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Elect president based on merit, not ethnicity

By Elias Mokua | January 13th 2021 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

The idea of a rotational presidency has been in the works for a while. First, it was a light subject for public discourse after the contested presidential outcome in 2013. But the debate did not end there.

In fact, there is a Bill in Parliament on rotational presidency. So it was no surprise when President Uhuru Kenyatta pronounced himself on the possibility of flipping the dynasty narrative – power resting on two families – into a wider problem and propose a presidency outside the two tribes - Kikuyu and Kalenjin - who have held the coveted seat since independence.

President Uhuru Kenyatta at the funeral service of the Late Mama Hannah Atsianzale Mudavadi at Mululu Village in Vihiga County on January 9, 2021. 

The visibly angry Uhuru might have held the thought on another occasion. But provocation can bring the best in us. This is how the president let out some of his inner thoughts. He must have pondered this possibility many times. The same idea was recently floated by Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru. Two columnists of The Standard also argued last week that the system would be the panacea for our divisive elections. Perhaps there is an inner circle thinking within the presidency that it is time other tribes also led the country.

Well, proposing a presidency turn for other tribes is not the same as proposing a rotational presidency. But, I rather we stretch the thinking to a rotational presidency. Wealth distribution in this country is so skewed that it will take another 50 or so years to even the glaring inequalities. For those of us who have been fortunate to travel the breadth of this country, we can witness that some parts within our own borders are shamefully so underdeveloped that one will rightly conclude there is a third world in Kenya. But let me leave this for another day.

Whatever the motivation, I strongly think the President stands a better chance of generating a legacy that is most visible, hope-giving and transformative should he make good his wish. How? First, lets be honest; a rotational presidency would not be a necessary approach were people in power to follow and respect laws of the land. Anyone should run as long as they legitimately win.

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But, given the regrettable history of previous regimes where those in power tended to heavily favour people from their tribes, the other tribes stand to gain from a presidency run by ‘an outsider tribe’. This will somewhat be distributing the vice. But those who have tasted power will be in a much better opposition because they know better a fairer system will be in their interest.

President Uhuru Kenyatta at State House, Nairobi, on August 31, 2020.

Second, we know that everyone has a right to vie for the presidency regardless of any socially differentiating characteristic as long as they meet IEBC’s basic criteria. Campaigning for someone outside the two tribes will be just that – a perspective on how best to manage the sense of historical majority isolation outside the presidency. The same logic has been used on the dynasty narrative. So, the president will still have to vigorously campaign for the candidate from the other tribes since he cannot stop any individual from the two tribes from running for the office.

This proposal will therefore create tension in and between individual rights. The rattled tribes will have their candidate and the president will have his candidate. Neither right is more right than the other. The president will be remembered for this kind of approach, being a Kikuyu who would have been quite considerate of other tribes. This is self-transcendence at best. It is highly likely that a considerable number of people from his tribe, and even a higher number in the Rift Valley, will be unsettled by this kind of thinking.

Two tribes

Third, corruption in government has been perpetuated over the years by people high up in government. Regime after regime seems to have cemented ways of emptying public funds. It may be remembered that in his first term, Uhuru read a list of individuals he wanted to step aside to allow investigations on corruption allegations.

We also saw the same president speaking on corruption in State House when he sounded helpless, having done everything in his power to fight the monster. By passing the baton to someone outside the two tribes to run the country, the president might be hoping that an outsider will probably dig in on graft without minding the high level cartel networks that have benefited from the powerful office.

Fourth, it is easier for those in power to claim they work for Kenyans regardless of origin. It is quite another to live it. The incoming regime may not succeed than the regimes from the two tribes, but the other 39 tribes might console themselves that indeed they also had a referee at the centre of power.

Dr Mokua, is Executive Director – Loyola Centre for Media and Communication

2022 General Election President Uhuru Kenyatta
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