Why debate on extending presidential term limit is misplaced

President William Ruto displays the ceremonial sword during his swearing-in at Kasarani Stadium on September 13, 2022. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

A few weeks ago, I wrote here that the Kenyan Parliament had failed the country and deserved censure. You only need to consider our MPs’ staple choice of priority issues both in and outside Parliament to agree.

When they are not working towards own salary increment –a rare instance when the House evinces ‘unity of purpose’ – they are busy introducing and passing Bills whose interest they themselves cannot plausibly say and whose text and contents they seldom read. 

Consider Pokot South MP David Pkosing’s proposal – a few days ago – that there ought to be a review of the laws with a view to extending the constitutionally-stipulated presidential term limit. It’s ludicrous. And one wonders how and why Mr Pkosing imagines it would be the panacea for Kenya’s myriad developmental deficiencies. Unfortunately, he is not alone in his delusional reverie.

Pkosing’s suggestion has a dangerous precedent in a similar proposal late last year by the equally sycophantic and myopic Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei. At the time, the latter’s proposal to extend the constitutionally prescribed presidential term limits from five to seven years elicited murmurings of opposition among the vast majority of Kenyans, and rightly so.

Presidential term limits – introduced following the successful clamour for multiparty democracy in the early 1990s – have been, and are, a central tenet of our country’s political governance. The five-year presidential term is stipulated by Article 136(2) of our Constitution 2010, and protected by the legal strictures of Article 142 of the same.

Around Africa, there are countries that either have or have had seven-year presidential terms such as Rwanda and Senegal. There’s hardly cogency for this, though. And the exponents of extended presidential terms are mostly tyrants and sycophants possessed of the expansionist “strongman mentality.” In Rwanda, though, it may have been aimed at enabling the country’s most important political leader to pack an impressive punch around national concord, particularly following the tragic 1994 genocide that claimed an estimated 800,000 lives.

Contrary to MP Pkosing and Senator Cherargei’s slant, however, the supposed “insufficiency” of our five-year presidential terms is palaver with no basis in evidential grounding. History shows the maximum two five-year presidential terms to be enough for any legacy-oriented leader to attain anything within the developmental repertoire of his office. The late former President Mwai Kibaki is the more easily recognisable referential paradigm of this truism.

There are no developmental goals, however lofty and grand, that aren’t within reach during a 10-year presidential stint. Long-term goals such as the socio-economic integration of ethnic minorities and the historically marginalised, or even the ultimate forging of any land’s disparate demographic enclaves into one compact nation often outlast presidential stints.

MP Pkosing and Senator Cherargei should, therefore, not worry about, or even play up, the “insufficiency” of our constitutionally-prescribed five-year presidential terms. Longer presidential stints don’t necessarily presuppose greater “while-in-office” success.

In the West African nation of The Gambia, between 1996 and 2017, there reigned Yahya Jammeh. Youthful and boisterous, he made no secret of the fact that he wanted to be in power for a billion years! An even funnier part of his pious wish was that he attributed its “ordination” to God. Some of us wondered what he needed all of a billion years for, the feat of which he couldn’t pull off in 20 years!