Kenya’s is neither a legal nor a constitutional problem, but a political problem that will require a political approach to solve.
By VINCENT KIMOSOP
In 2017, Kenya has gone through the phases of its most protracted electioneering period since Independence. The intrigues witnessed during this election include an unprecedented scale of mass protests against the elections management body, numerous electoral-related litigations, the first annulment of a presidential poll, the withdrawal of a major candidate and the resignation of a top election management body officer culminating in a controversial repeat election characterised by a significant voter boycott, cancelation of elections in 25 constituencies, the lowest voter turnout and the highest victory thresholds for the eventual winner.
The net effect of this one-of-a-kind electioneering period has been an intensification of the economic woes facing the country mainly arising from a fall in domestic and external market demand. This is mainly attributed to a deferred focus on the economy and prolonged political activities resulting in uncertainty. During such times, investors tend to adopt ‘a wait and see’ approach even as they look forward to a predictable conclusion of the contest.
The opposition NASA coalition has now mutated into a resistance movement and has devised different strategies to prosecute their agenda among them being economic boycott targeting products of major companies.
A look at Kenya’s growth prospects reveals a worrying trend in the medium term GDP growth rates for Kenya. For eight consecutive months, Kenya’s GDP growth forecast has been reducing and this is traced back to April 2017 when the World Bank downgraded the projected 6.0 per cent GDP growth rate by 0.5 per cent. As at September 2017, the rate stood at 4.8 per cent.
The World Bank estimates Kenya’s economy to be USD70 billion and a one percentage drop in growth implies real impact on the lives of the populace. Things have not been made any easy particularly that this is happening in the wake of the passage of the interest capping legislation that has led to limited access to credit by SMEs.
It is vital to appreciate that ours is neither a legal nor a constitutional problem; it is purely a political one that will require a political approach. This is why even with the repeat election and the apex court having pronounced itself on the same (it helped give the elections a legal and constitutional closure) the nation is not yet out of the woods. It will take political capital to get the country out of the current situation.
Proper diagnosis of the issue is important so as to ensure that we have the proper prescription to the problem and use this opportunity to address the matter comprehensively unlike the short-term approaches that have been used in the past.
This is why calls for dialogue are fast gaining currency with a greater emphasis being on a broad-based, all-inclusive multi sectoral approach. This is because of the lessons of the 2007/2008 post election violence that was ended with the formation of a grand coalition government.
Interestingly, even after a political deal – the famous Kibaki-Raila Handshake – the agenda four items were not given the due attention. these included: Undertaking constitutional, legal and institutional reforms; Tackling poverty and inequality and combating regional development imbalances; Tackling unemployment especially among the youth; and Consolidating national cohesion and unity .
To a better future
As Kenya navigates this necessary democratic imperative of holding elections every five years, there is need for a moment of introspection on its negative effect on the socio-economic fabric of our society. Focus should therefore not only be on the prospects of building cohesion, peace and stability but it should also give emphasis on how to cushion the economy from the disruptive effects of elections in Kenya.
A key starting point should be in enhancing systems and processes of elections management to ensure that the conduct of future presidential contests meets the minimum thresholds of legitimacy and legality. In order to satisfactorily realise this, legislative reform efforts should be conducted in a bipartisan manner and within a time that does not coincide with electioneering periods in order to eliminate conflict of interest and elevate objectivity in the design of the legal and regulatory frameworks governing elections.
Experience from the performance of the Cabinet indicates that communities in Kenya want to be represented in Government mainly by politicians and not professionals. To foster this aspiration, there might be need to address the 2010 Constitution structure of the Executive. We currently have a spoilt system (“winner takes all” presidential system and “loser loses everything”) and thus competition to clinch the presidency is intense.The Bomas Draft is a good reference point on the options that Kenyans made during the development of the Constitution.
There’s need to redefine the structure of the role of the Opposition. The current framework where we have a Leader of Minority has not been effective in facilitating the Opposition to engage in the policy processes. We need to make provision for a dignified national Opposition with facilitation and funding to be able to play its role of checking government in Parliament and outside and promoting national integration and development and this can be replicated even at the county level.
Vincent Kimosop is a Policy and Governance Expert with Sovereign Insights.