President should lead nation in revisiting Agenda Four Reforms for future stability

Saturday December 2 2017

Residents demonstrate calling for electoral

Residents demonstrate calling for electoral reforms at Obote road Kisumu on October 13, 2017. PHOTO | TONNY OMONDI | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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It is doubtful whether many people remember such a thing as Agenda 4 Reforms in Kenya.

It is also doubtful whether many people wish to pay attention to how these came into being.

The reforms would remind them of the post-2007 election violence and how political self-interests drove Kenya towards collapse.

But it is important to get back into these issues in order to see what destabilises the country every election year.


It is important to recall that to end the violence, the disputing parties and the mediation team recognised three things.

They recognised that the violence was the result of political crisis. They recognised that the political crisis in Kenya is a constant factor – from 1963.

The crisis always revolved around issues of political power and how state institutions functions.

Thirdly the parties recognised that several underlying issues caused the crisis.

These were longstanding and will always cause violence if left unaddressed.

The parties agreed that the issues that destabilise Kenya included failure to undertake effective constitutional and institutional reforms.

They also added that there was general lack of adherence to the rule of law and that the laws applied in a discriminatory manner.

Importantly, the parties added combating regional development imbalances.

They argued that development resources were seen as bypassing certain regions, especially those that lacked strong leaders at the centre of power and areas from which successive presidents did not come from.


In the view of the parties, the neglect of certain areas caused the feeling, real or perceived, that some parts were benefiting from the government than others.

It was then agreed that addressing this problem and perception required inclusive development.

The parties included tackling poverty and inequality, tackling unemployment especially among the youth as part of the reforms requiring attention to secure Kenya in a sustainable manner.

The agenda also included undertaking land reforms.

The argument here was that land ownership had become a source of violent conflicts and had added to the violence witnessed at the time as well as in 1992 and 1997. And this problem was also historical. Conflicts over land rights were common in the Rift Valley.

Finally, there was consensus that political instability and crisis had undermined national cohesion and unity.

There was a need to address this problem by consolidating unity. This would be achieved by undertaking the above reforms. Significant, however, is that the parties agreed that addressing transparency, accountability, and impunity were important instruments of creating order and stability.

The rule of law had to be enhanced to take Kenya back on track.


Combined, these are what are referred to as Agenda 4 Reforms of the Long Standing Issues and Solutions.

If addressed in totality, they would help in creating prosperity and strengthening the basis for national development.

It was agreed that no development would take place without being disrupted every time there is an election if these issues remained under the carpet.

There was consensus that violence and political crisis were a recurring story in Kenya but remained unattended to for many years. Some of the issues that cause violence are often pushed under the carpet.

They are picked up again and dusted off to cause another conflict. The government that was formed immediately after the violence of 2007 embarked on these reforms. It was assumed that subsequent governments would continue paying attention to these issues if the country were to avoid violence during elections.

Progress in addressing root causes of instability

Some of these issues were addressed through the constitutional reform process. The 2010 Constitution specifically focused on addressing institutional reforms and providing resources for combating imbalances in development through devolution.

The Constitution created some new institutions and strengthened the existing ones. It was assumed that the institutions would function in public interest and help promote these reforms.


The Constitution also provided for devolution so as to promote local self-governance and improve service delivery. Equalisation fund was introduced to help counties in marginalised regions to catch up with the rest of the country.

Progress in effective implementation of the Constitution has been mixed. Several opinion polls from 2011 continue to show laxity in implementation of the Constitution by various players.

Devolution itself has provided good results in delivery of services but there are challenges in terms of high levels of corruption in the counties.

Corruption in the counties continues to deepen but there is no successful prosecution of suspects. Furthermore, sectors such as health have witnessed crippling of service delivery because of repeated strikes by health workers.

Sibling rivalry and poor inter-governmental relations, on the whole, remain a major challenge. But the Constitution and devolution are in place and hold promise to spur development.

If devolution worked as envisaged under the Constitution, many regions would have better services. The feeling of marginalisation would be addressed especially if devolution would result in improving services. And if all state officers were faithful to the Constitution as required, then the society would be transformed to a point where few would complain about marginalisation.

There is no recent data to help make judgment on changes brought about by devolution but anecdotal evidence suggests that poverty has slightly decreased from the 2008 levels of about 46 per cent of the population.

This decrease has not been significant enough to eliminate inequalities. In fact, there are those who argue that recent growth figures are not impacting on development.


They lack redistributive measures relevant for this kind of change. For this reason, unemployment figures remain unaltered especially among the youth and in all regions.
The causes of political crisis in this country are well known.

There is no lack of agreement on what contributes to recurrence of crisis every election year.

It is also agreed that political crisis undermines national cohesion and unity. And it is evident that working on stability is work in progress. But from 2008, the country has not progressed much in addressing the root causes of political crises and violence that recurs almost every election year.

President Uhuru Kenyatta’s agenda for the second term, therefore, has to address the issues that will ensure this does not hurt his legacy.

First, there is a need to tackle the culture of impunity and ensure accountability and transparency in the conduct of public affairs. The President would have a better legacy if he embarked on strengthening a culture of rule of law.

This will require ensuring that people are held to account for their actions. Some of the problems that contribute to the political crisis are a result of the failure to apply the law, poor respect of the Constitution, and failure to hold people to account.

If people see the law is applied equally and that there is no favour in holding people to account, then they will have faith in public institutions. They will feel part of the same society with everyone.

If the President’s second term were to focus on the rule of law and ensuring that impunity is a thing of the past, he would be remembered for living a law and rule governed society. In fact, the role of law in the society is to create order and ensure predictability in public activities. In the absence of law, things are governed by informal values.


These result in causing confusion and creating challenges in governance. Embarking on strengthening the culture of law is important in this respect.

The second issue to pay attention to is effective implementation of devolution. Devolution holds the promise for a better society if effectively implemented.

If the county governments were to use the resources as they should, they would transform the lives of residents in a significant way. But the last few years raised concern with regard to support to devolution by the national government, and implementation of programmes by the county governments.

Providing resources for development in a predictable manner can resolve the challenge in implementation of devolution.

Similarly building capacity of the counties in certain areas requires attention. If effectively implemented, devolution will lay a strong basis for national cohesion and unity.

If poorly implemented, certain segments of the country will continue feeling neglected and blaming the national government for their plight.

The future stability of Kenya is clearly dependent on implementing the Constitution, adhering the rule of law rather than the rule of man, and ensuring that the objects of devolution are achieved.

These hold the key to Kenya’s future. The President can build on these for his legacy.

Prof Karuti Kanyinga is based at the Institute for Development Studies (IDS), University of Nairobi; [email protected]