Leaders are expected to serve their electorate conscientiously and in accordance with the mandate bestowed on them. The essence of democracy is to have citizens participate in choosing their leaders frequently. Periodic elections are thus an opportunity for assessing performance of leaders and renewing their mandate.
During this period, the voters get the chance to gauge how those they had given a mandate in the past performed and compare this against the promises of those aspiring to lead. They will then make a decision on who is best placed to lead them for the next electoral cycle.
Elections, therefore, provide an important accountability avenue. It is, however, insufficient to deliver on the requirements of representative democracy. Consequently, other measures have to be adopted to ensure that leaders discharge their duties in accordance with the wishes and aspirations of the citizens.
The 2010 Constitution introduced recall as an avenue for those dissatisfied with the performance of elected leaders to have the sovereign authority, they have donated to such leaders taken back and the leaders recalled from service.
Despite being captured in the supreme law of the land, Parliament in legislating the procedure for exercising the power made it almost impossible to recall a leader once elected. The requirement that the person could only be recalled during a two-year window out of the five year-term limited the exercise of the power. One had to wait for two years before attempting to recall their leader and secondly no recall could be undertaken the last year to elections.
Additionally, the requirements were onerous as nobody would be recalled unless a court had made a determination on the ground permissible be it violation of the constitutional provisions of leadership and integrity, mismanagement of public resources or commission of an election offence.
Even after this determination, the threshold for recall must be met, a recall election must then be held and only if it succeeds will one be recalled. In theory, therefore, one could have a leader whose performance is wanting to vacate office through this route. The route is nonetheless wrought with hurdles making it extremely difficult to take as an option.
The High Court on July 14, 2017 following a petition filed by Katiba institute agreed that these requirements departed from the constitutional imperatives and were thus unconstitutional. In essence, therefore, one can recall their elected representatives. The procedure though is not clear.
Does this mean that citizens are stuck with bad leadership until a subsequent election? The answer may at first instance look as if that is the case. However, in reality, there are several practical things that citizens can do. One of the simplest and most powerful relate to information. It is said that information is power.
Leaders make decisions, including on utilization of public resources that end up hurting ordinary wananchi. Unfortunately, many citizens are normally oblivious of these decisions. Consequently, the leaders get away with plunder and mismanagement because there is nobody to question their decisions.
Looking for information and analysing the same helps to empower citizens to hold their leaders accountable.
Although public participation is guaranteed as part of the governance process, it is currently not delivering the required results. Leaders routinely manipulate the public views, pre-determining who will attend and even what they will say. Anybody with critical views is routinely excluded.
To increase the level of responsiveness by elected leaders, we have to improve the process of public participation. Citizens must, on their part, attend public participation events, prepare their inputs and make them heard at public participation fora.