Political stagnation is here and Kenyans will pay a heavy price

President William Ruto and his deputy Rigathi Gachagua chat during a past event. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

Kenya, at a critical stage of its democratic progression, faces political stagnation - a state of affairs that could slow its progress and leave its citizens grappling with unfulfilled promises of a centralist regime.

This risk is not unfounded but is rooted in a series of contradictions and systemic issues that have emerged under the Kenya Kwanza government. For starters, there’s the persistent narrative about the economy: the government acknowledges the weight of inherited debt and empty coffers, forecasting a grim outlook for the immediate reduction in the cost of living. Yet, in the same breath, it asserts that the economy has stabilised - a claim at odds with the tangible hardships experienced by the populace.

Such contradictions not only sow confusion but also undermine trust in the government’s ability to steer the nation out of economic distress. In addition, despite commitments to eradicate graft, the emergence of numerous high-profile corruption cases indicates the entrenchment of cartels operating from fortified positions within the government system.

The situation raises doubt about the government’s resolve and capacity to dismantle these deep-seated networks of corruption.

Further, ethical leadership, often the catalyst for change and progress, lacks in vision and drive. The absence of dynamic and visionary leadership - the kind once exemplified by notable figures such as the late John Michuki, the late Karisa Maitha (Hurricane), the late Prof George Magoha and indefatigable Fred Matiang’i, - is palpable.

These leaders were renowned for their autonomous drive towards enhancing social order and development, a quality that gave a positive image to their respective regimes. There is a need for the Kenya Kwanza government to rebase its development agenda on competence and deliverables.

On the other side of the political divide, the Azimio coalition is enervated, especially post-election, having given up on its demand for reopening the server. The strong conviction that it had won the election as would be confirmed if the servers were to be open, has been mysteriously shelved.

Except for a few vocal opposition leaders, there is no substantial psychic energy in pushing the government to do what is right. This capitulation has led to a decline in the coalition’s vigour to execute its crucial role of holding the government accountable, both in and out of Parliament. The focus shift towards the 2027 electoral contest further indicates a relegation of governance oversight to a secondary priority.

Meanwhile, the current dysfunctional state of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) indicates a pause in political engagement and reform. The major political actors are in a holding mode, awaiting 2026 or thereabout to address the institutional integrity of the electoral body - a delay that could have repercussions on the robustness of future electoral processes.

Moreover, civil society, traditionally a bulwark against governmental excess and a proponent of accountability, is currently in a phase of re-organisation after enduring a prolonged period of setbacks. The emerging nascent groups are still far from asserting themselves as either a formidable counterbalance to a disheartened opposition or as a collaborative partner in the political arena.

Between 2024 and 2028, Kenya risks falling into a lull of political stagnation. The voice of the civil society is essential to avert this lull.

Finally, the concept of “negative peace” — a societal state characterised by an absence of conflict but also an absence of positive, structural change — may inadvertently foster political stagnation.

In political stagnation, those in government become intolerant of critique. They quickly fall into the trap of instant entitlement bias in which they believe they have the privileged right to guide the country and miss out on their faults. They fail to see that critique is a constructive contribution to nation-building. If fear leads to avoiding challenging the establishment, then stagnation is not just a risk, but an inevitability.

The way forward for Kenya, therefore, lies in nurturing a climate where constructive critique is not just tolerated but encouraged, where institutions are strengthened in time, not in haste, and where leadership is as visionary as it is action-oriented. Only through such concerted efforts can the threat of political stagnation be dispelled.

-Dr Mokua is Executive Director at Loyola Centre for Media and Communication