Three years ago, Kenya’s two most powerful politicians shook hands in public and defused an explosive post-election stalemate. Both laid claim to the Presidency of the Republic of Kenya. In October 2017, Uhuru Kenyatta had been declared President for a second term after winning 98.3% of the votes cast in a repeat election ordered by the Supreme Court which had previously nullified Kenyatta’s razor-thin victory in the 8 August 2017 presidential election. Raila Odinga boycotted the repeat election and refused to recognize Kenyatta as President, embarking on a campaign of sustained mass protests against Kenyatta’s incumbency. The campaign was met with deadly force by the police.
By January 2018, Odinga’s campaign had attained the critical mass to defy threats of prosecution for treason and so he arranged to have himself publicly sworn in as Kenya’s People’s President on 30 January 2018. For a further two months, Odinga’s campaign eroded Kenyatta’s legitimacy day by day, whilst also frightening off investors and dampening economic activity. The country was suffering from high anxiety and I remember the palpable relief with which the world received the news that, on 9 March 2018, these antagonists had met one-on-one and, after publicly shaking hands, called off their respective dogs. Apparently, prior to the public handshake the two had signed the Memorandum of Understanding between H.E. Uhuru Kenyatta and H.E. Raila Odinga.
In summary this hard to come by document stated that when we end Tribalism, Corruption, Impunity and Electoral Theft, Nepotism and Politically-Motivated Development and Employment, then the glass ceiling will be broken for all Kenyans to realize their fullest potential, especially the historically marginalized, namely women, youth, persons with disabilities, minorities, pastoralists and other vulnerable groups.
However, Kenya’s problem wasn’t diagnosis but prescription.
Though Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga may be well meaning in their “journey to accomplish Kenya’s dreams since its independence”, is this really a country that can afford the top heavy governance structure that their Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) is proposing? What’s the wisdom in spending KSh 14 billion at the very least on changing the Constitution by popular initiative when a parliamentary process would have sufficed? In fact, the BBI we are now faced with is a classic case of mission creep. It is now primarily a vehicle to allay the personal political and economic fears of our political class.
We all know of course that a politician has no job security. Pesky term limits written in stone now have it that a Kenyan can serve as President (or Governor) for no longer than ten years. An elected Member of Parliament (MP) or Member of a County Assembly (MCA) stands to lose their job as sure as the sun will rise every time there is an election. Turnover in Kenyan parliamentary elections goes as high as 70%. Few politicians are not constantly aware that their vaunted self-worth could be gone tomorrow; the poor lady or gentleman could in an instant be an ordinary mwananchi a.k.a. a nobody.
Such is the decline in the master-servant relationship, theoretically underpinning a representative democracy such as ours, that a national leader (servant) can call his electors (masters) ordinary, and justify special privileges at the electors’ expense.
In the first governments after Independence, wananchi were commonly referred to as watukufu (venerated). Today we are well, ordinary. Common. And yet the common are called upon year after year to do extraordinary things. To find ever more money from ever dwindling sources to support the servant class that call themselves VIPs, and because they are fond of stratification and very class conscious even VVIPs.
Most know that Kenya is one of the most unequal societies in the world (using Gini’s method), But, ostrich-like our leaders believe that class and stratification is the last thing we should be using as the basis of political discussion. This week I read that a 2021 Global Wealth Survey establishes a net worth of $20,000 (Sh2.2 million) places you in the population of Kenya’s top one percent by wealth. The same study found that 60 years after throwing off the yoke of colonialism our system of governance has yielded fewer than 3,500 Kenyans with a net worth in excess of 1 million US dollars.
Haidhuru, a new bill wending its way through parliament has been written so as to preclude using the obvious inequality in political mobilization. If this law, primarily sponsored by a scion of one of Kenya’s few colonial Paramount Chiefs passes then Jesus would be on thin ice if he delivered his sermon on the mount anywhere within the borders of our republic. Quick to see a trespass on its turf, the recently registered Communist Party of Kenya made the devastating retort “no law can ban the class struggle.”
Kenya is clearly undergoing extreme economic hardship, the year 2020 being the first in 2 decades in which the economy contracted. Yet, we the common people are now being forced to find the money to pay for a new executive and legislative structure, which according to the Institute for Economic Affairs will cost up to KSh 3.6 billion more annually than the common people currently pay for representative democracy.
The cost of representation is a sore point in Kenya and has led to street protests when in the past parliamentarians voted to increase their pay and to make themselves tax exempt. Kenyan MPs are widely acknowledged to be better paid than almost all other legislators worldwide. Ironically, to secure support for the BBI, its proponents had to induce the 2,300 + MCAs with a car grant of KSh 2 million each. Just enough to make them all one-per-centers.
So to cost us KSh 3.6 billion million more every year our irresponsible leadership has pledged to immediately spend KSh 4.6 billion.
The referendum ballot preparations, voting, counting and hopefully honest tallying will cost according to a profligate electoral commission at least KSh 14 billion. If the handshake partners had instructed their parliamentary parties in March 2018 to publish by parliamentary initiative a constitutional amendment bill (identical to BBI) it would have no doubt by now have been debated and passed without this extra expenditure (after all they jointly have a clear super majority in Parliament – at the moment). So why did they choose to go the popular initiative route which was conceived to be the means reserved to the “ordinary” mwananchi who felt moved to propose a constitutional amendment but could not otherwise persuade the elected members of our legislatures to take his bill up.
I have a hunch the BBI referendum drive is motivated by three political reasons – but the primary one is to make we the common people complicit in our own fleecing. Tangentially, we are also being asked to set up a political contest ahead of the general election as a form of primary which would result in portraying one faction of the hegemony that rules us as the winner and the other as a loser. Third but equally important one faction of our leadership will get to replenish their campaign money tanks at taxpayer’s expense ahead of 2022 – and hopefully deplete the resources of the man they’re ganging up against.