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To stem exclusion, we should end presidential system now

By Makau Mutua | Published Sun, November 12th 2017 at 00:00, Updated November 12th 2017 at 12:18 GMT +3
President Uhuru Kenyatta with his Deputy William Ruto Photo:Courtesy

Humpty Dumpty is originally a riddle – with two meanings. The first is that of a “fat, or rotund person.” The second is that “of a person or thing that once overthrown can’t be restored.”  It conjures the idea of nonsense on stilts.  Frankly, that’s how I am thinking of Kenya these days. 

Our country has become a facsimile of the European 15th century egg-like nursery-rhyme character Humpty Dumpty who fell off the wall – and disintegrated into a thousand little pieces – and couldn’t be put together again. We seem to have a date with damnation. There’s only one way to avoid certain death – we must revisit the 2010 Constitution. It’s a great document, but it needs to be put together again.

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We must submit to the Constitution and accept there are no answers outside that document. I know people – by many estimates majority of Kenyans – feel disenfranchised and voiceless under the current regime. No amount of shouting, name calling, or denial will change this basic fact. 

Those – in Jubilee – who feel they are in power legitimately can’t overcome the conscience of those who believe the regime is illegitimate. Nor can the people be ruled by brute force.

That era is gone – never to return. The legitimacy of any regime today must be based on the willing consent of the majority. That’s why we must return to the Constitution to restore legitimacy by agreeing – on both sides – on a new consensus.  

People are deeply frustrated. I can’t see how the Jubilee duo of Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto – and their allies – would want to rule a restive population for the next five years. It’s not going to be fun. Frankly, it’s not worth the stress. We live in an age in which the respect and love of the populace is infinitely more important than the fear of the ruler.

The democratic idea of legitimacy – not just legality – killed Machiavelli a long time ago. That’s why I am suing for a return to “regular order” – the idea that it’s possible, even probable, to put our humpty dumpty back together again. Otherwise, we must stoically face our existential moment and die like cowards.  My call for a return to regular order by revisiting the 2010 Constitution isn’t just to Jubilee and NASA.

It’s true these behemoths are critical to our dilemma. But so are other sectors – business, civil society, the clergy, and the ordinary citizen. I know some have called for secession. 

I understand their frustration but I reject separation as the solution. Instead, I have identified a number of constitutional pillars that should form the basis for a new national compact. If we try them, and nothing works, then I will be the first to advocate for dismemberment of the Kenyan state. But I won’t do so now. Let’s fight for inclusion, not put ourselves asunder. Let’s fight to be together, not apart. 

In the 2010 Constitution, we mistakenly thought the guarantee of individual rights, dispersal of political power through devolution, and the sharing of resources would contain our demons. It hasn’t – we have a values problem which is deeply cultural. This values problem can only be addressed through deliberate disruption by constitutional fiat. Several things must change.

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Delegating some political power and a fraction of resources to the counties haven’t been enough. We have too many counties – and virtually all are Bantustans, or ethnic enclaves. We need to consolidate our counties to no more than 20, and find a new cartography or demographic maneuver to make them cosmopolitan. We must kill the demon of the tribe in our politics, or we are doomed.  

Second, we must destroy the presidential system of government that still inheres in our state and political culture.  We need to adopt an explicitly parliamentary system of government with a constitutional formula that denies political parties a tribal base.

One way to do is to adopt a party list for legislators. This will abolish the idea and fact of the constituency as a base for exercising the franchise. The prime minister – who would come from the majority party or the parties able to cobble a majority in parliament – would be the head of government and state.

Under this system, we must make it possible for the parliament to bring the government down. The Opposition must be a real check on executive. 

Finally, we must remove central government from the nerve center of politics. We must de-center the executive by turning the reduced number of counties into federal units.

This will leave the central government with fewer critical enumerated powers – national defense, foreign policy, tax and monetary policy, and other matters of critical national importance. Let’s think and act decisively unless we want Kenya to end. 

 

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