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Elect Raila to end status quo and usher in justice, equality

By Yash Ghai | Aug 6th 2017 | 5 min read


These elections are more significant than ever before. At stake is the full realisation of the promise of the 2010 Constitution — which Kenyans love but are not generally successful in protecting. But Kenyans are beginning to demand their rights, challenging the political and economic order. Which way Kenya will depend heavily on who is our next president.

The battle is not only about ethnicity but, increasingly so, about class. The Jubilee manifesto shows a clear preference for the status quo, with the exploitation of workers and perpetuation of slums, the NASA manifesto promises us justice and equality for all in accordance with the values of the Constitution. Do you want a country divided by ethnicity and wealth (and relying increasingly on armed force) or a united, democratic and peaceful Kenya with a life of dignity for all in accordance with the Constitution?

Here, I argue that voters should cast their votes for Raila Odinga, if we are to maintain democracy, human rights, the rule of law, separation of powers, social justice and equity, and the promotion of national unity as required by the Constitution.


The Kenyatta government has been in office for over four years — ample time to judge its orientation and record. It has continued, as much as possible, the policies of Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel arap Moi, dependent on force (having clawed back greater control over the police), eroding the constitutional order, trying to replace democracy by presidential rule, capturing and exploiting state for their own and their relatives’ and friends’ benefits (mostly from their own community).

Corruption remains rampant, on a scale that Jomo and Moi would have envied. Money, borrowed at excessive rates, is spent on expensive projects, with substantial margins for ministers and civil servants (and their business friends). The suffering caused by these extravagances to the less well-off matters not to them —regardless of sound advice to the contrary. State patronage continues, in part due to the huge structure of parastatals — ignoring the recommendations by a committee (run from the President’s office) to reform, restructure and reduce them.

The financial accountability of Government departments has disappeared. The tradition of immunity for friends of the Government thrive (despite strong public protests) -- including for a significant number of people standing in the coming elections. Integrity, a key constitutional value, is totally violated and ignored, even when the EACC finds overwhelming evidence of corruption. Given his family history, it was perhaps optimistic to expect him to take tough action against corruption.

Standards of education and health remain inadequate. Not enough resources are made available to schools and hospitals (a county issue as well, of course). Strikes are partly because of this. The political elite is so divorced from ordinary civil servants, that they cannot understand the reasons for the strike or how to resolve them. We can expect more strikes in future, with negative consequences for the economy and social order, unless a government more understanding and sympathetic takes over. Here we really have a class problem.

Kenyatta has tried to undermine devolution, in order to maintain the dominance of the central Government. Provincial administration continues, under new titles. Financial transfers (constitutionally required) are often delayed. It seems that Kenyatta has done little to establish good relations with governors, so that devolution could have been well-established.

The central Government shows inadequate respect for independent commissions. In particular Kenyatta, has tried to undermine the autonomy of the Judiciary — a central feature of the Constitution. He has tried to place in Judicial Service Commission, guardian of the independence of the Judiciary, nominees to do his will, not protect the people’s.

He tried to assert through law, against the Constitution, the power to make the final choice of Chief Justice. The Judiciary has generally maintained the integrity of the Constitution — and so has become his target, assisted by dutiful Aden Duale. Remember: the beginning of the end of the rule of law under Jomo and Moi was bringing the Attorney-General and the Chief Justice under their control.

Kenyatta has shown little regard for the limits on presidential power, issuing directives and making appointments without legal basis. He issued an order making Kenyans of Asian origin 44th tribe without consulting the community in breach of the requirement of participation. His motive was clear — winning votes. Nor has he embraced the role of head of state as unifying factor.

The choice of William Ruto as deputy, with his record of lack of integrity and other values of the Constitution, is another consideration. If the president dies or has to vacate the presidency, the Constitution provides for the deputy automatically to take over. Most Kenyans will shudder at the possibility.

Despite language about ending poverty, I believe that little will change if UhuRuto remain in office.


Unlike Kenyatta, Raila is a mature politician. He is able to make his own decisions, which Kenyatta seems incapable of. Unlike Kenyatta, he has fought against dictatorship and paid a heavy price for it, including six years in prison. Of all the Kenyan politicians I have met, he has reflected most on constitutions as well as systems of government — and decided in favour of parliamentary system (which might have spared us the violence, intrigues, bribes, etc around the current elections).

He deserves great credit for the wonderful Constitution that we now have. He retains great commitment to the Constitution — as is obvious from the NASA manifesto. The millions of Kenyans who have committed themselves to a brighter future through the Constitution desperately need a president committed to it, too — like Mandela, who brought about a constitutional renaissance to South Africa. Neither Kibaki nor Kenyatta liked the new Constitution (except the presidential system).

Raila understands the nature of politics in a way that eludes Kenyatta and has a sophisticated understanding of nationhood and is most likely to promote it. He is an enthusiastic supporter of devolution and would like to see more functions and funds allocated to counties — which many would support (provided corruption is also reined in). He is highly respected by foreign leaders, and will ensure a vigorous foreign policy, unlike Kenyatta whose numerous foreign tours seem to have done little good for us.

In his brief tenure as Minister of Housing and Roads, Raila showed great deal of enthusiasm and a close study of best policies overseas — but due to Kibaki’s reneging of their MOU, he left Government. He was less-effective as Prime Minister in the coalition Government, in part because he had no portfolio and the influence he could have had on Government policies was undermined by the rarity of cabinet meetings. He was also ill-served by his senior staff affecting his ability to play a greater role in state and society. If he becomes president, he would have to take control and seriously guard against corrupt, opportunistic individuals and tribal chauvinists from defining and guiding his leadership. He should also not allow himself to be mesmerised by power. Even with his known frailties, he towers way above Kenyatta. It may also be that he has learnt from earlier experience. He has now very competent, honest and reliable advisers, including Zein Abubakar, David Ndii and Salim Lone — known to many for their intelligence, integrity, commitment to a fair regime and social justice, and the Constitution as a whole.

-The writer is former Chairman of defunct CKRC.

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