Jubilee government will be known for rule by fiat

Friday June 28 2013

By KARUTI KANYINGA [email protected]

The Jubilee government of President Uhuru Kenyatta or Kenyatta II and Deputy President William Ruto is marking about three months in office since inauguration on April 9.

This is also Kenya’s first government under the 2010 Constitution, and the fourth government since independence in 1963.

How different then is Kenyatta II from the previous presidents? How different is the Jubilee government from the first government under Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, or even the second government under Daniel arap Moi?

We need not ask how different Jubilee is from the preceding government of President Mwai Kibaki because the contrast is obvious: although Kibaki’s legacy include infrastructure projects everywhere, his silence and absence from news made him very different from those before him. He rarely spoke or gave orders even when the situation clearly called for his voice.

Mzee Kenyatta was a shrewd leader; his liberal or laissez faire approach to politics and the economy had certain important results for the country.

The approach contributed to, arguably, stability and national development. Rarely did he interfere with policy making and implementation, although those around him exploited this to their advantage. They centralised rent-seeking and exploited any opportunity that came their way. They grew rich and developed a wall around Mzee for their own good.

President Moi ascended to power in 1978 promising to follow Mzee Kenyatta’s footsteps. Many thought he would follow Kenyatta’s policies.

Moi indeed followed Mzee Kenyatta’s footsteps with an eraser to rub out Kenyatta’s imprints on the economy and politics. This began with strategic replacement of senior officers as he created his own.

However, the most distinctive mark of Moi’stenure as a president was the making of important decisions while on roadside, food kiosks, or public rallies. Important decisions and propositions that would later become policies were made by fiat.

There were stories told about how school and church choirs would be requested by senior politicians to ask for favours in their songs. The result was obvious. A proposition would be made that would later give bureaucrats headache as they sought for ways of addressing the problem. They would get headache trying to align budgets with policies.

When a president’s directive or decree is translated into a government policy, something else will have to give way. So messy was the budget and policy making process that Kenya’s economy failed to recover for several years.

This changed with President Kibaki. His speech at inauguration was emphatic that he would not follow President Moi’s footsteps.

He was keen to erase the imprints of that leadership. This he did; throughout his 10 years in office, President Kibaki did not make roadside declarations. Neither did he interfere with ministries. Cabinet ministers worked with a high degree of autonomy.

Jubilee government under Kenyatta II and Mr Ruto thus far is distinguishing itself from the past governments in a number of ways. First, the government is “business-friendly”. It is a government keen to bring ethos of the private sector to the public sector.

The urgency and the speed at which they want results is unprecedented. They are like business people selling perishable goods; its now or the goods will perish.

Secondly, the government is giving governance and issues of rights a wide berth. The Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs is no more. Yet the country has a new Constitution to implement.

Although the responsibility of implementing the Constitution is shared across ministries, commitment to implementing the Constitution would be shown by having a stand alone ministry. It would have been wise to retain a justice and constitutional docket until implementation is matured.

The third and most important distinctive feature of the new government is rule by orders; Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto are drifting towards a different kind of Moi.

They are giving orders and directives on many things and quite regularly. They are issuing directives to various government officials to take action. But they are an intelligent and diligent duo. That’s the difference.

Mr Kenyatta and his deputy, collectively, have issued tens of directives in the last three months they have been in office. Rarely a week passes without the President directing someone to do something about something.

In the month of June 2013 alone, the President and his deputy have issued about 10 directives to various offices to do one thing or another. This does not include the number of times they have appeared in the news performing their duties. On the whole, it is possible they have given over 20 orders since they assumed office.

One may argue that they have been giving orders because the process to compose a new government has taken long. But the problem is that this may normalise and result in the “dynamic duo” becoming micro-managers of government ministries and departments.

That is, the more they give orders and directives, the more the Cabinet secretaries get worried about whether they are doing things right or not.

There is one risk in this. The President and his deputy risk creating a personalised rule in which everything will begin and end with them. A personality cult in this century will, without any doubt, roll back the gains achieved thus far.

Prof Karuti Kanyinga teaches at the Institute for Development Studies, University of Nairobi, [email protected]