Fight scourge of weaponised tribes to curb electoral uncertainty

Saturday November 25 2017

A voter casts her ballot at Mahiga Primary

A voter casts her ballot at Mahiga Primary School, Kahawa West in Nairobi on October 26,2017 during the repeat of the presidential elections. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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Kenyans can now unbuckle. For over three months since the Supreme Court controversially annulled President Uhuru Kenyatta’s victory on August 8, 2017, the resilience of the Kenyan people, institutions and democracy has been tested to the limits.

Kenya now has a bona fide democracy. President Kenyatta has been re-elected for a second and last term – one must add, legitimately in all sense of the word. And the Supreme Court’s ruling upholding his victory in the October 26 repeat poll has cleared the way for his swearing-in on Tuesday.

Its uncertainty is over, and the country is now all set to face up to the four enemies of our people: ignorance, disease, poverty and anarchism.


The next election is in 2022. But democracy is always work in progress. Inexorably, elections are always divisive. Focus should now shift to healing the nation and deepening democracy.
Truth be told, the electoral crisis exacted a heavy toll on the country.

As of October 24, 2017, it had cost the private sector a whooping Sh700 billion. A cynical weaponisation of tribes for political ends has eroded national cohesion.

Kenya’s perennial electoral uncertainty is deeply rooted in the failure of factions of its elite to respect the universal principle of peaceful transition.

Like all games, democratic competition produces winners and losers. Future stability in Kenyan elections will depend on losers embracing the art of losing gracefully.

The right to vote, at risk at least in 25 constituencies, should be fortified against elite manoeuvres.

Paradoxically, Kenyans vote as individuals (in a secret ballot), but the results of elections are twisted to cast communities as voting blocs, reflecting the trend to weaponise tribal identities and grievances in election contests.

Introducing compulsory voting is the surest way to assert the right of individual citizens to vote.


Compulsory voting is likely to de-tribalise the voting process by shifting focus from “ethnic citizenship” to “civic citizenship” and making tribes safe from weaponisation during electoral boycotts.

To insulate the nation from uncertainty and perpetual polarisation at the end of every election cycle, it is important to reverse the current loser-take-nothing system. But the reform process should be guided by the logic of strengthening democracy, not dilute it.

The country should avoid executive power-sharing like the plague. Kenya has transited from peace-building and power-sharing in 2008-2013 to democracy where the voter hired and fired occupants of public offices through competitive elections.

However, leaving a popular opposition leader to operate outside the precincts of established democratic institution is courting disaster.

Instead, reforms should be introduced at four levels to minimise the effects of winner-takes-all scenario, strengthen the opposition, and entrench democracy.

The first plank is the need to revamp the architecture of the opposition to make the streets less attractive, and dialogue in Parliament more appealing and desirable.

The proposed architecture will require the establishment of three institutions. One is a new Office of the Leader of Opposition should be created and a seat reserved in Senate for the person who garnered the second largest number of votes and controls the minority in Parliament.


Two is the office of the Deputy Leader of Opposition with a seat reserved in the National Assembly for the running-mate of the leader of the opposition.

Three is a strong Shadow Cabinet consisting of the Leader of Opposition, the Deputy Leader of Opposition, shadow Attorney-General, between 14 and 22 shadow cabinet secretaries appointed from the members of Senate and National Assembly, and a Chief Minister in the Shadow Cabinet.

A reasonably well remunerated and technically supported “government-in-waiting” grounded in the laws of the land will make the streets less attractive and dialogue in Parliament more appealing and desirable.

Such an architecture will cure the problem of weak and short-lived political parties, enrich and refocus public debates from tribal to issue-based orientation.

The second plank is to expand the executive to make it more inclusive by enhancing the office of the Secretary to the Cabinet to that of Chief Minister to create a triumvirate.

However, introducing an office of Prime Minister and two deputy Prime Ministers has the potential of creating two centres of power, polarising the government and posing protocol hiccups between the Premier and the Deputy President.

The third plank is the need to deepen devolution to reduce the pervading sense of marginalisation in opposition enclaves.

If counties are unable to reduce poverty, create employment and offer new opportunities, the brazen lie that capturing the presidency by an opposition leader is the only silver bullet to solve all their problems will prevail.

Targeted funds to regions with a long history of political extremism will drain the swamps of radicalisation.

The unveiling of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) has pushed the half-century of politics of resistance and radicalisation especially in Nyanza to a whole new dangerous level, with a domino effect in other regions, especially Nairobi and parts of the Coast.

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), a ground-zero in past elections, should be as above suspicion as Caesar’s wife.

A large specialised cadre of election managers will hep enhance its integrity, credibility and professionalism.

While setting up a School of Election Management Studies along the lines of the Kenya School of Monetary Studies is key, Parliament should introduce stricter laws to insulate IEBC from political interference, intimidation and manipulation.

The fourth plank is the need to insulate the Judiciary from capture and weaponisation in election disputes.

Court officials and Judges should disclose any political linkages, however trivial, and recuse themselves from cases accordingly.

Moreover, it is necessary to scale up the cost of litigation to shield the court from becoming the theatre of “lawfare”— the form of asymmetric warfare, consisting of using the legal system to damage, delegitimise or win a public relations battle against an enemy — especially during elections.

Finally, Kenya needs to rein in the entrenched culture of “rogue diplomacy” and reduce external meddling in the country’s internal affairs during elections.

Professor Peter Kagwanja is a former Government Adviser and currently Chief Executive of Africa Policy Institute.

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