Sunday, March 31, 2013



By Peter Anyang’ Nyongo’
Building Kenya as one nation was not always an easy project, nor was it an impossible task. Jomo Kenyatta accomplished only one aspect of it: he presided over a period of establishing the post-colonial state as an institution that could allow market forces to develop given a legal framework that worked reasonably well as long as it satisfied the accumulation appetite of the elite. As such the Kenyan economy grew by leaps and bounds during the Kenyatta years, making Kenya compare favorably with her French West African counterpart, la Cote d'Ivoire.

Like Houphouet Boigny of la Cote d'Ivoire, Kenyatta failed miserably in creating the Kenyan nation politically; he left behind a fractured, tribalized and politically non-functional nation- state when he died in 1978. We recognized this when Moi took over and argued that, as "a political outsider" with regard to the famous Kiambu Mafia, Moi would excel in championing the Kenyan project politically. He would hire people into the civil service on the basis of merit. Personnel in state apparatus would reflect the face of Kenya. Regions would develop equitably. But he did none of this.

Instead he chose to legitimize himself with the ruling class Kenyatta left behind through his Nyayo philosophy of "peace, love and unity" which essentially meant “doing things the way Kenyatta did them", or following Kenyatta's footsteps. Opulence among his closely knit elite with whom he ruled Kenya increased. Those who had continued to have and the majority of Kenyans were terrorized into silence. A fear mongering state was used to make this silence be equated with popular acceptance of the status quo.

For the 24 years that he ruled Kenya, Moi spent every day trying to succeed Kenyatta. He was obsessed with finding his own men who could replace Kenyatta's men so as to perform the same things better. For example, if it was a question of using state apparatus for personal accumulation the new generation under Moi tried to outdo their Kenyatta era predecessors with tremendous gusto.

Given the new global conjuncture of post 1973 oil crisis, the same political approaches Kenyatta used could no longer be tenable in producing the same economic fortunes; the Kenyan economy therefore started having a nose dive under Moi, inviting displeasure from the very elite he inherited from Kenyatta.

The support the progressive forces received from this elite in fighting against Moi's authoritarianism was unfortunately interpreted as the support by this elite for democratic change and reforms. It was not.

In 2002 Mwai Kibaki received overwhelming support from all pro-democracy movements and organizations to assume the presidency of the Republic. But the first thing Kibaki did as soon as he came to power was to distance himself from all these democratic social forces, and to pursue a largely technocratic approach to advancing the Kenyan project of nation building, relying on a narrow ethnic elite as his predecessors had done. Devoid of any love or passion for popular movements, political parties or democratic discourse, a culture of managing state affairs through cabals, well controlled state discourses and political support by ethnic kingpins followed.

The first casualty was the National Rainbow Coalition both as a nascent political coalition and a popular movement by the expectations of the people. The second casualty was consensus building among the parties that formed the NARC government through democratic discourse and consultation. The constitutional conference at the Bomas of Kenya in 2003 was therefore held in an atmosphere where suspicion reigned among the NARC coalition partners, and the content of the new constitution was suspected to be a conspiracy against Kibaki's rule. It was not surprising therefore that the Bomas constitution led to a divisive referendum which gave Kibaki the excuse to disband the NARC cabinet and to seek to restore the authoritarian presidency in the fashion of both Moi and Kenyatta.

But history had advanced, and the referendum of 2005 itself brought into play a large array of popular power for democratic change that could no longer be bottled up either by force or fear mongering.

It burst forth during the attempts to rig the December 2007 elections into the "Haki Yetu" mass action movement rejecting the doctored results of the elections and demanding that the government respects the rights of the people in changing government through free and fair democratic elections.

The majority of Kenyans became aware of the shortcomings of the Kenyan political project following the Post Election Violence in 2007/2008. The two reports by Krieggler and Waki were quite clear on what needed to be done to rekindle the project of building Kenya as one nation. On the one hand was the issue of political and economic reforms, including constitutional reform; on the other was the issue of social justice and the rule of law, especially with regard to those affected by the violence and those most responsible for the violence.

The General Elections that has just been held in Kenya shows that the electoral process that we adopted in the new constitution, and the regime it is meant to produce, do not provide long lasting solutions to the Kenyan political project. We are still the victims of the presidential authoritarian regime and the divisions it creates in the Kenyan society. We must change tact.

What we need badly is a parliamentary system of government with proportional representation. We must also make voting compulsory for Kenyans who are 18 years old and above.

We must remove the idea that political parties nominate candidates who then go to compete in a general election. It does not work and it will never work. Individuals who want to stand in an election should simply stand after they have been duly qualified by the electoral commission. When the election is over, all the votes that candidates belonging to a party get are then added together to indicate how much that party has gathered in that constituency. The party with the most votes wins and the candidate with the most votes within that party becomes the member of that constituency.

At the national level, the votes that parties get will determine which party or coalition of parties form the government led by a Prime Minister and not a President. We will, of course, need to work out this in more details but I think we have a better chance getting the Kenyan project of nation building if we travel along this road than if we insist going the way we are at the moment.