Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Peculiar Kenya.

Kenya is not the United States of America. Neither in the organisation of the government, nor the operations of its Judiciary, nor even the practice of its politics, is Kenya the same as the United States in any respect. If this has been unclear since the ratification and promulgation of a new Constitution in 2010, it should be starkly so today in the aftermath of a bungled process of "vetting" Cabinet Secretary candidates, the turf wars between various arms of the Executive regarding the National Police Service and the unremitting greed of the Eleventh Parliament. The concept of separation of powers among the three arms of government is yet to sink in with our powers-that-be.

The United States Congress, the United States Supreme Court and the Executive Branch of the United States Government share an uneasy relationship. This has been apparent over the past five years with Barack Obama as president of the United States. He proposed legislation to reform healthcare in the United States. It was opposed vehemently by the opposing party. His party rammed through a Bill through Congress in the teeth of Republican opposition. It was challenged in the Supreme Court. It is being implemented today. In all this, it was easy to tell, from the arguments advanced and the allies co-opted, which side of the debate one stood. In five years, Republicans and Democrats have only seen eye to eye on one thing: in the recent debate on the "sequester", a vicious round of public sector financial cuts, both sides agreed to suspend parts of the sequester affecting the Federal Aviation Administration (ostensibly because it would affect all their travel plans.)

In Kenya, it is only the Judiciary that is attempting to live by the requirements of separation of powers. The relationship between Kenya's National Executive and its Parliament is complicated chiefly because neither arm of government appreciates the paradigm shift in the power-relations between the two. The National Executive continues to behave as if Parliament exists merely to rubber-stamp policy while Parliament believes that revenue collected by the Executive is its own to spend as it sees fit.

When Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto were campaigning, they promised every child starting standard one in 2014 a free solar-powered laptop. It forms a prominent part of their coalition's manifesto, which is now the blue-print for the policies of their government. For the promise to be kept, the Executive and Parliament must work together, not only to ensure that the programme is viable, but that the funds are appropriated for its successful implementation. Parliament, meanwhile, is divided regarding the manner in which it will "vet" and "approve" nominees to various public offices, including to those Cabinet Secretary, Principal Secretary and in the diplomatic service. Phyllis Kandie, on paper, is eminently qualified to head the Department of East African Co-operation and Tourism. But during her "public vetting" by the national assembly Committee on Public Appointments, she came across as naive and un-informed. The report of the Committee was unequivocal: they would not approve her appointment as Cabinet Secretary. The Committee had not reckoned with the lobbying by the Executive among other MPs. Statements in support of Ms Kandie had nothing to do with her competence, intelligence or experience. She was easily confirmed regardless of the doubts surrounding her competence largely because a section of the National Assembly believes that its role is to run defense for the National Executive, rather than keep an watchful eye over its activities to check any excesses.

A free press is usually the institution that keeps a government honest. But it is an open secret that "free press" in Kenya is a largely empty phrase; during many of Kamlesh Pattni's trips to the courts, rumours have persistently swirled of the wads of money that change hands to report the story one way or the other. Then you have spectre of politicians and senior State officers owning majority stakes in, or outright, media companies, including radio and TV stations, and newspapers. It is only the naive who believe that "free press" in Kenya is synonymous with "corruption free" or "fair and balanced". So when they howl in pain when the State squeezes them a little, they are not to be surprised that the only ones who will rush to their defense are self-interested parties like opposition politicians or foreign powers; Kenyans, by and large, don't care one way or the other. And so the press has failed to highlight the incongruities in the system of government we have today.

So when we try to emulate the United States in what it does and how it does it, we do ourselves a great disservice. The United States Government is an evolution more than two centuries in the making, born of a revolution and a civil war. Not even Kenya's war of independence was a war of independence: it was a land-rights war that was co-opted for political ends by sectarian interests. Fifty years is not long enough for institutions to mature. It is why, in all its constitutional iteration, even under the 2010 constitution, Kenya remains a nation of strong, anti-democratic, amoral, corrupt influences. In this year of our Jubilee, we shouldn't paper over the ugly truths about ourselves. We should celebrate them, knowing that whatever else happens, we will do our thing as we've always done it: peculiarly!

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