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Kenya needs a clear leader, not 'half loaf' coalitions

Monday March 13 2017

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Let’s call a spade a spade: our electoral process here in Kenya is flawed. 

It is largely skewed towards moneyed politicians who only open their spigots during elections, causing hyperinflation every electoral period.

Further, it undermines the winner, since pre-election arrangements have their ramifications.

Further still, it makes it possible for individuals who have not been duly elected or who could not be elected to demand extra constitutional benefits, or claim a piece of the seat of power.  Yet we know that for that seat to be effective, it cannot be shared.

An English proverb first cited by George Gascoigne, “too many cooks spoil the broth,” tells us that a crowd at the leadership summit is ineffective.  In political theory, there must be a distinctive leader who the people can hold solely to account. 

In our case, the alliances and amalgamations of ethnicities deny the Kenyan people a leader that they can truly hold to account. 

This isn’t at national level only. Truth be told, devolution, even though everyone says it’s a success, has witnessed the marginalisation of many small communities by bigger ones. The leaderships, from national government to counties, are virtually coalitions.

There is no country that can claim to have succeeded with coalitions in its leadership.  The problem with coalitions is that no leader can push his or her own agenda.  They are always like pre-nuptial agreements. 

Partners in the coalition place a lot of provisos on the path. Leaders are told “If you do this or that then I will not be with you”. 


The leadership we desire is akin to a benevolent dictatorship. The leader’s decisions ought to be final, and the subordinates should take or leave them so long as they are in the public interest. 

In the absence of that kind of leadership, we are simply wasting time and the earlier we find a mechanism to deliver that kind of leadership, the better.

During the second term of the President Kibaki’s administration, we had a coalition government. Kenyans can remember perpetual excuses about the “half loaf” of bread. Whatever happens in the coming elections, we shall either revert to talking about half loaves or quarter loaves, and development will take a back seat. 

Parties will jostle for jobs and even demand that new high-level positions be created, all at the expense of merit, simply because they feel they are part of the government even though they may not have been elected. 

In a democratic system where campaign resources are not accounted for, we run the risk of new administrations becoming vulnerable, resorting to selling key positions in government to replenish depleted pockets.

Already, economists are warning that widespread voter bribery, buying the foundation of power, will likely cause inflation.  Indeed there is a spike in inflation at every election year. 

In 1992, there was so much money in the hands of people that by 1993, the government had to hike the Treasury Bill rate to as high as 75 per cent to mop up excess liquidity. What that means is that no bank would find it attractive to lend to any business. and without lending, you stifle enterprise, leading to job losses.

These types of political behaviour have been studied widely enough that we can begin to comprehend why our politics seem so dysfunctional.


Let me put this into perspective by introducing some aspects of political psychology theory, an interdisciplinary field of study that is exclusively dedicated to understanding politics, politicians and political behaviour from a psychological viewpoint. 

In Introduction To Political Psychology, Cottan and others noted:

Political psychological theory and approaches have been applied in many contexts such as: leadership role; domestic and foreign policymaking; behaviour in ethnic violence, war and genocide; group dynamics and conflict; racist behaviour; voting attitudes and motivation; voting and the role of the media; nationalism; and political extremism.

Some of these contexts are so patently similar to our situation that we must begin to seriously evaluate how to reform our electoral process. Many 18th-century philosophers raised issues with respect to the interaction between the rulers and the ruled, often intervening for the ruled.

Much of our Constitution was copied from the American and the British (although Britain’s is unwritten). We ended up with what they called a hybrid constitution, that needed to be fine-tuned for it to serve the people better. 

At the moment, we are more interested in the outcomes of political process than the strategies used by the ruling class against the ruled. 

If we paid a little attention to these strategies, we would end up with citizens demanding democratic reforms as “owners” of government, for as Lincoln said, the “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth". 

When coalitions are made between the elected and the unelected, the right of the people to choose is undermined.

In Europe, for example, it was largely the lawyers and philosophers who interrogated the political process, sometimes identifying areas of pure propaganda that could not benefit the ordinary people. A case in point is philosopher Herbert Marcuse, who opened up issues concerning freedom and authority. 

Until today, when our leaders legitimise authority, more often than not they trample on the freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution. The discussions to create new, powerful positions will further disenfranchise the distinctive leadership the nation desires.

It is a demonstration of how we all have become pawns in a process of legitimising potentates.


Indeed, if we create a process in which we elect a strong driver, there will be no need for co-drivers not sanctioned by the people. A top-heavy administration often leads to conflicts, and, as they say, when two bulls fight it is the grass that suffers. 

It is the citizen who will ultimately suffer when we de-legitimise authority through other means and create an amorphous style of leadership. That is why I am arguing that we need a clear leader with legitimate authority as envisaged in the Constitution. 

This is achievable. We can tweak the Constitution to provide for such leadership and fast-track development.

My proposal is that anybody wishing to run for office should be allowed to do so within an IEBC-sanctioned primary. From the primary, the two top candidates would move to the final round of election, based on the absence of pre-nuptial arrangements, number and diversity of votes.


Several countries indeed use a two-round system to elect leaders.  Countries like France, Italy, Brazil India, etc., have been successful with this form of balloting. 

The system helps to eliminate back-door arrangements to get some people into power without being expressly elected by the people.

The bone of contention in nomination processes of all parties is the fact that some people want to negotiate their ways into position of leadership.

Below is an example of a two round system that takes into consideration diversity and popularity, based on recent IPSOS poll.  It can be argued that the provision of a run-off in our constitution effectively gives us a two round system. However, it should be noted that it happens after the fact.


My proposal will not deny anybody the right to run for any office. Perhaps we may even get the right leaders that way. 

It also eliminates jokers from going all the way, while at the same time presenting an opportunity to establish the popularity of candidates who claim an ability to take the leadership mantle. 

Once they lose in round one, but garner significant ethnic or clan votes, they are not eligible to form any coalition or alliance. This is the only way we can get our leaders to think beyond ethnic and clan power.

It doesn’t mean that we shall completely eliminate political problems, but it minimises them, leaving us to contend with circumstantial matters and character traits of the leader. 

If the system ends up getting better leadership in Parliament, it will foster unprecedented checks and balances and possibly create truly independent institutions. 

The whole essence of constitutional reform was to create better institutions for sustainable development.  Through the lenses of political psychology, we shall indeed begin to reform several aspects of our institutions. 

Circumstances and trait characteristics impact the decision making process of leaders, and decisions made by individuals differ markedly from those made by groups. 

This point is underscored by numerous studies, including Hegel’s works, Reason and Revolution and the Rise of Social Theory, which argue that groups compromise individual rights. 

The writer is an associate professor at the University of Nairobi School of Business. Twitter: @bantigito