Sunday, June 02, 2013

Quit whingeing and organise!

All the wishing in the world will not change the fact that when it comes to the organisation of government, not even Kenya will alter a fundamental truth: presidents organise their governments with the political end-game in mind. Kenyatta did. Moi did. Kibaki did. And Uhuru Kenyatta certainly has. His choices of Cabinet Secretaries may have been billed as the secodn coming of professionals back in the Cabinet, but it is surely for political reasons that the likes of Ms Kandie and Mr Chirchir found favour with the Parliamentary Committee on Appointments. The behaviour of  Aden Duale on the Committee was certainly revealing. That they managed to persuade the National Assembly to go to bat for the hapless Ms Kandie must have been quite a coup.

It is why the whingeing by civil society is so humourous. Why they thought the Jubilee government would follow a different path beggars belief. Even a casual examination of the system we seek to emulate will demonstrate the folly of thinking that only merit counts when choosing members of the Cabinet. Barack Obama's choices for Cabinet-level members has been driven significantly by the need to keep his party in power beyond his term as President. In Kenya, despite the lofty non-tribal, non-partisan whispers of the President and Deputy President, they will want their coalition to survive the full term, and perhaps be perpetuated for fifteen more.

When the first sixteen nominees were announced, on the surface, it appeared that Uhuru Kenyatta was making a complete break with Kenya's past when it came to the Cabinet. Especially with President Moi, the Cabinet had become the place for settling political debts. Where a politician had succeeded in winning the President's favour, he was rewarded with a seat in the Cabinet and, by extension, his tribe was seen to be represented in the government at the highest levels with the largesse the Minister was expected to lavish on his "people." This system of patronage has now been constitutionalised with the requirement of ethnic and regional balancing in high-level government appointments. 

While civil society was disappointed by the greater representation of Rift Valley and Central in the Cabinet, they should not have been surprised. Messrs Kenyatta and Ruto had to satisfy "their bases." With the two main tribes in the coalition taking the lion's share of Cabinet slots, it is a recognition that while the coalition managed to garner the required votes for election, it was not properly represented outside of the two strongholds. It will be surprising if the pattern is not repeated with other Executive appointments. It should also be expected that Parliament, given Jubilee's dominance, will ratify the Executive's choices without trouble. 

Not even the most high-minded societies can do without the political arithmetic that goes with the formation of a government. What makes the process legitimate is if the other parties react as they are required. Instead of whingeing about the unfairness of it all, they should organise, within the rules, to play a constructive role in guaranteeing that the Executive does not have a free hand in going about its affairs. The signs in Kenya have been discouraging.

Over the last few weeks, instead of playing a constructive role as the minority party, CORD has simultaneoulsy attempted to impose a will it cannot on the National Assembly while working in concert with the majority party (especially on the niggling question of MPs' pay.) Francis Nyenze is a capable politician, but even he will be the first to admit that without the leadership of Raila Odinga or Kalonzo Musyoka in the government, he is in an untenable position. It is like trying to herd cats.

The Executive, so far, has played a cautious game in keeping things on an even keel. But its slow-but-sure approach is wearing thin. It has so far managed to keep its MPs in line because of the fractiousness of the CORD side of the equation. If or when CORD gets its shit together, Kenya may once again experience the reality of majority-minority rule. Mwai Kibaki was the last Opposition Leader to check the Executive. It remains to be seen whether Mr Nyenze will rise to the challenge. Until he does, Kenya will not have the benefit of a constructive opposition to keep the Jubilee coalition in check. 

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