It is time to rethink our system of government

Deputy President William Ruto, Opposition chief Raila Odinga, County MP Rosa Buyu and Kisumu Governor Anyang’ Nyong'o during the presidential tour of Kisumu County. [DPPS]
I have never felt more proud as a Kenyan than on the day I watched as Uhuru Kenyatta took the oath of office as the fourth President of the Republic in April 2013. Even though I was a Wiper candidate (a member of the CORD coalition) and therefore campaigned for Mr Kenyatta’s bitter rival Raila Odinga, I was in awe of the symbolism of the ceremony. This was democracy at its best.

Actually, I waved as his motorcade led by outriders glided past the highway from Kasarani. I counted as 26 powerful motorcycles whizzed by me on that day.

Like all Kenyans and especially politicians, I like and admire – and perhaps I am a sucker of the big man syndrome- the big chief. We like what Ali Mazrui called the “Imperial Presidency”. Then we complain profusely about the occupant of the house on the hill. Put it differently, we would rather it were you and not someone else on that seat. Yet when outside, we don’t seem to agree with what it stands for and what it does.

Sometime back, I watched Julius Mulema gazing malevolently down at President Jacob Zuma in the South African parliament telling him point blank; ‘’you are a thief and a disgrace to South Africa’’.

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Can you imagine that in Kenya? They would probably reopen the Nyayo House cells for you.

What exactly do we as Kenyans want? What is good for the country? A presidential or a parliamentary system?

This is the great debate of our time. This debate has nothing to do with whether you support Deputy President William Ruto or Mr Odinga. Whether you are Tangatanga or Kieleweke or don’t support any of the two sides. This issue is bigger than the two protagonists. Kenyans should put away their tribal hats and put on their thinking hats.

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The issue is not whether we should have a Prime Minister and many deputies or not. Those are sideshows and minor details. The big issue is whether to have a presidential system or a prime ministerial system?

Last week, I attended a lecture at University of Nairobi where Kisumu Governor Anyang Nyong’o launched his book on the same debate. All the ‘Young Turks’ who were the intellectual proponents of the Second Liberation in the 1990s were in attendance. We know that after much soul-searching we adopted the American model of a presidential system in 2010.

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The main difference between a presidential system and a prime ministerial system is that in the presidential system, you elect a president. Candidates compete against each other. Automatically, tribal politics come into play.

Meru Governor Kiraitu Murungi admitted that in spite of many years of denial and civic education, Kenya is still a tribal society. The principal form of political mobilisation is still ethnic mobilisation. Presidential elections are fundamentally a tribal vote. They are the primary source of conflict and controversy in our society. “Direct presidential elections will continue to divide us into fanatical tribalised groups. They will continue to cause permanent ethnic tensions and animosities; and as we saw in 2007, they could eventually tear this country apart.’’

On the other hand, the idea of a prime minister is that the political party with the most seats automatically appoints the prime minister. To win the most seats, the party has to reach out to all tribes across the country.

Most importantly, while we do not want to see him humiliated Mr Zuma style, we want that prime minister in Parliament answering questions and defending his actions in the full glare of TV cameras.

It is time to end the imperial presidency. To quote Mr Kiraitu: “We can speak from our experiences with the late President Jomo Kenyatta, President Daniel arap Moi, President Mwai Kibaki, and now President Uhuru Kenyatta. It is not about personalities. The institution of Presidency, in addition to its immense constitutional and legal powers, enjoys so much myth and extra-legal powers. “It sucks oxygen from all other Institutions.”

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The system of the Prime Minister has been adopted by most developed democracies. The United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Germany, Malaysia and most of Europe. South Africa has a President but he is elected via the party rather than as an individual. They are using a hybrid Prime Ministerial system. When Thabo Mbeki lost his position as Chairman of the ANC Party, he also lost his Presidential position.

It is over 10 years since we promulgated the new Constitution. It is time we reassessed whether it works or not and whether we need to change some parts of it.

This should not be about creating an advantage for a certain candidate or not. It should not be about creating jobs for Kenya’s political princes and burdening Kenya with new government expenses. It is about Kenya, her people and what’s good for the country.

Kenyans must speak their minds now on this critical debate or forever hold their peace. Punguza Mizigo is extremely popular amongst the wananchi not because they have read and understood the details (most of which are impractical), but because they love the main underlying thesis. Kenyans want a cheap government. While we love the big cars and 26 outriders, we are tired of paying for them. Let’s debate and bring some sanity to how our country is run.

Mr Shahbal is Chairman of Gulf Group of Companies [email protected]

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