Inclusion talk laying ground for pre-arranged election outcome

A number of influential political actors have indicated they would support an amendment of the Constitution towards an expanded executive than what is currently provided. An expanded executive is not new in Kenya and has been tried in recent history.

Following the violence arising from the electoral dispute in 2007, the country changed its Constitution, to establish the positions of prime minister and two deputy prime ministers, alongside the president and deputy president.

Raila Odinga, adjudged to have lost the election to incumbent President Kibaki, became Prime Minister, with one of his key allies, Musalia Mudavadi, taking office as one of the two deputy prime ministers. Uhuru Kenyatta also became deputy prime minister.

In 2007, reaching agreement for an expanded executive was the result of hardball negotiations in which the Kibaki side felt that they had ceded too much ground while the Raila side considered that it had not received enough. Ultimately, however, the expanded executive was almost the only compromise available to the protagonists as any other options would have been too radical to accept. The expanded executive was rationalised as a form of “power-sharing” arrangement that would enable the Raila side to join government without having to first dislodge the Kibaki side that was already in government.

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Those supporting an expanded executive after the 2022 election argue that it is necessary to avoid the winner-take-all nature of Kenyan elections. Variants of this argument include a view that the strongest losing presidential candidate should be rewarded with public office that would allow her stable arrangements from which she can continue contributing to public life. When this argument has been made, it has always felt like a way of placating Raila into retiring from active politics.

Ultimately unhappy

It has also been argued that an expanded executive will promote political inclusion. There, however, is no agreed meaning of “political inclusion.” It is not unlikely that different players attach different meanings to this phrase. The argument about inclusion is partly a response to the practices that became evident when Jubilee took power in 2013, when the co-ethnics of the president and the deputy president dominated the appointed positions in government. In this sense, there is fear that the government formed after the 2022 will similarly concentrate positions in the hands of the co-ethnics of the leadership, thus leaving out others. If this is a correct interpretation of the argument about political inclusion, expanding the executive is seen as a mechanism for ensuring that jobs also reach those that are less likely to be considered for appointment by whoever wins the 2022 elections.

Kenya’s experiences with the Kibaki/Raila power sharing government should inform decisions about a future expansion of the executive. Raila’s sojourn in government was ultimately unhappy, even humiliating. The bureaucracy remained loyal only to Kibaki and spared no effort in frustrating and embarrassing Raila. As deputy prime minister, Mudavadi could not have fared any better that Raila, his boss. As the other deputy, Kenyatta remained peripheral and seemed uninterested, even joking that he struggled to remember that this title now referred to him. The power-sharing between Kibaki and Raila did not work. The only thing that sustained this difficult arrangement through the five years was the hope that it put Raila in pole position for winning the next electionsin 2013 and therefore accessing real power for the first time.

There is a lesson for the country from that experience. Taking a share of public office does not necessarily make people feel that they are in power or amount to political inclusion. Even after he became prime minister, Raila remained a political outsider and was only symbolically in power.

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In 2007, the country ended up with a power-sharing government only because the elections failed to produce results that would be accepted by all sides. The argument about political inclusion has only surfaced because the country has already given up on the 2022 elections producing results that the country can accept. Through ethnic ties and because of wealth, Kenyatta was inherently an insider in the Kibaki government. Even though he was part of how Jubilee got to power, DP William Ruto is now being told that he was never an insider in the Kenyatta government, and to make this point, the millstone of Jubilee corruption being placed on his neck.

Unless Kenyatta trips along the way, his power will keep increasing and, by 2022, his control of the country will be unchallengeable. On the other hand, unless Ruto disrupts Kenyatta’s plan and wins in 2022, Kenyatta will retain effective control of the country even if somebody else is declared president. In that sense, the talk about political inclusion is no more than creating the space beforehand, for accepting pre-arranged election results in 2022. It will be Ruto’s turn to accept “nusu mkate” or get nothing. 

- The writer is the Executive Director at KHRC. [email protected]

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