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Kenya flirting with chaos by yielding power to ‘outsiders’

By Barrack Muluka | August 14th 2021

In 2009, Ashraf Ghani and Clare Lockhart published a beautiful book that every African should read. Fixing Failed States: A Framework for Rebuilding A Fractured World, is a sober look at the African condition.

‘African condition’ is the correct idiom, for as Ali Mazrui discusses in ‘six paradoxes’ about Africa, in his 1980 evergreen book, aptly titled The African Condition, the reality of the continent is that of a sick nation. The condition needs fixing, the way a sick person must be fixed. Hence, Ghani and Lockhart analyse failed states and give a framework for fixing them. Does Kenya need fixing? Does she have a condition?

Ghani and Lockhart appreciate the sicknesses that afflict states, causing them to need fixing. They are basically three conditions – state dysfunction, state fragility and state failure. The dysfunctional state has been challenged by ‘external forces,’ so that it cannot exercise legitimate sovereign power on its own. Is the Kenyan State functional? Is it in the grip of external forces?

Sovereignty is often symbolised by the holder of the highest public office, and how they carry out the functions of state.

In the Kenyan case, therefore, does President Uhuru Kenyatta exercise the functions of the State without fear of paralysis from external forces?

In his nine years in office, President Uhuru has seemed to be a perpetual hostage. In his first term, he would seem, on his own admission, to have been the hostage of his deputy. He has recently spoken of a deputy who placed him in political chains.

He has complained that his deputy wanted to snatch the political baton from him, so that they could - together - run his lap, before the deputy could do his own lap alone. Indeed, from the very first day, there was dysfunctional confusion in dress, address and role. They turned out in the same fabric, colour and rubric. Ruto went first on the podium. Uhuru followed, repeating the things Ruto had just said. The situation smacked of dysfunction.  

Since the handshake, the deputy has been moved to the margins, certainly farther than he should be. His assignments have been legally re-assigned to Cabinet Secretaries. Extra-legally, the president has admitted strangers into the Executive.

This week, Kenyans heard about a closed-door meeting, where the president ‘discussed national security, health and economic issues’ with Opposition chiefs. These are Cabinet functions. We have not also heard that the Cabinet was meeting over the same. Have state functions been ceded to outsiders? If they have, the Executive is dysfunctional.  President Uhuru’s engagement with Opposition chiefs is often hailed as necessary for peace, national unity and stability. This speaks of a fragile state. Social science recognises the state is fragile if its stability, authority and legitimacy are at the mercy of outsiders. Without this mercy, the state demonstrates little capacity to govern. Ghani and Lockhart have observed that a vicious circle of cause-and-effect exists, informed by a matrix of political and economic corruption, insurgency, crime and collapse of power into the hands of non-state actors.

In the worst case the non-state actors are militias of the kinds that Africa has witnessed in places like Sierra Leone, Guinea, Uganda, DRC, Congo Brazzaville, South Sudan, Somalia and the Central African Republic, just to mention a few.

Yet non-state actors who take over Executive power do not always wear the face of militias. As is the Kenyan case, they wear gentlemanly civilian faces. But the person in power knows that he cannot rule without them, because the militias are ever ready to strike, only waiting for the signal from Baba. He, therefore, must rule with them. 

State failure is the final stage in this matrix. The state is unable to provide basic goods and services to citizens. Personal security has collapsed. Citizens are killed mysteriously in the hands of the police and other law enforcers.

Life is no longer sacred. Killing is normal, even at home.  I suspect Kenya could be headed there. There is a need to restore Kenya to constitutional rule. 

The writer is a Public Communications Advisor and has a PhD in Politics and International Relations

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