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Debate on rotational presidency proposal hots up

By Roselyne Obala and Jacob Ngetich | January 17th 2021 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga’s proposal for a rotational presidency has continued to elicit mixed reactions across the country.

While a section of leaders believe it’s the only way to address ethnic balkanisation especially during elections, others argue that the Constitution is clear on how Kenyans elect their commander-in-chief.

Proponents of the proposal argue that it has worked well in other jurisdictions across the globe like Tanzania, Nigeria and Switzerland. But those opposed claim it will muddy the political scene and turn communities against each.

Constitutional lawyer Bobby Mkangi said the proposal is inspired by the skewed sharing of public resources, with the idea that the community where the president comes from benefits the most.

“The idea, however, does not cure the problem–the skewing. It actually cements the instinct of ‘it is our time to eat’,” argued the member of the defunct Committee of Experts that birthed the Constitution in 2010.

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Mr Mkangi warned that regardless of tribe, majority of Kenyans suffer equally socio-economically. “Our ethnic communities are an important aspect of our identity but we must imagine ourselves beyond that.”

Raila’s camp has argued that a rotational presidency will allow Kenya to break with tradition. This proposal has irked Deputy President William Ruto and his allies who claim it is too late to engage in the discussion.

Deputy President William Ruto [DPPS]

ODM political affairs secretary Opiyo Wandayi said, “It is common sense. The Constitution provides for inclusivity in ethnic representation in leadership positions. The country’s leadership ought to be inclusive and it is critical for Kenyans to be enlightened as they go to cast their ballots.”

Nominated MP Godfrey Osotsi said a rotational presidency would not be unique to Kenya. “Rotational power has worked in other jurisdictions, for instance, Nigeria and Switzerland. We also have serious debates taking place in Malawi, Cyprus and other states on the same topic. In fact, the European Union is already practicing this model because its presidency rotates among the member states.”

Mkangi said despite proposals by the sponsors of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) report to change the supreme law, Kenyans may not have endorsed the idea of a rotational presidency despite it being a thorny issue.

“Did the BBI task force receive views from Kenyans on this matter and if it did, why was it not flagged? If not, then it means Kenyans are happy with the way they elect their president.”

Mkangi said the proposed creation of five new positions in the Executive and Parliament, as contained in the BBI report, seeking to cure the winner-take-all election system does not definitively solve the clamour for ethnic inclusivity.

He gave the example of Singapore where when the Malay community realised they were disfranchised during elections, the issue was addressed in law.

Nyeri Town MP Ngunjiri Wambugu said debate was healthy, noting that the current leadership arrangement is a Kikuyu and Kalenjin coalition arrived at from a working relationship between The National Alliance and United Republican Party.

“Uhuru as leader of the Kikuyu became President. Ruto as leader of the Kalenjin became Deputy President. Ruto was not chosen as a running mate by Uhuru. He was chosen by the Kalenjin to represent and protect their interests in the TNA/URP coalition that became the Jubilee Government. He was first the regional kingpin of his community, and from that platform became the Deputy President,” said Mr Ngunjiri.

Tharaka Nithi Senator Kithure Kindiki, a Ruto ally, has warned that the narrative about the two communities that have held power since independence is misplaced and dangerous.

“The easiest way to establish if rotating the presidency is an acceptable solution to the gaps in our democracy is to carry out a national referendum on the same and abide by the outcome. The discussion cannot be left for elite political players to determine,” said Prof Kindiki.

Meanwhile, leaders from western Kenya have bought the idea. Speaking yesterday at the burial of Florence Oyiela Sakwa, the mother of National Youth Service Director General Matilda Sakwa, they said a rotational presidency will allow the country to realise equal development and opportunities.

“We are all leaders and we know what is good for this country. We are fully behind the handshake and the quest to have the head of state come from a different community. When we say Kenya is for all of us, we mean it; when the president said it last week, it didn’t mean he was tribal,” said Council of Governors chairman Wycliffe Oparanya.

Bungoma Governor Wycliffe Wangamati said that BBI was the best way of addressing the challenges that have plagued the country since independence.

“We have been singing this song for a long time. Through the BBI report, our region will reap big. We know a good thing when we see one. Ignore those preaching the wheelbarrow gospel; we do not send our children to school to pull carts. We shall do what it takes to ensure that the proposals in the document are implemented,” said Mr Wangamati.

[Additional reporting by Simon Oyeng’]

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