Deputy President Delivers one of Best Speeches in Chatham, But Ignores Diaspora



I am delighted to be in this space today, for a number of excellent reasons. Your thoughtful invitation reflects a deep interest in forming a genuine understanding of the most important current issues in Kenya, which helps in formulating the best way of engaging with and around them. This is commendable.

Secondly, the reception accorded to my delegation and I has been nothing short of splendid, and has got me thinking that maybe I should have been here earlier. I also appreciate the warm introduction and kind words of Dr Nabeel Goheer in welcoming me to address you.

I bring you warm greetings from the President and the people of Kenya; Hamjambo?

The matter of where we are today cannot be properly understood independently of the long journey that brought us here. The things we take for granted in Kenya, the aspirations which form our conscious and unconscious expectations should not be divorced from where and who we were a decade ago.

On 4th August 2010, Kenyans took decisions whose momentous ramifications continue to unravel even now. The product of that day’s referendum was promulgated on 27th August, inaugurating a completely new governance paradigm.  Yet we did not arrive at 2010 in a flash.

The fundamental issues that animated the desire for constitutional reform revolved around marginalization, an opaque, repressive and unaccountable Executive, captive Parliament and subservient Judiciary. Under this undesirable system, citizens served the government, instead of the vice versa. It was felt that there was neither recourse nor escape, except physical flight and exile. Indeed, a large component of our diaspora those days were political exiles.

Further we must never underestimate the social, economic and political gravitational force exerted by an imperial presidency which recruited members of parliament to the Cabinet and controlled the parliamentary program, appointed judges and controlled the judiciary, had absolute, unilateral discretionary power over public land, and was effectively in control of the every sector.

What did the 2010 constitution achieve for Kenya and Kenyans? First of all, it re-created the Executive, de-linking it from Parliament and thus ensuring that neither institution was functionally adulterated. A leaner Executive of 24 replaced its customarily bloated predecessor, whose size normally ranged around 70. The new Executive focused on on delivery, with a Cabinet dedicated to implementation.

Today, appointees of the Executive must be vetted by Parliament, and an array of constitutional commissions and independent offices now exist to accountably and transparently exercise what in the past were prerogative powers of the Executive. The Executive has no say in the calendar and operations of Parliament or Judiciary. It’s size is restricted and role no longer co-mingled and conflicted.

The single most important instrument of public policy- the budget- has been demystified: there are no more secrets around the Treasury’s ministerial briefcase, which in days past was the focal point of public obsession. There are no more grey areas: the people must participate and Parliament must decide.

Under the current Constitution, legislative efficiency of Parliament has been enhanced. As a result, Parliament runs an independent programme and Calendar. Days when the President decided when to dissolve or open Parliament are long gone. In turn, legislative output has improved with 294 bills passed in the last seven years compared to 83 in a similar period in the past/before. This efficiency helped the constitutional implementation process.

Along with the individual-focused Bill of Rights, public participation – which did not exist at all in the previous constitutional regime- has been propelled into the center of public policy making and implementation at every level, further elevating the Office of the Citizen in governance. The tone and often enough, fundamental character of public discourse in Kenya has therefore changed irreversibly.

This recalibration of government arms and institutions has produced efficiency, which has been manifested throughout all levels of governance.

The constitution therefore has dispersed power horizontally between arms of government and independent institutions and devolved it to 47 county governments.

At the county level, resources are targeted at locally developed priorities.

The best manifestation of devolution in practice lies in the domain of health services. The achievements made by the devolved health services traverse many firsts as well as expansions that go far beyond what was imaginable before the new constitution. County governments inherited a total of 874 doctors. To date, 4637  have been hired whilst from 6,620 nurses inherited before devolution, new recruitment has increased the number to 25,595 in the first 5 years of devolution. 52,969 community health workers have also been employed. For the very first time since independence, a caesarian section birth was performed in Mandera county, open-heart surgery in Mombasa and a brain surgery in Embu. Before devolution, these services were only possible in Nairobi at great expense.

The judicial service commission has an independent budget and manages the appointment promotion and discipline of judges.

As we worked on implementation of the 2010 consittituin President Kenyatta and I realized the political culture that revolved around political cults, tribal parties and ethnic contest needed to be done away with in essence the political software and architecture needed to be changed.

Everyone agrees that the 2007/08 period brought Kenya to the precipice of an abyss. We resolved to apply lessons learnt from that dark and tragic passage to shift the country’s political trajectory and change the political culture.

For many reasons, it was widely accepted that the communities popularly seen as the protagonists of the 2007/08 conflagration could never be reconciled sufficiently to cooperate in any respect, or at all.

A firmly maintained strategic assumption in Kenyan political practice was that the ‘enmity’ between the communities of the Rift Valley and Central Kenya was eternal given, and that productive engagement between their leaders was utterly impossible.

Under these conditions, Kenyan politics was organized around negative ethnicity, or what Prof John Lonsdale has termed ‘political tribalism’.

