Being second in command need not be precarious, be in service

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua. [DPCS]

Being a deputy president in Kenya is nerve-racking and precarious especially if one appears rather active.

We have had only 5 presidents, but 12 vice or deputy presidents, the longest serving being Daniel arap Moi, who served for 11 years, 229 days and the second longest serving Mwai Kibaki for 9 years, 162 days a few more days than current President William Ruto who served for 9 years, 157 days.

The shortest stint at vice presidency was by Musalia Mudavadi who served for 60 days followed by Joseph Murumbi who served for 120 days. Between 1963 and 2010, the vice presidents were appointed by the President and could be removed any time, mostly serving at the pleasure of the President. There was no job description and constitutionally provided functions/roles for the vice president.

The 2010 Constitution requires a presidential candidate to have a running mate to vie together in one ticket. The Constitution also in article 147 clearly stipulates the functions of the deputy president who shall be the principal assistant of the President and shall deputise the President in the execution of his functions, and perform other functions conferred by the Constitution or assigned by the President.

The Constitution also provides that in the absence of the President or in the event of his/her temporary incapacitation, or if the President so decides, the Deputy President shall act as President. While these functions are clearly spelt out in the Constitution unlike in the past, the functioning of the Deputy President largely depends on the President.

The President can decide not to assign or delegate any functions to his/her deputy and s/he would still be within the confines of the Constitution as we have witnessed in the past. The position of Deputy President is therefore expected to be a “quiet” one, taking direction and cues from the President.

Although, the President does not appoint or sack the DP as the case was before the 2010 Constitution, s/he can decide not to involve him/her in the business of government and choose one among the Cabinet to do the duties of the Deputy President.

In practice, the DP plays a critical role during elections by mobilising his/her regional voting blocs and delivering the winning votes to the President. The Deputy President must ensure value addition to his/her boss in delivering goodwill and general support as well.

Once the President is elected and forms government, the value of the DP diminishes. In the US, the visibility of the vice president ends with the voting and declaration of election results. The same applies to our neighbouring countries and beyond.

Many Kenyans cannot name the vice president of many African countries or even of the US because they really do not share their opinions/ideas publicly and rarely appear in public or make speeches unless they are doing so on behalf of the President. Many are careful not to outshine the President and rarely address the media on anything.

They are mostly seen but rarely heard. The two longest-serving vice presidents were careful not to outdo/outshine their bosses and would rather engage in sports not to be seen in the cross-hairs of the boss.

When they were asked to introduce their bosses during public functions or events, they did just that and never made long speeches, especially on matters of government policies and strategies, as they left the President to speak to government policies, strategies and plans.

Furthermore, creating too many centres of power especially by the Executive, while it is perfect for rewarding loyalty and support, it leads to insidious siblings’ rivalry and competition, which can be energy supping even for the President. It also erodes trust and confidence in government.

Perhaps, the Executive can do better by emulating the Judiciary and Parliament where hierarchy and leadership protocols are clear and everyone waits for his/her turn to lead. It is necessary for Executive to focus on service delivery as one and remain fit-for-purpose.

Elections are long gone and Kenyans are suffering from disease, hunger, over-taxation and intimidation by the KRA. The mwananchi is in dire straits as health, education and the economy are in doldrums while we are facing food insecurity due to crop failure and flooding.

In the meantime, less is more especially the political rhetoric.