Rotational presidency won’t amplify tribalism

On January 7, 2021, we wrote an article right here, arguing that rotational presidency could be the panacea for Kenya’s divisive presidential election.

In the article titled, ‘How to make Kenyan polls peaceful forever’, we posited that if we wholeheartedly embrace the rotational presidency, our country would enjoy about 250 years of peace with each of Kenya’s forty-something ethnic groups assured that one of their own would be at the helm for at least a term.

Coincidentally, President Uhuru Kenyatta talked on the same subject during the funeral of ANC leader Musalia Mudavadi’s mother days later. Unlike in most of his speeches, President Kenyatta this time showed no equivocation and instead spoke with deep conviction and the straightforward logic that if ‘dynasties’ are bad for Kenya, so is tribal hegemony. He set off a new path that could characterise and dominate political narratives in the coming year. 

Then the ODM leader Raila Odinga weighed in. The debate subsequently entered the raucous Kenyan political marketplace, assumed a life of its own, and continues to elicit mixed reactions. Unfortunately, the conversation has progressively festered with acrimony and lack of objectivity and civility.

Deputy President William Ruto’s political brand is currently conjured around an abstract and convenient ‘hustler versus dynasty’ conflict. 

Tangatanga’s narrative is that a rotational presidency will revitalise the old Kenyan problem of tribalism. Being Kalenjin, Ruto reads in the debate a subtext of scuttling his chances of ruling Kenya.

Yet, the argument is quite counterintuitive: Already, all coalitions, political parties and even counties are in their core composition tribal enclaves. It is a fact that a rotating presidency, as with many previous governance experiments, cannot cure Kenya’s tribalism: It will only enable the country to live with its indelible blemish.

On the other hand, Kieleweke, whose support includes the ODM team, view this as a historic moment and an idea whose time has come.

They would argue that Kenyans are fatigued by the bipartisan oscillation of the presidency and that time has come for other ethnic groups. They contend that Kenyatta’s newest epiphany presents a springboard of hope.

The question still persists, however: What is the best way to integrate this country for equality and guaranteed, lasting political stability? It is for that reason that we revisit the theme of “rotational presidency”.

Perennial competition for leadership by various Kenyan communities has not only led to inter-ethnic violence but seriously stunted national development. The complaints over political and economic marginalisation have been as a result of perpetual dominance and control of central power by only a few ethnic groups.

In fact, Kenyan politics has for long been characterised by clientelism, neo-patrimonial and unequal symbiotic relationship between political patrons and their clients.

This predisposes Kenya’s processes to manipulation by political elites, generally leading to institutional dysfunction. If we agree as a country and roll out of the proposed quota-based presidency, political power will no longer be the preserve of a particular group since each tribe will patiently wait for its turn and everybody would be assured of leading Kenya at some point.

The country itself will also hopefully enjoy a quarter of a millennium of quietude and development. The governance experience in modern Africa has proved that democracy exists not only to protect individual freedoms, but also that of various interest groups. The fear of dominance by the larger ethnic groups has often threatened the corporate existence of the country where many small ethnicities have perpetually failed to find themselves in the mainstream of power. The 2007 post-election violence particularly, was a direct consequence of that.

So, we believe that a rotational presidency would work well due to the inherent predictability of its kind of government. It is expected that there will be specific laws in place to automatically determine who should contest for the presidency, and when they should ascend to that leadership position.

The ruling ethnic group will have no choice but to be accountable in order to safeguard their tenure.

None, hopefully, would want to go down in history as the tribe that plundered the country. Even more importantly, a rotational presidency should not mean that one ethnic group forms the entire government. We prescribe that all the key top positions in the State be similarly shared.

For instance, the deputy presidency, prime minister or cabinet secretary positions should not be tagged to the presidency. Rather, they should be dispersed among different ethnic groups using some well-considered algorithm. As of now, both narratives are extremely emotive and are likely to continue breeding fierce debates. It remains to be seen which of the two political divides will win hearts and command the future trajectories of Kenyan politics.  

Dr Chacha and Dr Wahome teach at Laikipia University

Related Topics

Tribalism Politics