Ideas & Debate

How Kenya’s progress train can get back on its track

President Uhuru Kenyatta (right) receives the Constitution from his predecessor Mwai Kibaki in April 2013. photo | FILE | nmg
President Uhuru Kenyatta (right) receives the Constitution from his predecessor Mwai Kibaki in April 2013. photo | FILE | nmg 

Let’s be clear that ‘living in Kenya’ is no spectator sport.

In observing the events of the past fortnight — from Opposition leader Raila Odinga’s mock swearing-in as the “People’s President” to the Jubilee administration’s heavy-handed response, one can only conclude that our current political moment is pointing us towards “loss-making territory” for all Kenyans. 

Given our interminable political wrangling, we could end up with parallel presidential elections in 2022! 

A few weeks ago, I suggested that 2020 might be an important dateline for Kenya. One expects that the ‘root and branch’ reform sought by the official Opposition requires the three-year time span typical of past moments between “Kenya in crisis” and “Kenya reformed” (by example, 2007/08 post-election violence followed by our 2010 Constitution).

Yet, with a forthcoming census and boundaries review to which we are paying little attention, the 2022 electoral result might be done and dusted by then.


Put differently, the path to 2020, and 2022, feels like a debate on what matters more to Kenyans — “baba na mama” (top-down) rulership or “people-led” (bottom-up) followership. 

Too simple you say?  Think Occam’s Razor — the simplest answer is the only answer. Recall too, that 2020 will mark exactly 10 years since we overwhelmingly voted for a new, modern and liberal constitution.

Yes, this may be an unhappy picture, but it does seem that what we have in Kenya is, by and large, a leadership challenge on both sides of the political divide.

This challenge is more evident from the perspective of President Uhuru Kenyatta — in comparison to Mr Odinga — if only because, as I have said before, he is firmly in the “box seat” as far as leadership of national affairs is concerned.

As we contemplate the leadership that Kenya deserves, permit me to offer, as I have done before, a multi-level perspective on what we expect in these trying and uncertain times.  Level One is about the ‘big house’ called Kenya. 

This calls for a leadership view of the Constitution as the ‘roof’ that shelters and empowers all Kenyans in an inclusive fashion, not a ‘floor’ to be trampled on as needed.

The ‘floor’ for this house is then represented by our national values and principles. 

Think Article 10 and the values underpinning our democratic nation-state — patriotism, national unity, sharing and devolution of power, the rule of law, democracy and participation of the people.

Those that undergird the essential humanity of the state — human dignity, equity, social justice, inclusiveness, equality, human rights, non-discrimination and protection of the marginalised. Those that promote good government — integrity, transparency and accountability. And a final value or principle around sustainable development. 

Inside the big house?  A recognition that peace is the product of justice, not the other way round.  That justice requires a balance between security on one hand, and our rights and freedoms on the other.  That collective progress is as important an outcome of peace as individual prosperity. 

In short, we need leaders who will build Kenya’s ‘Big House’.

Level Two is about building Kenya’s ‘Balance Sheet’.  Think about a leadership that focuses on growing and optimising our ‘hard capital’ — financial, economic, natural (including land, water and other natural resources) — as well as our ‘soft capital’ — human, knowledge and social. 

Currently, we have more skilled people with improved knowledge yet we are more deeply divided.  This cannot be Kenya’s future.

Then there are the ‘great inequalities’ that define Level Three — rich versus poor as an ‘outcome’ inequality that is a function of four ‘opportunity’ inequalities — gender, geography (beyond devolution), inter-generational and social exclusion. 

Recall our affirmative action constitutional provisions, which cover children (under 18 — 52 per cent of the population), youth (age 18-35 — 27 per cent), older members of society (over 60 — five per cent) and those in the fair gender and marginalised groups (between ages 35 and 60 — nine per cent) — basically 93 per cent of the population. 

Mr Kenyatta’s Big Four Agenda is close to my leadership Level Four of basic needs around food, education, health, water, security, shelter, social protection, income opportunities, access to assets, participatory governance and safety, security and accessible justice, except for the latter two points.

Level Five?  Think about individual Kenyans’ everyday concerns — high cost of living, poverty and unemployment, hunger, crime and insecurity and link them back to Level One.  

In short, a ‘virtuous circle’ of multi-level leadership thinking about Kenya in terms of developmental outcomes, our resources balance sheet, our great inequalities and our basic needs in a way that ties back to the day-to-day living concerns of everyday Kenyans.

Forget traditional “macro and micro”.  Think “meta-2-nano” (meta-macro-meso-micro-nano). 

That’s what Kenya is currently missing.