Instead of beating around the bush, constitutionalise the current de facto ten-year term for the presidency and save this country billions of shillings’ worth of resources.
On the presidential term limit, the most practical pronunciation of the Constitution is in Article 142(2); it states that “A person shall not hold office as President for more than two terms.” Period. The other details of the electoral process in the courses these ten years cost billions but change nothing — even in developed democracies.
Within the current constitutional framework and reality of politics, a president goes for a one-ten-year term while others can wait. After that, there is a possibility of the outgoing president choosing a preferred successor — the route the fourth President, Uhuru Kenyatta, took in 2022.
So, when Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei presented a proposal to extend the presidential term to seven years, we should have focused on a genuine utilitarian conversation. Let us reason together. The constitutionalised political factor, which is clothed as democracy, continues to cost this country —let me be a devil’s advocate by giving reasons why I think Cherargei’s proposal should initiate a worthy conversation.
First, it will save us billions spent on elections, which change nothing. The 2022 General Election cost Kenyans Sh44.6 billion, making it among the most expensive elections on earth. At a time when Kenyans were grappling with skyrocketing prices of essential commodities, the country broke a record in terms of spending on elections.
Mark you, elections in which the incumbents are contesting are more expensive. For example, in the 2017 General Election, we spent Sh53.5 billion. The 2013 elections cost Sh24.3 billion.
The incumbent elections of 2017 cost more than the 2022 elections, but there is little hope of changing guards in an election where the incumbent is contesting. So, why should we incur the cost for an election whose outcome we can easily predict?
This is not surprising; even the IEBC budgetary requirements were Sh24.7 billion, Sh61.8 billion and Sh49.9 billion during the 2013, 2017 and 2022 polls, respectively.
The most expensive election under the defunct Electoral Commission of Kenya was in 2017, in which they spent approximately Sh19.4 billion—this was before introduction of the devolved governments.
Secondly, possibility of the incumbent losing an election they are contesting is technically ‘waiting for Godot.’ Even in mature democracies, incumbents win elections about 85 per cent of the time.
For example, of the 46 presidents the US has ever had, only ten were beaten seeking a second term in the last 225 years—excluding those who declined to run for the second term after serving their four-year term.
I know this is being overly pessimistic, but if it is this difficult to remove an incumbent in a model democracy, how easy is it for Kenya to get rid of an incumbent? In Africa and other global south countries, incumbents are harder to beat.
Thirdly, imagining serving for only five years is the greatest nightmare for every president in their first term. Therefore, they spend their first term consolidating state machinery and resources to gain an advantage when seeking re-election.
Coupled with the 47 governors who fall under the same constitutional guillotine of two terms, the first term becomes a preparatory lab where politicians hardly concentrate on development for development’s sake.
Even after two terms, the governors do not waste their chances of seeking elections in lower cadres. Two former governors, Ali Roba (Mandera) and Jackson Mandago (Uasin Gichu), set precedence in 2022, likely to trouble the country starting in 2032.
In conclusion, history proves that elections in which the incumbent contests, bring about an insignificant change in the government regardless of sinking billions.
To expose the underbelly of such billion-gobbler elections, we must ask whether democracy was created for men or men for democracy. Selah!
The writer is a senior lecturer at Kabarak University