Scramble for Kenya: Regional interests edge out national issues in debate

Looming constitutional reforms to expand the Executive have triggered a scramble for the proposed posts by politicians, with equally radical proposals on regional interests adding fuel to the fire.

The push for constitutional reforms is increasingly being defined by fierce lobbying for more leadership positions, sold by politicians as a remedy for the winner-take-all system, which has been blamed for election violence. National concerns like unemployment and cost of living that are dear to special interest groups like farmers, and business people have been swept under the carpet.

While the initial Building Bridges Initiative report proposed creation of a prime minister’s post, the second phase of BBI meetings is likely to yield radical proposals given the aggressive push for more positions through introduction of regional governments- the Bomas draft that is largely influencing the latest views recommended 14- and two posts of deputy premiers.

President vs PM

There is a split on the powers to be wielded by the PM- some want the holder to be Head of Government- but critics who prefer the status quo where president is Head of State and Government are against creating two centres of power. 

And in yet another push to accommodate politicians, it has been proposed that the runner-up in a presidential election becomes the Leader of Official Opposition. Wiper party sweetens this proposal by proposing that the person sits in the Senate, which is proposed to be the Upper House, while their running mate takes up a similar position in the National Assembly.

Another proposal popular with politicians is to have a Cabinet picked from among MPs.  

Politicians eyeing regional supremacy to raise their stakes in political negotiations in the lead up to the 2022 elections, including positioning themselves as potential running mates for top presidential contenders, have opened new battle fronts in President Uhuru Kenyatta’s succession.

Second-term governors are lobbying for introduction of regional governments, which offer new powerful post for the 22 county chiefs serving final terms.

Uasin Gishu Governor Jackson Mandago recently declared publicly that BBI was only about accommodating the interests of the political class.

Mambo ya BBI, hiyo isiwasumbue akili. Hii BBI is not about you. It is about sisi wenye tuko kwa viti. Sisi wengine tulikuwa tumeona tunakaribia kuenda nyumbani,” Mandago who is serving a final term in office told a public meeting.

Mandera Governor Ali Roba said it is the people to decide whether they should continue serving at whatever level.

“We will find relevance in the new structure. We support the BBI and are excited about the opportunities the handshake is bringing to all Kenyans,” Roba said.

He added: “It is too soon to make a decision. We will wait for what the BBI will come up with. Whether there will be new positions or term limits will be removed. What is important is that we are here and still in circulation.”

Other governors who have shown their support for the report include Hassan Joho (Mombasa), Sospeter Ojaamong’ (Busia), James Ongwae (Kisii), Charity Ngilu (Kitui), Anyang’ Nyong’o (Kisumu) and Alfred Mutua of Machakos.

The push for an expanded Executive justified as necessary to ensure an all-inclusive government is emerging as the most popular among politicians with no tangible measures outlined to improve the welfare of other Kenyans, yet Uhuru and Raila identified nine thematic areas to secure the country’s stability and prosperity.

Cotu Secretary General Francis Atwoli has constantly reminded Kenyans that Uhuru is still young, and the Constitution should be amended to create a position of prime minister for him to continue being in government.

“Where is Uhuru going and he is young? Atasumbua watu wengine. We must amend (the) Constitution to accommodate him somewhere,” Atwoli once remarked.

The push for regional governments, however, is unsettling certain political constituencies like Mt Kenya that have in the past scuttled similar campaigns- the abortive Bomas draft had proposed 14 regions- because the calls to regions is likened to majimbo- federalism.

It is a system opponents argue entrenches ethnic enclaves that disenfranchises people who are not from a region’s dominant community.

Tied to this is the lobbying for community interests particularly on the thorny land issue that has revived age old political suspicions and divisions that are threatening to undermine Uhuru and ODM leader Raila Odinga’s goal to unite the country.

Narok Senator Ledama ole Kina is already in trouble with the authorities for statements deemed incitement, while Emurua Dikirr MP Johana Ngeno was also arrested on claims of hosting an illegal BBI meeting in protest at Ledama’s utterances.

Mt Kenya leaders have protested the statements by Ledama that people from other communities should not run for political seats in the Masaai counties and his push for land redistribution. They said these inflamed ethnic tensions in Narok. 

The BBI campaigns have also sparked bitter rivalries with some politicians challenging traditional regional kingpins for supremacy as is the case in Ukambani and Western as well as Mt kenya where the fight to succeed Uhuru as regional supremo is on.

Regional governments

A political clash is already looming after Raila and his National Super Alliance (NASA) co-principals Kalonzo Musyoka (Wiper) and Musalia Mudavadi (ANC) clashed over creation of a powerful premier and regional governments.

Mudavadi and Kalonzo are rooting for an executive President who will be both Head of Government and Head of State against a parliamentary system with a premier in charge of the running of government fronted by Raila.

The two have opposed a scenario that creates two centres of power that are a source of conflict, like the one that rocked the grand coalition government where factions allied to President Mwai Kibaki and then PM Raila Odinga constantly clashed. 

Makueni Senator Mutula Kilonzo Jnr said it appears that some party leaders were trying to create additional positions to prevent being challenged for the top seats by second-term governors who have national support.

