Tuesday April 2 2013

Warts and all, Kenya is a much better place in terms of democracy

By Nicholas Sengoba

Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta is the President-elect of Kenya. Some were disappointed by the ruling of the Supreme Court after what appeared like an abundance of credible evidence that the March 4 election was marred by irregularities. The judges unanimously upheld the election and the rest as they say is history.

Kenya has come a long way. In the 80s, the one party elections always returned sole candidate Daniel Toroitich arap Moi as the victor with ridiculous margins of up to 90 per cent. The initial attempts at multiparty democracy in the 90s saw the same Moi garnering about 30 per cent of the vote and still beating the divided opposition which had over 70 per cent.

Of course, we cannot forget the ignominious election of 2007 where the Election Commission head Samuel Kivuitu (R.I.P) claimed he did not know who won the election that returned Mwai Kibaki to power leading to violence that left thousands dead and many displaced.

This election though contested was a great improvement and shows signs that Kenya has a bright future awaiting it in terms of democracy.
It is noteworthy that two of the previous election petitions against Moi in 1992 and 1997 were dismissed even before evidence was adduced. That this one went the full length in full view of the public is a good sign that it will not be business as usual.

Kenya’s current constitution does not give the President the leeway to appoint the Electoral Commission or its Chair person. That is left to an open public vetted process. The same happens with the Judges of the courts of law.
The Supreme Court of Kenya, led by Chief Justice Willy Mutunga, gives confidence and has a national character which is a motivation to those who seek its role as an arbiter.

In places like Uganda, where the President hand picks officials as, when and who he wishes, the results have always been suspicious. The current Electoral Commission is ever on the wall trying to prove that it is a mind and voice of its own not a poodle protecting the interests of the incumbent.
Hence the Judiciary has sprung up controversial Judges like Singh Choudry who prior to being appointed by the President, had professional and ethical issues in the UK. Some claim these issues render him unfit to be a judge let alone to practice law.

The election delivered two houses of Parliament with the parties in the coalition having and majority but not an overwhelming one –the type that you have in Uganda. It means that for the Jubilee Coalition to rule successfully it will have to trade some and compromise. The tale of dictatorship of numbers will not be told in these circumstances.

The devolution of powers giving governors substantial amounts of authority and responsibility in the counties implies that the days of the all powerful man in Nairobi are slowly coming to an end.

This particular presidency has a unique aspect to it. Both the President and the Vice President are indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC). The two will walk a tight rope as they are fully aware of the focus of the so-called International Community on each and every move of theirs. ‘Good behaviour’ will be paramount and a very vital aspect of their rule at least before they extricate themselves from the woes of the ICC. This will mean more compromise and building of further alliances.

Because the ICC has not been a mere threat but a practical warning to the rulers of Kenya that at times the International Community actually bites, and bites the big fish, the days of abuse of power that Moi the ‘Professor of Politics’ politics enjoyed, are most likely at a dead end.

Kenya will definitely be a better place. It might be a painful journey with the usual two steps back here and there. But slowly there will be irreversible gains made for the sake of democracy. Kenya will not be the same again.


Last Wednesday I saw a friend Florence Dambisya. (R.I.P.) We laughed and joked. An hour later she fell off a boda boda and was run over by a trailer. How many will this contraption destroy before we accept that it is a death trap waiting to kill?
Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political and social issues. nicholassengoba@yahoo.com