Friday, August 16, 2013



P. Anyang' Nyong'o

I was dismayed recently when I heard one Presidential advisor by the name Kuttuny haranguing his listeners somewhere in South Nyanza that they must stop their leaders from criticising the Jubilee government "if you want the government to give you development." Young as he is in age Kuttuny has his mental make up stuck in the Nyayo era when such speeches were on the menu of KANU political sycophants mounting any political platform across the Kenyan republic. At that point in time government services were dispensed to the people as a favour; they rarely received it as a right they deserved by dint of being Kenyan citizens and tax payers.

Times have, of course, changed with the new constitution which provides Kenyans with both individual and people's rights and puts sovereignty and power in the hands of the people. When citizens exercise their constitutional rights and choose a government, or when they have a government they have not chosen exercise political power over them, they still retain their right to be served by the government notwithstanding their political persuasion. After all, Kenyans pay taxes to the government even when they disapprove of the way the government is run. It is therefore unconstitutional for Kuttuny to intimidate any Kenyan anywhere in this republic that government can only provide services on condition that a Kenyan citizen "works with the government".

Paying VAT is a good enough sign that a Kenyan works with and for the government no matter which individual is the President at any actual time. Paying income tax is equally a strong expression of citizenship responsibility. In the final analysis voting itself shows a citizen has the passion to determine what type of government comes to power in Kenya. Kuttuny has the right to question the voting preference of any citizen. But he is definitely out of order to imagine that his own preference is good enough to deny a citizen who disagrees with him government services.

It is often said that democracy is where the majority have their way while the minority have their say. This is only true as long as we are looking strictly at the Anglo- Saxon version of liberal parliamentary democracy restricted to "first past the goal post" principle. Elsewhere democracy, as a government "of the people, by the people and for the people", has evolved tremendously to go beyond individual choices to people's choices as well. Hence the emphasis on people representation, proportional representation and devolution of power.

Kenya is just beginning to travel this direction in the new constitution. A little bit of proportional representation has been tried through representation of youth, women and people with disability. These people live everywhere in Kenya and come from diverse political persuasions. They need not come from the same school of thought so that their interests are reflected in the way government services are delivered.

Nonetheless our version of proportional representation is still what I call "segmental proportionalism". It can very easily amount to "tokenism" when the numbers of those represented through this process do not make much of a difference.

We need to go further and let the people be represented both in the legislature and the executive according to their political preferences as well as their demographic size. When this is done together with the devolution of political power, then there will never arise a situation where any Kuttuny can think that some part of Kenya is not represented in government. All Kenyans will be in government in proportion to their demographic size as well as their political preference.

The question now to be asked is whether the presidential system of government as we know it today can be accommodated in this particular democratic government we are talking about. The answer, unfortunately, is no. What we have done in this constitution is to retain the presidentialism of the old constitution within the context of a devolved system of government and segmental proportionalism and we are finding out that the mongrel is not moving well. It wont move well. It cant move well. The solution, however, is not to throw the baby away with the bath water but to pick up the baby, put it in a new bath tab and get some clean warm water to bathe it in.

In the run up to the making of the current constitution some of us rooted strongly for a parliamentary system of government with proportional representation as well as devolution. But we lost out. Even the amendments we proposed in parliament could not be debated due to the limited time within which Parliament had to pass the constitution. But all is not lost.

It is in this context that we must soberly look at our constitution, eschew any grand standing and state very clearly that we want to go beyond where we have reached so far and create a system of government where all Kenyans feel at home. At the moment this is obviously not the case, however much we may try to pretend that all is well and we should simply "move on." indeed, looking at the problems we face squarely and frankly is part of moving in; it is a holistic moving on and not a partisan moving on.