Big government and betrayal of the majority

Wednesday March 18 2020

The worst kept secret in the country is that there is going to be a referendum before 2022 and it will be asking Kenyans to endorse a constitutional amendment that will see an expanded executive, energetically being justified as necessary to cure the country’s divisive politics that makes the competition for presidency a cut-throat, zero sum game.


That the ‘big government’ platform will win is evident from the war that has been unleashed against Dr Ekuro Aukot’s Punguza Mizigo initiative. It is running into severe headwinds in many counties.

Speculation is that our gullible and greedy Members of County Assemblies (MCAs) are literally selling their votes. This is a pity really because the Punguza Mizigo platform has its heart in the right place by seeking to reduce the onerous burden the existing governance system has placed on wanjiku. Its recommendations for trimming the system are extreme but that is feedback that Dr Aukot has received and must be reviewing.

The problem is that the petition will not be defeated on the basis of a reasoned debate but rather because MCAs will have been paid to abort it prematurely.

The Ugatuzi option fronted by the Council of Governors broadly aligns with the expected recommendations of the Building Bridges Initiative that was inspired by the handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga. It is expected that a key proposal under the governance pillar will be to recommend creation of the positions of prime minister and one or two deputies in addition to that of president and deputy president.


I will not be surprised if it also recommends another layer of governance at the regional level – regional governors – to complement the state structure that has regional governance structures like the Regional Commissioner and the regional police and intelligence chiefs. It is a structure that Mr Odinga has publicly championed.

It is hard to see how such a structure effectively represents wananchi (in Parliament and other legislative organs), is efficient and promotes equity in resource allocation and utilization, and is progressive in demonstrating that the right priorities are being foregrounded in 50-year plan for Kenya. Rather, it is one that plainly underpins an oppressive state hegemony cooperating well with interests of tribal elites. A really good example of this is in the demand in the Governor’s Ugatuzi option that requires that every county must at least have either a Cabinet Secretary, a deputy CS or a principal secretary.

Why could anyone want to have this as a constitutional requirement 60 years into independence when the majority of people going to live under that Constitution have been socialised to meritocracy as the key definer of who merits the privilege and responsibility of leadership?


It is because those defining how the constitutional change question should be framed are doing it for themselves to protect power and hold on to the attendant privileges. The machinations are driven by the spectre of 2022 presidential elections and succession and specifically by the nettlesome dilemma of how to compromise Deputy President William Ruto single-minded objective of taking over State House.

Once that is achieved, there will be another 10 years of managing the status quo before it is necessary to review the governance make-up. Those in power will again shift posts to accommodate whatever will be the dominant paradigm.

Seeing that a lot of the players in this political chess game that excludes the majority of Kenyans are independent and post-independence children that should be intellectually equipped to change this reality and do the right thing on behalf of those they represent, it is clear they prefer to back a strong state system that rewards individuals from tribes (organized as counties) rather than root for one that seeks to dismantle this.


As it is now, it will still be a situation where power at the top transitions to another centre, leaving the sub-structure intact because it is politically too weak, intellectually too small-minded and resource poor to upset the dominant order. By playing this game so deftly and winning support from really poor, hungry, sick and marginalized people whose kids can hardly get jobs, the political elite win Kenya the accolade the rare country where middle class elites have abdicated their role to enforce change and manage it, especially when their comfort is in imminent peril.

Tom Mshindi is the former editor-in-chief of the Nation Group and is now consulting. [email protected], @tmshindi