On Leadership and Governance post-New Constitution

In an earlier piece, titled “The Loyal Opposition and The Fruit”, I offered the idea of Raila Odinga accepting the results announced by the IEBC on March 9, 2013 declaring Jubilee candidate Uhuru Kenyatta as the winner of the 2013 Presidential Elections. I then suggested that Raila channel his energies and extensive experience being a mentor to aspiring social and political leaders of the next generation. I also proposed that he become the loyal, constructive and respectful opposition to the Kenyatta Administration. I opined that unless CORD lawyers led by Mr. George Oraro have more evidence than the seemingly generic charges of “unfair and flawed handling of the elections by the IEBC,” it is highly unlikely that the High Court would rule to overturn Mr. Hassan’s proclamation that Uhuru and his Jubilee Coalition were the victors in the 2013 Elections. I still hold that belief that barring evidence of election fraud of titanic proportions, the numbers point to an Uhuru presidency

Once Uhuru is safely ensconced in State House and the generational leadership change supposedly prophesized by the felled Mugumo Tree is fulfilled, then the hard work of leading and governing a divided and polarized Kenya begins. I say hard because of recent activities and utterances, not only by those tasked with leading the country including both Messer’s Kenyatta and Odinga, but by the general public as well, as reflected by the tone of the many comments posted in cyber space. The fact is: The manner and style of leadership and governance Kenyans have endured since independence has not reflected leadership and governance designed to build consensus between independent and co-equal branches of government. At the risk of incurring the wrath of some readers, I will further add that based on some of the comments in cyber space; it is not unreasonable or illogical to argue that the very notion of consensus-building and working across the aisle for the common good is “foreign” to the country!

The post-election violence of 2007 caused by the rigged and manipulated presidential elections brought Kenyans face-to-face with ethnic violence and to the edge of a full-blown civil war. That dalliance with Rwanda-like violence compelled the international community in the person of Koffi Annan to force Mwai Kibaki to take on a governing partner in Prime Minister Raila Odinga. Prior to that, Kenya’s presidents – Kenyatta and Moi – ruled by fiat and diktat sans any opposition or dissent. After independence and through the early 90s, Kenyans and their politicians were a bunch sycophants who either “harambee’d” or “fuata’d nyayo”. Some did so because it was “their turn to eat” while others wanted to continue gorging at the trough of power. Still others sang the praise of Mzee or Nyayo because they did not want to be marginalized, demonized, detained, threatened with bodily harm, tortured or assassinated! Some, including Raila and Hezekiah Ochuka sought to overthrow the government because they believed that a coup d’etat was the only way to bring about an open and fair political system!

The promulgation of the New Constitution in 2010 and the push towards devolution of power offers Kenya the opportunity for an open and fair political system. In this new system, complete with independent institutions headed by independent and quasi-political appointees, Mr. Kenyatta will be facing a socio-political environment that is markedly different than the one faced – make that enjoyed – by his predecessors! Rather than govern as his father and Mr. Moi did, by brutally quashing opposition, Uhuru will have to find a way to build consensus and work across the aisle including with people who strongly disagree with him. Mr. Kenyatta fils will have to govern the country without the literal “bully pulpit” and impunity (which is very different from immunity) enjoyed by his predecessors, including Kenyatta pere. Uhuru Kenyatta will also have the laser-like focus of the international community, not to mention the International Criminal Court (ICC) trained on him.

Leading a diverse constitutional democratic country divided along tribal lines is a challenge Mr. Kenyatta appears to have embarked on in fits and starts. The “warning” he issued to Mr. Odinga was presumptuous and reminiscence of his father’s numerous admonitions to his political opponents during his reign, including to one Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Raila’s father! While Uhuru’s warning was necessary given the heightened tensions that gripped the country after the IEBC announced the election results, Mr. Kenyatta’s stock as a leader of ALL Kenyans would have risen significantly had he issued, magnanimously methinks, the warning to ALL Kenyans. I am glad the High Court stepped in and cautioned both principals and by extension, their supporters and surrogates against litigating the pending petition in the court of public opinion. I would add that the exemplary behavior of Kenyans as they cast their votes on March 4 notwithstanding, the High Court’s caution speaks to the collective inability of Kenyans to responsibly exercise their democratic rights at the next (higher level) of the democratic process – governing a disparate polity. That inability to disagree without letting the disagreement degenerate into violence is indication of the still-budding maturity and nascence of said democratic process. While the significance of Gatundu in the annals of Kenya’s presidential history is unquestioned, indeed unparalleled, Uhuru’s visit to his ancestral home, coming around the time the elders of Giakanja Village in Nyeri proclaimed that his court-pending victory fulfilled the prophecy of the felled Mugumo Tree was insensitive and tone-deaf because it reinforced the myth that the Kenyan presidency is the sole purview of some but not others. Political leadership is about timing, symbolism and perception. Mr. Kenyatta could have waited before making the pilgrim to Gatundu.

He is yet to be sworn in as POK (President Of Kenya) and in all fairness, it is way too early, indeed unfair to read much into the president-elect’s early moves but it is my hope that Mr. Kenyatta will steady his “sea legs” and find firm and steady footing as Kenya’s 4th president.

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Filed under Democracy, Elections, Kenya, Politics, Tribalism

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