Kenya has always struggled with the decades-old problem of divisive elections. So bad is the situation been that presidential polls are now synonymous with violence, with 1992, 1997, 2007 and 2017 polls sticking out like a sore thumb.
Notably, it was the violence during the 2017 elections that triggered the handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga and inevitably, finding a lasting solution to this ugly state of affairs topped the nine-point agenda that guided the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI).
Every five years, during which the country holds a general election, there is a conflict that threatens to destroy the lives of Kenyans, when the country titters on the edge. This problem has been consistent for at least three decades, leading to deep economic and political instability. It is the reason investors have not been committing themselves to long-term projects in the country, leading to slow economic growth and job losses.
Under the current system, electioneering periods are defined by strong ethnic divisions and related violence.
Kenyans from all walks of life who shared their views with the BBI task-force made it clear that the violence is caused by the desire for inclusion in the governance of the country. There was a strong feeling that some communities were left salivating as others partook in the feast of the national cake.
Despite the 2010 Constitution introducing devolution, which led to decentralization of resources and power, many still believe the presidency can lead to unequal distribution of public resources and service delivery – with the winning ethnic group(s) taking the lion’s share.
And even when the president appoints members of a community that did not vote for him/her to the Cabinet, this is still not seen as being inclusive. People view these as inconsequential tokens. It is the reason why Kenyans now want an end to the winner-take-all system, a western model.
The model raises the stakes during elections, leading to extreme mistrust in the electoral process and triggering a temptation to rig or reject election results. This results in tension and inter-ethnic conflicts.
Since independence, Kenya has been experimenting with different political models, all of which have not worked.
Between 1963 and 1964, we had a pure parliamentary system. It failed. Between 1964 and 2007, we had a hybrid semi-presidential system while we adopted a hybrid cohabitation system under the National Accord between 2008 and 2013. We have had a pure presidential system since 2013; but none of these has seemed to work.
Going forward, Kenyans want predictable peace and stability during elections. They are tired of having their lives completely disrupted by hurtful political campaigns.
To achieve this, they told the BBI taskforce they want the President to lead an Executive that enjoys overwhelming support from across the country and drawn from across the ethnic divide. The President will be elected through a popular vote and serve for a maximum of two five-year terms.
The head of state will be deputized by his running mate, who will serve as the deputy president.
After the election, the president will appoint a prime minister, who will be an MP and from a party having majority members in the National Assembly. The PM will be confirmed by MPs. He/she will be the leader of Government business and will supervise the running of Government affairs among other duties. To reduce the wage bill, the Prime Minister will only earn his MP’s salary.
The people also want a strong opposition that will hold the Executive accountable through checks and balances. That is why the BBI provides for the loser of a presidential election to become the Leader of the Official Opposition and an automatic member of the National Assembly if his/her party is not represented in government. The other parties that are not in government will form part of the official opposition.
To challenge the Government’s positions in Parliament, the Leader of Official Opposition shall be facilitated to form a shadow cabinet.
In choosing members of the Cabinet, who will now be called cabinet ministers not cabinet secretaries, the president shall consult the Prime Minister. The ministers will be drawn from among MPs and technocrats.
That is unlike in the current system where the Cabinet is dominated by technocrats who are not directly accountable to the people.
To have faith in the electoral system (confidence in IEBC is very low), political parties will be allowed to nominate non-partisan members to the commission. All IEBC staff will be employed on a three-year contract, which will only be renewable once based on one’s performance.
Returning officers, who will now be working part-time, will only oversee one general election. Other changes include: making the IEBC chairman CEO, not requiring commissioners to be lawyers (only one), reducing the high cost of elections and vetting of current IEBC senior staff.
These recommendations, if adopted, are likely to go a long way in ending divisive elections in Kenya.
Mr Mugolla comments on topical firstname.lastname@example.org