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How to make presidency less appealing to save Kenya regular election violence

By Mohamed Guleid | March 1st 2018
The best way of making the Presidency less appealing is allocate 85% of the national budget to the counties and give the national government a mere 15%. [File, AFP]

During the election period every five years, the Kenyan people are subjected to trauma, resulting from electoral violence. It is predictable that elections mean violence in Kenya. So far, since 1963 when Kenya attained her independence from Great Britain, the citizens have chosen their leaders every five years meaning 11 electoral cycles. The lessons learned I believe should have been enough to make Kenya a stable and a democratic nation. But alas! Instead of being a nation united by purpose, we are still searching for the best way to coexist as people of different ethnic groups.

The six decades of independence should have been sufficient to create the requisite institutions to safe guard the country against shocks caused by political competition.  Enough examples have been given on how Kenya was at par or even better than South East Asian countries including South Korea and Malaysia sixty years ago. Consider the cases of Kenya and South Korea. In 1960 South Koreans were, on average, poorer than Kenyans.

They are now 25 times richer. What can account for this extraordinary divergence? South Korea is more stable and elections don’t bring violence. The parallel between us and the South Koreans could be also as a result of work ethics and limited corruption in that country. In Kenya we reward people based on ethnicity and not performance. My observation is that violence during elections is triggered by ethnic based superiority complex. The epicenter of Kenya’s electoral violence largely revolves around the institution of the Presidency.

Any one holding this position not only does he have power, but also controls enormous amount of resources. The major ethnic groups therefore form alliances during the election time to win this coveted seat. At no time shall the losers be contented.

The cause of uncertainty and possibility for violence is not really the election itself but rather the anticipation of politicians, their henchmen and by extension their tribesmen to maximize their benefit of winning by using all means necessary. Therefore, as long as eighty five percent of the national budget is controlled by the national government headed by one individual the rest of those aspiring to be winners shall continue to grumble and shall make it difficult for the individual in power to govern peacefully.

The best way of making the Presidency less appealing is allocate 85% of the national budget to the counties and give the national government a mere 15%. This is the reverse of the current practice. I believe services such as the police, prisons, education and even infrastructure can be devolved. The justification by the national government to hold onto to all these functions does not hold water. The County governments are fairly capable of running the security services because if they are allowed to manage services such as health which to me is even more delicate I see no reason why police officers should not report to the governor. Even without being devolved many police units work very closely with Governors.

Minimum resources

The point here is the Presidency and the national government institutions should be left with minimum resources. The national government mandate should be limited to foreign affairs, national defense and controlling the borders. Even collection of revenue can be decentralized and put under the council of governors. The Governors can decide how much revenue they can allocate to the national government every year. Counties should compete on how much revenue they collect. Even within the counties, those who perform poorly in revenue collection against their targets should be punished by a reduction in their allocation this is with the aim to stimulate revenue collection.

The alternative is of course to have a parliamentary system of government where the President is chosen from the amongst the elected parliamentarians. This would allow a level playing field. Even smaller communities might in this case have an opportunity to become President of the republic. In my view the number of members of parliament should be reduced to two representatives per county and the senate should be abolished because with more powers to the counties the justification for having the senate would not be there. With 94 members f parliament it should be possible to keep national government expenditures low.

Can the above system work? Yes, it does, a country called Switzerland is managed exactly how I described above. I guess it is worth to try.

Mr Guleid is a Governance Consultant

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