Uhuru must prepare Kenyans for three transitions, his real legacies

President Uhuru Kenyatta salutes at the monument of fallen soldiers at the Kenya Navy Base, Manda Bay in Lamu County. [Courtesy]

Regardless of personal positions taken, there are two things that are guaranteed to get most Kenyan households truly hot and bothered as they pursue their daily lives.

The first one is elections, especially participation during the actual event. This is the process that apparently now takes up to two years out of Kenya’s five-year business, economic and investment cycle. 

Thought about differently, while many other countries within and outside Africa tend to be done and dusted with elections in six months or less, Kenya is always playing democratic and developmental catch-up with two years of political cacophony for every three years of business. It would a surprise to find any strategic or corporate planning outside this space, even accepting that both the abnormal political and normal business phases offer money-making opportunity.

The second thing that gets Kenyan households “woke” is education.  It is beyond debate that education, as an inequality-reducing measure, offers a clear pathway out of poverty, or at least it should in an education system properly set up around equity, access, affordability and quality.

It comes as no surprise that the ongoing rollout of the new Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC) has elicited an avalanche of citizen attention, and has now proceeded to court. There are many opinions around what constitutes a good education, but at its most basic level, it should aim to deliver a balance to learners between life knowledge and skills (culture, values, virtues) and knowledge, competencies and skills for life. This suggests that good education is more than skills, and is also a lifelong experience; not a discrete task with beginning and end.

The jury is still out on CBC, which is clearly one of several legacy projects that the outgoing Jubilee administration is hoping to successfully roll out. A final thought will suffice here.  If one views Kenya’s term-based electoral cycle as the equivalent of education’s term-based summative examination assessment, what would “continuous assessment CBC” politics look like?

Stepping away from this brief digression, and back to the 2022 election that is now less than eleven months away, it seems logical that, for the remainder of its term, the administration would do well to equally prepare for three transitions; which might actually be the real legacies.

The first will be the transitional election to a new administration. It is not enough that security agencies and other institutions already claim to be fully prepared, when the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) looks, feels and sounds like it is far from ready.

There is a legacy moment here to lead a multi-stakeholder effort around a five point agenda.  First, a smooth, non-disruptive, no-violent pre-election. Second, a peaceful, just and fair election. Third, a mature post-election political response.  Fourth, a peaceful post-election month.  Fifth, a seamless and smooth transition back to daily work and life. Successful implementation of this agenda will offer a powerful statement on Kenya’s state of democracy to the world, even as it reaffirms our positive virtues to every Kenyan.

The second transition is represented by Kenya’s fight-back from the Covid-19 pandemic.  There are encouraging signs that the pace of vaccinations is beginning to pick up as vaccine supplies become available.  The mantra that “it is vaccinations, not vaccines that save lives” could not be more appropriate at this time.  There can be no diversion from the plan to have 10 million adults fully vaccinated by December 2021, and all of our 27-28 million adults by the time 2022 ends.

Ministry of Health data as at Thursday 23rd September 2021 offers useful perspective. Almost 6.4 million vaccine doses received and over 3.5 million total vaccinations, which is effectively 55 per cent absorption. Of these vaccinations, 876,000 adults have taken second doses, which is roughly 34 per cent uptake. Kenya has fully vaccinated 3.2 per cent of all adults; December’s 10 million target equals 36 per cent, or more than ten times current coverage to date..

The legacy moment here is leading Kenya towards a fully vaccinated status target for 2022.  Notwithstanding emerging debate around booster vaccines, this is the time to get the health crisis, if not the economic challenge, to management. It strikes one that maybe this is the time to move our thinking from pandemic (response) to endemic (living with Covid). This starts today.

The third transition is a real handover. This is not about the instruments of power, responsibility or authority in the formal, structured sense, but more about the sort of “economic handover” that did not really happen in either 2002 or 2012.

