Has our new Constitution already failed us?

Saturday May 12 2012

It is now May. We have no indication from our two principals as to whether they intend to dissolve the Grand Coalition Government to hold elections this December. Or whether they intend to sit it out until, as per the old Constitution and transitional clauses of the new Constitution, elections are held by March 2013.

This uncertainty matters little to politicians. Exhortations of our Electoral Commission duly ignored, the knives are out.

Who could have guessed that this is where we’d be now? The Party of National Unity has fared better than the Orange Democratic Movement in the alliance-attrition game that has played itself out since them. Three of ODM’s five Pentagon members — William Ruto, Najib Balala, Musalia Mudavadi — are gone. One of them, Ruto, has crossed the floor — seeking the solace of common interest with PNU’s intended successor, Uhuru Kenyatta. That intended successor has himself jumped ship from the remains of Kanu, the political party that dominated our lives from Independence till 2002. The names ODM and PNU have little resonance today. Everybody’s finding new launching pads in new political parties — a fact to which the recent scramble to correctly register their presence attests.

It is farcical. Political parties are solely take-off points for the scramble for executive power. The pilots of these planes are anointed (in a sexist and undemocratic manner) by old men purporting to represent everybody who happens to speak a common language. That those who gather at a given take-off point pin their fortunes to the given pilots’ coattails sycophantically.

Every pilot must declare their interest in the presidency. In so doing, they must be backed by the old men and the sycophants to prove they command a crowd that matters. Because they don’t all expect to be presidents — they merely need leverage with the pilot who does become president.

The sad thing is that it works (just think of Vice President Kilonzo Musyoka, for example). The sadder thing is that some of us buy it and get drawn into the secondary game — that of crowd agitation and mobilisation (against an “enemy” is preferable) and voting on the basis of nothing at all.


Going by the behaviour of our politicians as they swing into the campaigns, our new Constitution has already failed us. The idea was that diminishing executive powers, restoring separation of powers and instituting devolution would lessen the intensity of the scramble for the presidency. Well it hasn’t. It is still do-or-die.

Democracy everywhere is an ideal, rather than a reality. And devolution has done nothing yet other than take the battle for the executive spoils of devolution down to the community level all across the country. And create a new battle, for retention of executive spoils, at the centre.

It is hard not to be pessimistic. But it is vital to not get hot and bothered about the electoral farce; we need instead to work to ensure the fallout every five years is not of the 2007 and 2008 variety. This is where the intentions and plans of our security services matter. And this is where the love-hate relationships between all the would-be pilots matter as well. How they group in formation is critical. It tells us who’s in and who’s out — and who among us is likely to be targeted this time round.

In this sense, all the movements away from ODM could, potentially, be worrying. If Raila Odinga is painted as the “enemy” and that portrait extends to his entire ethnicity, we know where to look for the fire next time. We are meant to have an early warning system now. Is it working?

L. Muthoni Wanyeki is doing her graduate studies at L’Institut d’etudes politiques (Sciences Po) in Paris, France