Kenya needs an inclusive system of leadership Published on September 28, 2007, 12:00 am By Joel M Ngugi
In Kenya, we take politics seriously: perhaps too seriously. Taking politics too seriously can be hazardous: it makes it hard for people to engage on the (de)merits of particular political choices.
If we are to overcome our national ethnically partisan political positions, we must start publicly rationalising the choices we make. The following thoughts are offered in this spirit. Let us imagine a Raila presidency – an imagination backed by a pragmatically clear-eyed rather than romantic or idealistic analysis. A Raila presidency would represent, not a loss for Kibaki, only a victory for Kenya. The losers would be the power-mongers around President Kibaki. Without trashing the Kibaki regime, and even while applauding its successes, we could reasonably conclude that Kenyans should think about giving Raila a chance, on the basis of three key issues.
First, there is the need to accelerate the path of economic prosperity of the last five years.
Kenya has prospered moderately under the Kibaki regime. Some say that this prosperity has come in spite of the Kibaki regime.
Nonetheless, there are many economic governance decisions made correctly, which chiefly account for the economic growth.
But we can, and should do better. Some of the current regime’s missteps in economic governance are legendary. They include Anglo Leasing and failure to adequately provide for key infrastructural needs such as arterial roads. With another Kibaki presidency, we are unlikely to see much radical change in economic governance. But with the key decisions made under Kibaki, a new president stands a better chance of deepening the reforms. This is a case for a new president, with a pat on the back to the outgoing President for a job well, but not excellently, done.
Second, the opportunity to construct an autochthonous mechanism for sharing national wealth, across regions and classes, that will supplement without supplanting the on going economic prosperity.
We must guard against the likely righteous but deeply disruptive politics that might discourage continued investment.
Thus, we must simultaneously encourage economic growth while putting in place effective mechanisms for sharing that prosperity. Raila’s articulated social democratic ideology is useful.
This is not to say that Raila’s political ideology will become policy upon election. But political ideology matters.
While Kibaki’s mainly neo-classical sensibilities will take care of the front-end of things (economic development);
Raila’s social democratic sensibilities will take care of the back-end of things (social co-operation and cohesion and other mechanisms for managing social conflicts and reducing moral hazards). Third, we must imagine the possibility and promise of national healing. Ethnic cleavage has deepened during the Kibaki regime. We cannot bury our heads in the sand and pretend that we will become a nation by default. We must make political choices that will take us there. The elections provide Kenyans with an opportunity to begin a post-tribal political discourse. By such a discourse, I mean, not a politics where ethnic affiliation and tribal identity miraculously become extinct, but one where individuals can think across ethnic affiliations in a socially rational way that serves national cohesion. In such a dispensation, people make political decisions based on a complex matrix in which the conflicting and competing interests are important but not necessarily decisive.
A necessary first step is a Raila presidency. Because of Kenya’s unique tribal politics, Raila will be a powerful symbol that we are in a new post-tribe era.
This is not because Raila is a saintly anti-tribal leader. Rather, it is because, if Raila is to be elected president, it will be in spite of his tribe. This, in itself, would be a first step. Secondly, and controversially, a Luo presidency will put to rest the idea that some Kenyans cannot be president.
A Raila presidency would likely re-align political and economic forces, making tribe less of a factor in politics.
This is because, despite his progressive ethos, Raila is a hardcore entrepreneur, unlikely to destroy the economic base but is likely to forge class-based alliances across the political divide. In any event, short of assuming draconian dictatorial powers, president Raila will not afford complacency: he would be facing well-heeled political opponents with a solid economic base and who would keep his government on its toes. What does this mean for Raila and his handlers? He must change his campaign emphasis; free it from the perception that it is anti-Gema, and transform it to be one of ideology and national healing. He must energise his supporters in spite of, not because of their anti-Gema sentiments. He must address economics beyond the vaguely unhelpful incantations that the national cake is not equitably distributed. He must tell Kenyans how he will keep the modest prosperity going while re-orienting the national legal baseline to one that permits productive redistribution of national resources. Differently put, Raila must start speaking the language of national healing, reconciliation, and the classic feature of a virtuous welfare state: the promise to use organised State power to moderately modify the play of market forces to guarantee the lower classes social inclusion and some minimum resources irrespective of the value that the market places on their labour and goods. The writer is an assistant Professor of Law at the University of Washington, Seattle, Washington.