Of 'troubled presidency' and rise of civil society

President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto at an event yesterday. [Beverlyne Musili, Standard]
The aftermath of Uhuru Kenyatta’s 2017 double presidential elections affected both Civil Society operators and their donors who slid from the public radar and took time to rethink public postures. They went into reeling modes but they have since recovered and appear re-energized to push for good governance.

With the donors seemingly deciding that they do not have to refrain from pressuring Kenya anymore in part because it seems as if Uhuru’s government can be had, Civil Society operators feel emboldened to mount movements toward power grab.

This might explain a flurry of activities and alarming statements that were common during the troubled Mwai Kibaki presidency and Uhuru’s first term. They increasingly talk of “transitional government”, meaning the seizure of state.

Trouble in the presidency

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The impression that Kenya is for the taking arises from self-inflicted injuries as members of state officialdom ignore/browbeat Wanjiku and engage in fiduciary insults. Whether in the Executive, the Judiciary, or the Legislature, they grandstand each other and quarrel publicly.

The Executive displays a “tri-presidency” peculiarity involving President Kenyatta, Deputy President William Ruto, and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga. The tri-presidency tends to present two contradictory images, an official presidency that is split and an unofficial “inclusive” presidency.

The split is the official presidency comprising Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto who appear to be pulling in different directions. Mr Odinga is in the “inclusive” presidency. Among the three, it is at times difficult to tell who calls the shots, who gets the shaft, and who gets the blame.

As if to confirm the reality of the tri-presidency, the Inspector General of Police put the three together as category 1 of privileged officials that receive police road escort when travelling. The two, the “split” and the “inclusive”, give the impression of trouble in the presidency.

Other aspects of the Executive do not exude confidence. Functionaries in the presidency appear pushy and even quarrel with Cabinet Secretaries and governors. County governors reportedly misuse public resources with dubious projects, defy law and order, and engage in appeasing their assemblies lest they get impeached.

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And the Senate is in constant supremacy battles with the National Assembly. The two, however, become united in displaying conspicuous consumption and depleting Wanjiku’s kitty bank at times of national economic crunches.

Similarly, top Judiciary officials face credibility challenges. Chief Justice David Maraga accused other branches of government of condoning corruption and failing to conduct fair elections. He did this in England, at the invitation of the Oxford Union, the influential British organ that entertains “controversial” global personalities.

Critics noted that Mr Maraga forgot to mention that his Judiciary was full of ethical holes. This reportedly includes seeming disregard for national interests and alleged “justice-on-sale-phenomenon” in which some judges and magistrates somehow forget processes and procedures in giving “strange” decisions.

The image of discordance in state officialdom hampers service delivery which creates room for civil society political adventurers, mostly part of the elite national networks, to try to seize the state. Bright and with foreign connections, they attended the right schools and, through family connections, have or have had access to the top echelons of government.

Being “rebels” among the elite, they thrive on harping on the negatives in the state in the hope of recreating the mood in the 1990s when civil society operatives appeared like an alternative government. Realistic enough to know they cannot win elections, they know how to copy and paste foreign slogans.

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Two of the current slogans they seem eager to popularize are “state capture” and “transition government”. Their current global hero appears to be South Africa’s ruble rouser Julius Malema from whom they borrowed the “state capture” concept. With the support of “deep media” they drum the concept of state capture in the heads of Kenyans and might be succeeding.

They, however, lack the vigour and believability of the 1990s or Malema’s radicalism. Their hope is that state officials will continue blundering and disheartening the public. If they can create a “Sudan environment”, they then force an unelected “transition government” in which they would be in control. If this fails, it would not be for lack of trying.

Prof Munene teaches History and International Relations at USIU

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Uhuru KenyattaCivil SocietyThe presidency