“They (governors) have come to the table with a hidden card. The county structure is already overburdened. How will they fund their proposed structure? Is it a way to make the party leaders happy that they will not compete with them at the top?’’ Mutula posed.

ANC deputy party leader Ayub Savula (Lugari) said the party will reject any attempts to create regional governments as it would burden taxpayers.

“We as ANC have rejected regional government because it will be an additional cost to taxpayers. We urge Kenyans to reject the idea. The party, however, supports a PM appointed by the President and approved by Parliament,” Savula said. 

Kimili MP Didmus Barasa claimed politicians backing the initiative were all pursuing their personal interests and not about the unity of the country.

“By creating two deputies prime minister posts, some are hoping to land the new positions. It is all about what they will get from the process,” said Barasa. 

Nominated MP Godfrey Osotsi said it was unfair to claim the process had been hijacked by those keen on landing plum positions in government. He dismissed the claims as propaganda by those opposed to the BBI process.

“This is one of the anti-BBI narratives being peddled by Tangatanga hoping to stop the BBI train. BBI is dealing with nine thematic areas which affect every Kenyan in one way or another. BBI proposals on expanded Executive is not new. It was even in the Bomas Draft which was a product of wide negotiations,” said Osotsi.

Political analysts suggest that it will soon turn into a bruising political fight in almost all regions as politicians battle their way to the negotiation table for their communities, with their eyes fixed on plum positions.

In Mt Kenya, Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru is fighting her way up as President Kenyatta’s key defender with hopes of benefiting from his succession matrix. Her Murang’a counterpart Mwangi Wa Iria is also angling for a national position and has since registered a political party ahead of his retirement as governor.

Former Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri is also being touted as a possible running mate for Deputy President William Ruto. His sacking from Cabinet was linked to his support for the DP’s quest to succeed Uhuru.

Former presidential candidate Peter Kenneth, who ran against Uhuru in 2013, has since got in the president’s good books. Uhuru supported Kenneth’s bid for Nairobi governor in the last elections, but Mike Sonko’s popularity proved too strong.

Like Kenneth, Narc Kenya chairperson Martha Karua too warmed up to Uhuru in the last elections, and Karua, who has publicly scoffed at attempts to extend his term in office, is keen to inherit the region’s mantle, as is former Kiambu Governor William Kabogo.

In Western, Kakamega Governor Wycliffe Oparanya is already battling to topple Mudavadi and Ford Kenya Leader Moses Wetangúla as the Luhya kingpin- a position that gives the holder clout to negotiate for a position in the next political formation.

Kalonzo has, however, managed to reach out to Machakos Governor Alfred Mutua, who had ganged up with Charity Ngilu (Kitui) and Kivutha Kibwana (Makueni) to topple the former Vice President.

Dr Mutua maintains he is still keen on running for the top seat come 2022.

“I am committed and focused on being on the ballot in 2022. Everyone has a right to contest and my quest is alive. We are both party leaders with elected MPs and MCAs and are both capable of leading this country,” said Mutua. On his truce with Kalonzo, Mutua says that it was based on the premise they will both go for the Presidency and whoever is more electable nationally will be the one to carry the vote of the community.

“Kenya is ready for a new form of leadership based on changing the lives of our people. I believe that Ukambani leaders need to work together to first hunt for our people who are struggling and later we can embark on who is best and able to win the 2022 elections,” Mutua said.

In Rift Valley and Nyanza, strong perception that Ruto and Raila will run for the presidency has suppressed any intense jostling at least for now.

Fight for regional kingpin

In Coast, Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho has projected himself as the regional supremo, but his Kilifi counterpart Amason Kingi is eyeing the same which explains their on-and-off political union.

The two are also pushing for a federal government and have since proposed creation of two regions at the coast.

In a proposal submitted to Raila during Mombasa BBI meeting, the leaders want Kilifi, Lamu and Tana River counties to form the Upper Coast Region while Taita Taveta, Mombasa, Kwale counties will form part of the Lower Coast Region.

According to political analyst Edward Kisiangani, Central, Western and Ukambani and Central will be some of the battle grounds for leaders seeking to raise their stakes in the national politics for DP post’ consideration or any other senior government slot in the 2022 game plan.

Prof Kisiangani said Oparanya is already battling to edge out Mudavadi and Wetangúla to emerge as the Luhya spokesperson.

“The second-term governors have also come up with a new agenda of regional governments. They seem to be introducing another aspect that will make them super governors. It appears they have identified opportunities in the BBI to create something for themselves,” said Kisiangani.

But Bungoma Senator Moses Wetang’ula has dismissed the assertions while reiterating that his eyes are fixed on running for the top seat in 2022 and will not be distracted by regional politics. He, however, said that with the prospects of expanding the Executive there was room for political adjustment, meaning he can change his mind about the presidency when the time comes.

“My party has given me the green light to contest for the presidency. We are also alive to the fact that new political dispensation is coming up and we will adjust accordingly,” said the Bungoma Senator.

“There is no region that can go it alone. We can only solidify our base as a region as we engage other leaders to build alliances,” added Wetang’ula.

Download the BBI Judgement by all seven Judges - Civil Appeal No. E291 of 2021