate legislative and oversight responsibilities to the Senate. In contradiction, they created an impression that the Senate ranked higher in the legislative pecking order. Cleverly, the National Assembly retained superiority by dint of legislative powers. This has been the cause of their ruckus and rivalry since 2013.

The American presidency, on the other hand, owes its character more to the personality of George Washington than to the laws that established it.

The same would be said of John Adams, the pioneer vice president under Washington. The two men, by their sheer personality, shaped the relationship between the presidency, the Senate and the House of Representatives. Some legislation has had to be drafted to entrench these relationships; but largely they described instead of prescribed what was practiced.

It is against this background that Kenyans are called upon to discern carefully who to be the pioneer President after the referendum. So far Deputy President William Ruto has declared his interest in the top seat.

Then there is ANC leader Musalia Mudavadi, who will be making his second stab at the presidency.

While Raila has avoided discussion of 2022, all indications are that he will be in the race.  Alego-Usonga MP Sam Atandi and MP Oburu Oginga (Raila’s brother) declared the same a fortnight ago before the Murathe-Atwoli endorsement.  

Raila’s profile puts him ahead of the pack. He is relatively older than the rest and this would make him less vindictive. His past record at reconciling with erstwhile bitter rivals attests to this trait.

He has had an illustrious career in reorganising the Kenyan state through activism and legislation and therefore probably understands its dynamics better than most.

Over the years, Raila has been able to establish loyal networks locally, regionally and internationally. These networks would come in handy in maintaining national cohesion and stability. They would also give him an opportunity to champion Kenya’s regional leadership agenda as well as mutually beneficial bilateral engagements.

The president as head of state requires a person with personality to command respect from the other heads of government arms. Raila today appears least conflicted and best fits the bill. However, politics is dynamic and a fresh candidate who encapsulates these values much better may emerge just after the referendum.

What is most important is that Kenyans will be expected to elect a President who will avoid the allure of the office of the prime minister. Equally, elect a prime minister who will not be tempted to perform the roles of the head of state.