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Rotational presidency is the answer to our perennial electoral turmoil

By Cornel Rasanga | May 20th 2021
President Uhuru Kenyatta at State House, Nairobi when he gave his remarks during the virtual Leaders Summit on Climate hosted by US President Joe Biden. [Courtesy]

In 2011, the Institute for Democracy and Leadership in Africa and other civil society consortiums unsuccessfully launched a signature campaign to petition the Parliament to change the Constitution to allow for a rotational presidency.

The petition was informed by research conducted earlier in the year. According to findings, a majority of Kenyans preferred a rotational presidency, which in their view would bring political stability in a country dogged by tribal political alliances.

The case for a rotational presidency was also a key focus in the wake of the 2007/2008 post-election.

If that experience is anything to go by, Kenya needs a governance system that provides an equal opportunity for all Kenyans to participate without any form of discrimination. Undoubtedly, such a system would promote national cohesion and real power-sharing.

The governance and management structure would also be more efficient. In addition, a rotational presidential system would open up the democratic space by eliminating tribal alliances that have seen major tribes gang up in the so-called tyranny of numbers to deny others the opportunity to rule.

Ethnically diverse nation

The country is in a constitutional moment, thanks to the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) and the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill, 2020. It is noteworthy that BBI incorporates the spirit of inclusion, co-creation and justice.

The current dispensation, with only the President and Deputy President at the top, has resulted in the exclusion in our ethnically diverse nation and has consequently become a source of discord. The expanded Executive, buttressed by a rotational presidency, will ensure that every Kenyan tribe benefits in the sharing of public resources.

Although the Constitution provides for inclusivity in ethnic representation in leadership positions, it is not lost on observers that since the country’s independence in 1963, only two tribes- Kikuyu and Kalenjin—have held the presidency in a country with over 46 tribes. Yet, the presidency is both symbolic and real in the exercise of power.

The Kenya I want is where an El Molo, Endorois, Ogiek or Pokomo can become president. This would end the legacy by previous regimes where “tribe rules” rather than individuals from a tribe ruling.

A rotational presidency will ensure every tribe or region in Kenya is assured of getting a chance at leading the country thus eliminating the struggle for power and enhancing peace.

Secondly, it will diminish the electoral violence witnessed in every presidential election. Thirdly, there will also be less talk of some regions threatening to secede. Fourthly, no tribe or region will see political power as its birthright and will have to wait for its turn.

There is no reason why this system cannot work in Kenya as examples of its success abound in countries such as Tanzania, Nigeria, Burundi, Switzerland, and the Indian Ocean archipelago of the Comoros, among others.

The Nigerian example

In Nigeria, the presidency is rotational regionally. The south and the north are represented effectively in the government either as president and vice president. In Burundi where there are two major tribes, a similar practice has been adopted whereby presidential system exchanges between Tutsis and Hutus respectively.

In line with the Comorian constitutional provision, the presidency of the union rotates between three islands. With a population of less than one million, Comoros has had more than 20 coups or attempts at seizing power since gaining independence from France in the 1970s. 

In Switzerland, the position of president of the Swiss Confederation rotates annually among the seven councilors, where the vice president of the Federal Council becomes the next year’s president. The tiny Alpine stronghold is one of the wealthiest countries in the world and is famously stable both politically and socially. Part of that stability comes from the way in which the country is governed.

That is why I envision a Kenya where citizens are equal and are qualified for any appointment in the governance of the country.


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