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We need change in governance to secure our future

By Dennis Waweru | September 7th 2019
Dagoretti South MP Dennis Waweru.

“Our government should work for us, not against us. It should help us, not hurt us. It should ensure opportunity not just for those with the most money and influence, but for every American who’s willing to work.”

Those inspiring words were spoken by our famous brother Barack Obama in his ‘Change we can believe in’ speech upon accepting the Democratic nomination for presidency of the United States of America.   

It was no surprise that the first African American president was of Kenyan descent. There is something in these soils. There is something in these lands. There is something in the attitude and upbringing of young Kenyans – from North to South, East to West – that makes us special.

While the challenges facing us are real, they are not unique to Kenya. Rampant corruption. Lingering poverty. Hunger and frustration among our youth who suffer unemployment and underemployment, are challenges shared in the entire continent. There are however some underlying fault lines which continue to open up, often gaping, sucking in that progress our nation has made over the last few years. These fault lines are exacerbated by corruption, and underpinned by something deeper. More foundational.  

They are caused by the fact that Kenya still has not become that unified country we are supposed to be. We have not put tribalism or regionalism behind us. We have not put the macro ahead of the micro. And what is the factor that drags this institutional inertia on and on? It is neither individual nor party; neither tribe nor region; it is structural. It is constitutional.

The winner takes all presidential political system rips open our societal fabric over and over again. Election years destroy our economy. Upon announcing the results, swathes of the country feel left out, disenfranchised; dare I say it, cheated. This leads to frustration and violence as entire regions fear that they are about to be left out of what is perceived as a dynastical patronage system. 

This is why I believe that finally we need some of Obama’s change we can believe in. Fundamental change. Wholesale change. Institutional change. While there is no doubt President Uhuru Kenyatta’s government has taken us to unprecedented levels, certain structural reforms keep us tied up in a tribal straight jacket.   

The much discussed referendum on the horizon must therefore set us free from this parochialism. While it remains unclear what exactly will be the results of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI); what is clear is that this time the approach of those from above is different. Why? Because they are starting with a truly bottom up approach: A grassroots plan for a people’s vote. 

The research team behind the BBI and the potential referendum have been traveling around the country collecting views from every county. Devolution clearly isn’t working how it was supposed to. Just look at how many governors are under arrest or investigation for corruption? We need a new way of doing things in an accountable and transparent manner.

Does that mean a parliamentary system? Does that mean less elected members or more? Does that mean more or less power for governors? Does that mean sharing power to reduce the power of the presidency, perhaps with an executive prime minister like in the past? There are no simple answers. What is for sure though is that this process must be inclusive.

In Obama’s acceptance speech he noted that, “It is that promise that has always set this country apart – that through hard work and sacrifice, each of us can pursue our individual dreams.” The political system needs to be reset from its foundations to ensure all of us can pursue our dreams. This time we need real change we can believe in.

- The writer is KenInvest Authority Board chairman   

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