Cord leader Raila Odinga says Kenya should shift from a Presidential to a Parliamentary system to deal with the ethnic divisions that routinely accompany election seasons.
Mr Odinga says the Presidential system is ill suited for ethnically divided societies because communities pin their hopes on individuals and rally behind them, relegating other factors such as policy issues and merit to the back burner.
“I now believe very strongly that a presidential system enhances ethnicity and deepens divisions. I think a parliamentary system is much more appropriate for the kind of society we have in Kenya today. In a Parliamentary system, parties pick their candidates through an electoral college as you have in places such as India, Israel and Britain and then the parties compete and the biggest one forms the government. That way, someone from even the smallest community has a chance to be president.”
Mr Odinga was addressing a gathering of leading business executives from Africa and beyond on investment prospects on the continent at a summit organised by The Times newspaper in London.
The former Prime Minister made a strong pitch to the gathered investors urging them to take their money to the continent which he described it as the “last great frontier of economic growth in the world”.
“Anyone harbouring a positive assessment of Africa will not be disappointed,” said Mr Odinga.
“There has been a surge of interest, even euphoria, about the prospects of Africa in recent years. The optimism is well founded because all indications are that there are few places in the world where you can get as high a return on investment as you can on the continent. Rwanda recently issued a USD 400m Eurobond and it was oversubscribed by up to 8.5 times raising USD 3.5 billion. That is a demonstration of confidence not just in Rwanda but in Africa as a whole.”
Mr Odinga said regional integration and promoting trade within the continent held the key to improving economic output and urged governments to focus on large scale infrastructure projects.
“In Kenya, we championed the Lamu port project which is very close to my heart. It is important because only through such initiatives can we trade with our brothers and sisters across Africa. I want the project to open up the interior of Africa and to help us trade with countries such as the Central African Republic, Congo, Cameroon and others.”
The pre-dinner talk among policy makers and investors present at the meeting centred on whether Mr Odinga would offer a gloomy picture of Africa following his unsuccessful bid for President in the last election.
In the event, the former PM presented an upbeat assessment of Kenya and Africa’s prospects, drawing an ovation at the end of his remarks.
Mr Odinga however said Africa should invest more in deepening reforms and strengthening institutions. He also called for a change of system where things were not working well but told the investors such changes would come over time because “democracy is not like preparing a cup of instant coffee”.
Responding to a question from the audience on whether the International Criminal Court’s involvement in Kenya had cost him the election Mr Odinga said:
“The ICC did not invite itself to Kenya. Kenya took itself to the ICC. A constitutional amendment to set up a tribunal was defeated. But unlike the Ivory Coast situation, the President and deputy president have cooperated with the court. The matter is being handled in a civilised manner in my view. There is no need for panic and in time the process will be concluded.”
Speaking to the Daily Nation later, Mr Odinga said he will make a decision within two weeks on whether he will re-enter Parliament or take up a role outside politics as one of Africa’s elder statesmen.
He said both options were on the table and he had not made up his mind which was the best course of action.
“There are very persuasive arguments on both sides. There are those who say that I am needed in Parliament to drive the agenda of the party. And there are others who say that such a role is beneath my stature and I should leave politics and play a different role. I have not settled on either and Kenyans will hear from me within the next two weeks.”
Addressing the conference later, Ghana president John Mahama echoed the calls for greater investment in Africa and said his country was working towards ending dependency on donor assistance.
But when quizzed by a Ghanaian in the audience on whether Ghana which experiences intense, ethnically based competition for the Presidency much in the same way as Kenya should also shift to a Parliamentary system and change the election cycles from four to seven years, Mr Mahama rejected the notion.
“If it is not broke don’t fix it,” he said.