For all the economic models, manifestos and other magic being bandied about and promised to Kenyans, the reality is that the next leadership, at both national and county levels but especially the former, will inherit an economy that is searching for jobs, industry and exports recovery while sitting on the edge of the fiscal cliff.

That our national economic authorities are now sounding the debt alarm today is better answered by how and when this bombshell realisation moved from “no, never” to “if”, and then “when”.  For those now arguing that this is the time to grow out of debt, the immediate concern should be the lack of impact of the 2020-2022 national post-covid economic recovery strategy, as well as more wordily titled 2020-2023 county socio-economic reengineering and recovery strategy.  This week, the Parliamentary Budget Office observed that the ntional strategy is yet to come to life.

What does the economic-fiscal handover look like as a transitional, yet legacy, moment?  In visual terms, the completion or rollout of programmes and projects.  In practical terms, a realistic economic and fiscal prognosis as required by our pre- and post-election budget and economic reports required by law. The pre-election report is expected to be ready in January 2022.

Electoral choices

Observing Kenyans, 2022 already looks very much about voter choices on whom, not what. 

This article seeks to reverse this mindset towards electoral choices in a country in which the general consensus is that political parties are personal vehicles rather than houses of ideology.

In reality, there is mix and match in voter choice, although it would be foolhardy to apply strict party-centric versus candidate-centric classifications to our electoral system.  Interestingly, the idea of a voter-centric election – a contemporary citizen-facing term used to explain the voter experience rather than the electoral system - seems like a great practice goal for Kenya in 2022.

Expanding on this unusual voter-centric thinking, because voters are often emotional and sometimes irrational, what might voting for “what” before “whom” mean? 

Here are some random perspectives to offer initial, exploratory food for thought.

Voters come from households, so the smart candidate responds to household needs and wants, hereby termed, “household basics”. Simply, these are five.  Food and nutrition.  Accessible rights – education, health, water and sanitation, shelter and community belonging.  Access to assets and livelihood opportunities. Participation in governance – voting at elections, and civic participation between elections.  Accessible justice, safety and security in public places and private spaces. Households get angry about education and elections; but are happier with the package. The smarter candidate here would consider inequality to strengthen the agenda - gender, geography, inter-generational and social exclusion (other discriminations).  Call this the socio-economic candidate.

A different, though related, aspect of this “what” framework might come from the candidate who remembers Kenya’s 2007/8 post-election violence and the subsequent National Accord.

To repeat, this mini-war was settled around four Agenda items.  Agenda 1 stopped the violence and restored rights and liberties.  Agenda 2 settled the humanitarian crisis and promoted healing and reconciliation. It is fair to observe that the short-term pain stopped, but long-term pain remains.

Agenda 3 was the political settlement that created the Grand Coalition Government. This was the quickest one to implement.  Finally, there was Agenda 4 on eleven long-term issues grouped under six headings.  Thirteen years later, the scorecard provides positive upticks for a new constitution and ongoing judicial reform, but hard questions remain around police, parliamentary, public service, electoral and land reform; poverty, inequality and youth unemployment; national cohesion and unity; transparency, accountability and impunity,

The Building Bridges Initiative hopped, skipped and jumped around these long-term issues.  We shall call this the agenda for the governance candidate.

Socio-economic and governance candidates are required at both national and county levels.  National leadership – the Presidency – will also implement a third perspective – national security.  The freedom from fear security candidate focuses on traditional national security aspects – military and external security, policing and internal security.  The freedom from want security one would be a human security advocate – defining a security agenda around food, health, environment, economic, personal, political and community.

In truth, campaign agendas are not painted in this level of black and white, although it is possible to discern where different people lean.  Maybe a “what” agenda might help us vote better. 

As a final reflection, is it possible to now see three of our four presidents to date as security-leaning, the other as socio-economic? Is 2022 the right time for a governance leader? Factor that into your 2022 marking scheme.  Our politics and elections is still a summative assessment.

The writer is a management consultant