Thursday, August 15, 2013

It's ideas, stupid.

Raila Odinga and CORD, together with Okiya Omtatah's March 4 Movement want the Constitution amended by referendum to change the way the President is elected. Their desire to see the creation of an electoral college in the style of the United States seems to be their preferred choice. They may be right that the Tyranny of Numbers hypothesis guarantees that "smaller" tribes will never get a shot at the top job if the present system is retained. Jubilee, obviously, is not amused. Kithure Kindiki has accused his colleagues in the Minority Party of attempting to hijack the Senate's plan to strengthen the Senate and devolved government for their own political ends. This is the essence of democratic discourse: point and counter-point, proposal and counter-proposal. The best idea will prevail; the worst will be rejected by Kenya's voters.

Kenyan politicians are slowly coming round to the realisation that the politics of violent confrontation are a recipe for disaster. It is the violent rhetoric of ODM and PNU in 2007 that all but guaranteed that violence would mar the results of the general election. Raila Odinga may still be sore that he is not the President, but he has realised that his best shot at replacing Uhuru Kenyatta or his successor, if there is one, is through the democratic process, not violent street demonstrations. Now that he and his acolytes have accepted that they must work within the confines of Kenya's still new Constitution, they must up their game and present credible political ideas that attract the majority of voters. So far, it is emerging that they are bereft of new ideas; their only concern seems to be that Raila odinga must be President, no matter the consequences.

We have moved on from the concept of ideology as the organising principle of political parties in Kenya. Indeed, other than the fractious and tempestuous relations between the Democrats and the Republicans in the United States, ideology seems to be in swift retreat across the world. But ideas still seem to dominate the more successful political parties. This must be the path that Kenya pursues.

It is no longer enough to Raila Odinga or anybody else to roam around Kenya demanding "change" when they are bereft of ideas. When he was Prime Minister, he demonstrated a surprising lack of originality in his political thinking. He imagined that personal popularity was sufficient to guarantee him victory at the hustings. He was wrong. He forgot that propaganda, in the place of ideology, was also a valuable tool in the process. He failed to out-propaganda Jubilee during the election campaign. He lost his chance at the Presidency and his halo of invincibility in the bargain.

He has a chance, however, to overhaul his deficit in ideas. It is slowly becoming apparent that Uhuru Kenyatta, now that he is President, is also bereft of new ideas. His government is intent in repeating the political mistakes of the past. It is attempting to rule rather than govern. The rule of law receives lip service from the President on down. No one is accusing them of perpetrating crimes against Kenyans to remain in power; but the application of the rule of law seems to be a hit or miss affair with the Jubilee government.

For instance, when it emerged that the managers of the Kenya Airports Authority and the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority were asleep at the wheel, Mr Kenyatta retreated to the well-worn strategy of ordering investigations and rearranging the deck-chairs in the HMS Titanic that is disaster preparedness in Kenya. If the President wished to send a bold new message to the public officers in his government that he would do things differently, he failed spectacularly. By transferring officers in order to address the gaps exposed by the JKIA fire. Mr Kenyatta told senior government managers that they would not be held to account for their lapses and omissions. They would not be punished; they'd would simply receive the equivalent of slaps on the wrist and life would go on. Mr Kenyatta should have fired everyone in charge when the JKIA debacle occurred, from the CEOs of KCAA and KAA to the disaster response managers at the airport.

These are the issues that Mr Odinga must expose and highlight if his arguments that the Constitution must be amended are to be accepted. He must demonstrate that the government of Kenya cannot continue to be managed in the manner that it was under Kenyatta I, Moi or Kibaki. fresh ideas must be explored in the quest to govern Kenyans better. If he maintains his miffed approach to the March 4 elections, he will not only come across as a sore loser, but an uninformed sore loser and his amend-the-constitution plans will come a cropper.

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