Tuesday, March 3, 2009



By Jerry Okungu
Nairobi, Kenya
March 2, 2009

When I was growing up in the village, I knew who the government was. In those days the government to me meant an official in uniform who had authority to impose an order. Therefore a tax collector, headman, sub-chief, chief, policeman, an agricultural officer, a DO, DC or PC was the government. And for some reason, elected officials like MPs or councilors were not considered serikali. They were representatives of the people and could not force us to carry out orders.

With time, the meaning of government has changed. KANU regime of 40 years changed the meaning completely. Powers of sub-chiefs, chiefs and DCs were transferred to local KANU supremos. That was how Okik Amayo of Karachuonyo and Kariuki Chotara of Naivasha became mini gods in the early days of the Nyayo era. With Kariuki Chotara and Kuria Kanyingi around President Moi; even cabinet ministers would tremble in their pants; unless of course you were as close to Daniel arap Moi as Nassir of Mvita constituency or Nicholas Biwott of Kerio Valley.

The meaning of government has continued to undergo evolution with the advent of multi-party politics and especially after the regime change of 2002. With Kibaki at the helm, most civil servants that hitherto wielded substantial powers like PCs and Permanent Secretaries had their powers transferred to the political class; the cabinet ministers.

There are two interpretations of government that will continue to confuse Kenyans for many years to come. To the ordinary person, government is that person in the village or slum with authority to keep law and order, to arrest those who break the law and to ensure local disputes are resolved one way or another. That person is the village chief or his assistant, normally accompanied by askari kanga as the administration policemen are normally referred to in the village.

The other interpretation among the elite refers to that body of people under the banner of a political party that wins a general election and forms the Cabinet. Once a party wins an election and forms a cabinet of ministers and top government officials; we refer to that cabinet as the government.

In the six years that Kibaki has been president, we can therefore safely say that Kibaki’s government has been in power for all that time, since December 2002.

The government therefore constitutes the President and the cabinet at the helm with support from Permanent Secretaries and other constitutional office holders.
However, in the Kenyan situation where the President has executive powers to appoint all constitutional office holders in the judiciary, treasury and the armed forces, it is assumed that all of them form part of the government of the day.

The third arm of the government that is relatively independent is the National Assembly that elects its own Speaker and Deputy Speaker, however, that is as far as its independence goes. Of its 222 members, nearly 100 of them serve in the executive as cabinet ministers, assistant ministers, chief whip, vice president, deputy prime ministers and prime minister. The executive therefore has a lot of power and influence in the House of Representatives in as far as parliamentary business is concerned.

It is therefore very disturbing these days to hear various cabinet ministers stand up in public rallies to claim that the government has failed to deliver its services to the people of Kenya. It is even baffling to note that when they make these pronouncements, the word “we” seems to be missing in their condemnation of government failure.

In many civilized countries around the world; the doctrine of collective responsibility is sacrosanct. It does not matter that the government of the day is a coalition like the one we have today. The moment a member of the team feels dissatisfied with the government he serves, he resigns from that government altogether. The moment a party in a coalition feels that it is not achieving a common objective or pulling in a different direction; it bolts out of the coalition and a fresh general election is called. This is the practice in Israel, Italy, France, Germany and India. It is the honorable thing to do rather than remain in a government you do not believe in.

For this reason, it is our duty to remind Mutula Kilonzo, Joe Nyagah, Martha Karua and James Orengo that they cannot have their cake and eat it at the same time. Common decency dictates that they must choose one or the other.

This call for their resignation from this government does not mean that you have been wrong. In fact they have been right all along that this grand coalition has failed full time. However, having realized that this coalition has failed Kenyans; their continued stay in the same government is not adding value to the people of Kenya. Kenyans have no business sustaining a government that everyday acknowledges that it has failed.