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Could the ideal government system be within our grasp?

By Sammy Kwinga | August 31st 2020 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

Representative democracy is about representing the people and their wishes. Ever since the ancient Romans, leaders have struggled with the concept of how to create a system which accurately represents as broad section of the society as possible.

Only in recent centuries have we come close to something truly representative. In 1789, France adopted the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which while imperfect, did try to address the disparities in the system whereby one group would be privileged over another.

Many nations employ differing systems, and in Europe, where the system grew of age in post-industrial revolution nation states, there are markedly contrasting ways to elect a parliament and form a government.

These nations, while each having varied demographic groups as well as substantial minorities, generally do not have same extent of ethnic antagonism and competition seen in many African states. 

In Kenya, we have sadly seen this driven to excess on far too many occasions in our history, even coming to the brink of civil war after the 2007 election.

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This means that while we can and should borrow ideas from other nations, Kenya needs something to deal very specifically with local challenges that cannot be learned in a book or witnessed from foreign experiences.

As the issue of a change of Constitution is once again rearing its head, Kenyans must be cognizant of our history and seek to learn from it. We must truly understand how the three challenges of ending ethnic antagonism and competition, wide representation and good governance can be met in one ideal system.

This is the balancing act that we are witness to in the reports coming from the Building Bridges Initiative.

It would be easy to cast aside one of these three challenges, but then the system would not have the balance necessary to lead the Republic of Kenya forward.

As a nation we certainly need to have the tools to finally end ethnic antagonism and competition. While there is currently no wide scale violence, we see the tensions bubbling beyond the surface, which like a volcano could explode at any time. It is exactly these types of moments where we need to take a step back and look at how we can rid this demon from our society once and for all.

The new proposed structure, according to what we understand, will have a President as the Head of State and government, who is directly elected by the people, a deputy president, prime minister and two deputies.

This might seem a lot for a nation which is used to a presidential system with highly centralised power, but it is precisely this problem that these proposals are seeking to change. The new proposed structure will decentralise power and ensure that leaders representing a broad swathe of the country will have a seat at the decision-making table. 

There will be a far more acute system of balance which will allow for wider representation. Each major community will see their representative at work and their efforts to provide the necessary checks and balances from within the structure.

Furthermore, the creation of an office of the Official Leader of the Opposition will add another official important layer of oversight to the workings of government for all the people to see. 

All of these tiers of government will ensure that our leaders work for the people and not against them. They will be forced to work with the leaders of other communities and to understand the issues facing them. There will be give and take, compromise, tolerance and understanding.

This will achieve a system which is fair, representative and fully functioning.

Kenya faces so many challenges at this time, and some might argue that a fully centralised system is the best way to meet them. However, we have seen in places like North Korea that when taken to an extreme it can ruin a nation and enslave its people.

Our exemplars must be elsewhere, like where groups of elders work in harmony for the good of their community. We know of many instances on our continent where councils of local leaders make the appropriate decisions through thorough discussion and mutual consent.

There is nothing to be feared from these changes because they are for the betterment of our nation. While we have tried varied systems and toyed with different ideas in the past, we have not been able to meld the competing challenges of ending ethnic antagonism, wide representation and good governance into one system. There was always one that had to give.

-Mr Kwinga is a political scientist. [email protected]

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