Wednesday, October 15, 2014

It isn't time yet.

I believe what I am about to write is the equivalent of eating crow. In the past two weeks I have had the privilege of sitting together with members of Kenya's elite, Judges, parliamentarians and members of county assemblies. I have interacted with them at length. I have socialised with them. I have listened to them make their case in relation to the work I do. Save for the embarassment of confirming that MCAs are a stain on the national conscience, away from the glare of the TV spotlight, Judges and MPs are thoughtful, conscientious and intelligent. Even as they grab ever larger shares of the national treasure, in the relative privacy of a conference room, they are persuasive and rather accommodating of divergent views or challenges to received wisdom.

In the spirit of revising my rather obdurate views of the elected classes, I have carefully gone over the statements attributed to the Speaker of the National Assembly. I believe he has been unfairly cast as the villain of too many pieces. In my view, while he has a knack for coming across as an arrogant and hubristic man too full of himself, Justin Muturi is a public servant performing a high-wire act over a river full of hungry crocodiles; a misstep and his career will be cut short. He presides over a chamber where political passions run high, where allotted time is little to make an erudite impression and where very little of the Jubilee agenda has been reduced into a White Paper or a Bill. Mr Muturi's National Assembly has been reduced to making resolutions which, so far, have not had the desired political or oversight effect the Members expected.

Even among the well read, few appreciate the magnitude of the changes being wrought by the Constitution. From a hybrid presidential-parliamentary system that favoured the presidency at the expense of Parliament to one that seems to favour the two-chamber Parliament, long-nurtured relationships had to undergo a sea-change. President Kenyatta and Speaker Muturi are in an unenviable position of trying to streamline both the process of overseeing the National Executive while performing the legislative role of the National Assembly in a chamber where the Minority Party does not have the numbers but punches way above its political weight. The complete transformation of the government may not be accomplished in this election cycle or even the next; it will take time and it is time that everyone came to this rather obvious conclusion too.

It is in this context that the reforms being pursued in various areas should be seen. Take for example the "militarisation" of the National Youth Service. It has been in existence since just after the attempted coup in 1982. It's first five years generated a generation of leaders who went on to university and beyond, achieving heights not seen before. The Nyayo Bus era of the NYS coincided with the explosion in graft in the public service and it was inevitable that the NYS would become another statistic in the hollowing out of public institutions by corruption. In a nation suffering high levels of youth unemployment, it was inevitable that the revival of a once-successful institution would be attempted. Some may see it as the militarisation of the NYS, especially with the recent placing of some its assets in the hands of the Inspector-general of Police, but an argument can be made that by making the NYS a more disciplined outfit might safeguard the proposed changes to its mandate and mission. Before we lose sight of the forest for the trees, let us monitor whether or not the NYS will contribute significantly to the reduction of youth employment and an uptick in youth entrepreneurship.

What we must do, rather than constantly nay-say, Like I have done for the past eighteen months, is give the government, all three arms of it, a chance to implement its agenda. We should monitor the changes taking place. We should hold dyed-in-the-wool sticks-in-the-mud to account. We should demand excellence in whatever pursuit the government engages in. We should keep a hawkish eye on the public finances. And when the next general election is held, a sufficient amount of time to gauge progress, we can assess whether we are better off or not. And then we can choose to celebrate or express our dissatisfaction in what I am sure will be creatively Kenyan ways.

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