Constitutional change should foster inclusive democracy

Sunday December 16 2018

inclusive democracy

ODM leader Raila Odinga welcomes President Uhuru Kenyatta for his Nyanza tour after landing at Kisumu International Airport on December 13, 2018. The Uhuru-Raila handshake seeks to bring about inclusive democracy. PHOTO | TONNY OMONDI | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

PETER KAGWANJA
By PETER KAGWANJA
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The year 2018 saw democracies sinking into deeper crisis. Major books published in the 2017-2018 interlude depict mature democracies as in retreat, dysfunctional or decayed.

Emerging democracies are rocked in post-election violence and wars within. For over two decades, political philosophers have gone to the drawing board in search of a viable alternative model to liberal democracy and socialism.

The publication of the book Towards an Inclusive Democracy: The Crisis of the Growth Economy and the Need For a New Liberatory Project (2002) by the Greek-born political philosopher, Takis Fotopoulos, popularised the “Inclusive Democracy (ID)” project, now inspiring reforms in Africa.

Inclusive democracy seeks to transcend the current crisis of democracy by reducing the lopsided powers of states, capital and markets and to promote direct democracy that involves the people in decision-making in a safe environment.

It is in this broad context that the March 9 détente — signified by the famous “handshake” — between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader Raila Odinga has certainly become the most significant event in 2018.

AWARD

Conceptually, the handshake has reopened debate on the idea of inclusive democracy in Kenya. It has also forced a rethinking of the values that undergird the nation building project in Kenya.

Notably, the ensuing calm has enabled Kenyatta and Odinga to “take the handshake to the grassroots in the tour of Luo Nyanza this week in a show of unity.

On December 14, President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga were awarded Honorary Degrees by the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University of Science and Technology for their contribution to national peace that calmed the nation and ended post-election tensions following the peace deal.

Earlier on, the President and Mr Odinga were honoured with the Black History Month, Africa Peace Award 2018, for the March Handshake in a ceremony that took place at the British House of Parliament, Westminster Palace in United Kingdom, on October 18.

The quest for an inclusive democracy has refocused attention on the need to tinker with the eight-year old Constitution to break the vicious cycle of instability and tensions before and after elections.

“We must examine whether our winner-takes-it-all approach to elections is a good or bad thing for the nation. We must then find ways to address that,” the President said during his visit to Nyanza.

REFORMS

Constitutional reform has remained a major issue in Kenya since independence in 1963 and an unfinished agendum.

But constitutional changes have not always promoted inclusive democracy.

Between 1963 and 1990, five major changes to the independence constitution, that provided for multiparty parliamentary system, enthroned the ruinous one-party dictatorship.

The tipping point was 1982 when multipartyism was abolished, making Kenya a single party state.

The Mlolongo (queue voting) system in 1988 sounded the death knell for electoral justice.

However, progress towards inclusion started in December 1991, when President Daniel arap Moi, caving in to internal and external pressure for democracy, repealed section 2A of the constitution and returned Kenya to a multiparty system.

GOVERNANCE

But multiparty system was no more than the proverbial new wine in an old skin.

Between 1991 and 2010, the country was trapped in “electoralism”— a “half-way” transition from authoritarian rule toward democratic rule where the old regime called the shots.

The post-election violence that followed the controversial December 27, 2007 elections came as a wake-up call to Kenyans to agree on a new social contract to secure their common destiny.

The National Dialogue and Reconciliation Act (2008) that ended the mayhem prioritised constitutional reform as one of the long-term issues.

But the country became a Tower of Babel, paralysed by the barren debate on whether to adopt a British-style parliamentary system, a French Semi-Presidential system or the pure American Presidential system.

In the 2017 double-election revealed, Kenya paid heavily for its copycat approach to constitutional change that gave only marginal attention to Kenya’s political reality and specific issues of inclusion.

While the ruling Jubilee Party ran the campaign on a majoritarian platform — the tyranny of numbers — the opposition whipped the frenzied clamour for “electoral justice” to a fever pitch.

POWER-SHARING

At the heart of the crisis of democracy in Kenya is the cancerous politics of ethnic-based “power sharing” as the cornerstone of constitutional reform.

In their article: The Hidden Costs of Power-Sharing: Reproducing Insurgent Violence in Africa (African Affairs, 104, 416 (2005: 375-398), Denis Tull and Andreas Mehler alerted the academic and policy communities of the dangers of elite power-sharing.

The institutionalisation of the practice of solving conflict through power-sharing agreements has not resulted in lasting peace but provided incentives to warlords and would-be-leaders to embark on the insurgent path.

In many cases, power-sharing has contributed to the reproduction of insurgent violence.

Although the 2008 National Accord and Reconciliation Act provided for a power-sharing between the President and a hastily created post of Prime Minister, the events of 2013 and 2017 reveal that this did not result in lasting peace.

PEACE

To all intents and purposes, the Kikuyu-Kalenjin détente that ushered the Jubilee Government to power in 2013 is firmly anchored on the logic of ethnic power-sharing.

The hidden cost of ethnic power-sharing is the exponential expansion of corruption.

Significantly, the uniqueness of the Uhuru-Raila handshake is that it is not a power-sharing deal.

Instead, it seeks far-reaching reform through the “Bridge Initiative” as a necessary step toward inclusive democracy.

This time, the dynamics of the 2022 elections should not derail reforms to deepen inclusive democracy and avoid perennial post-election instability.

Professor Peter Kagwanja is former Government Adviser and currently the Chief Executive of Africa Policy Institute (Kenya) and Visiting Scholar at the Institute of Diplomacy and International Studies, University of Nairobi, Kenya.