President Kenyatta and I, whilst cognizant of this lazy dogma, decided to challenge this assumption and forge a new political paradigm that brought communities and leaders expected to be perpetually hostile and antagonistic to the sphere of conciliation, collaboration and cohesion.

The primary objective of this difficult and politically unpopular resolve was to change Kenya’s politics with our eyes not so much on winning seats or gaining power, but on uniting people.

Although it was not initially possible to have one political party for the purpose, we forged a coalition that, from Day 1, was managed as a single political party for all intents and purposes.

Subsequently, we took the next politically difficult decision of formally merging 12 political parties into one party.

For example, the debate became about the best policy courses to deliver Free Compulsory Primary Education and Free Secondary Education, countrywide infrastructural connectivity, to resolving the security situation with Somalia.

Another fundamental consequence arises from the persistent claim that no party or government had ever won an election on the basis of its development agenda or achievements.

In turn, this claim gave birth to the advice that it is necessary to engage in spectacle, drama, side-shows and emotional appeals – including personal and tribal appeals, to achieve political traction.

President Kenyatta and I prosecuted our last election campaign in terms of what our government had achieved and on the basis of solid evidence and what was to be done in the next five years.

The outcome of that election affirmed our thesis and debunked long-held but spurious suppositions. Our party won more seats at every tier than all the other parties combined and, of course, we won the Presidency fair and square.

In pursuing a systematic programme of de-ethicizing politics and running a competent administration, we have managed to achieve huge transformation for Kenya.

Kenya continues its fiscal consolidation path with the overall fiscal deficit being maintained broadly within sustainable levels, declining from a high of 9.1 percent of GDP in Financial Year 2016/17 to 7.2 percent in Financial Year 2017/18.

The fiscal deficit is expected to decline further to 6.3 percent of GDP in Financial Year 2018/19 and eventually to 3.0 percent by Financial Year 2021/22.

This deliberate fiscal consolidation plan, also resonates well with the East African Monetary Union (EAMU) protocol target ceiling of 3.0 percent of GDP.

To achieve these targets, the Government will continue to restrict growth in recurrent spending while doubling its effort in domestic resource mobilization.

In the Financial Year 2018/19, the Government implemented a raft of tax policy measures through the tax amendment law and the Finance Act 2018 whose revenue yield is estimated at about 0.9 percent of GDP.

 Even as we acknowledge the self-evident and direct as well as more nuanced and indirect positive returns on our constitution, we must also admit that many Kenyans have professed reason to be dissatisfied with certain aspects of the fundamental normative architecture. The reasons given, or particulars set out include the much contested ‘winner-take-all; character of electoral contest as well as the  perceived functional paralysis occasioned by the disjuncture of the Executive and Parliament.

We know that there is persistent friction and perceived overlap between the levels of governance over allocation of functions and resources between the 2 levels of government. There has also been a feeling that the counties do not possess sufficient capacity yet to perform certain functions. Although prescribed in the constitution in apparently clear terms, debate persists about overlaps, duplication, the shareable revenue vis-a-viz respective function, the borrowing powers of counties as well as counties being able to raise own revenues to outgrow current over-reliance on the national government.

Are these misgivings well-founded and deserving of remedial constitutional amendments?

The fact that we have registered tremendous successes under the constitution does not mean that any misgivings around some aspects of its architecture are unjustified.

In fact, some challenges currently being encountered are not wholly unexpected. Nearly 30% of Kenyans did in 2010 express these concerns in one way or other. I did prosecute a number of them with the expectation that the Committee of Experts would apply itself adequately. I bear witness to the fact that the issues with the constitution do actually predate its promulgation.

I and others strongly took issue with the way the structure of the executive vis-a-viz the opposition had been formulated. The current formulation undermines executive accountability and saddled our democracy with  a headless, incoherent and dysfunctional opposition. The constitution neither recognizes nor creates the function of an official opposition.

It is not proper that the leader of a party garnering the second highest votes has no formal constitutional role. Elections in Kenya are close-run contest. Often enough, the winner and runner-up achieve more than 5 million votes. The winner ascends to a formally constituted leadership role while the runner-up becomes a virtual stranger in leadership.

I have heard suggestion – some even by opposition leaders – that the National Executive should be expanded to accommodate a prime minister as well as two deputies as a means of addressing the winner take all challenge.

This suggestion has 2 problems:-

  • It does not solve the problem which is that we need a functional, constitutional official opposition and
  • The positions, if created would still be taken by the winning party

My suggestions are as follows.

First, the national government should be reconfigured to comprise the National Executive (headed by the President) and the Official Opposition (headed by the leader of the party or coalition of parties whose presidential candidate wins the second highest votes).

The leader of the party which comes second becomes the leader of the Opposition and with her running mate, automatically become members of Parliament, and assume leadership of the Official Opposition.

This formula should apply at the county level. I further propose that with the Leader of Opposition taking leadership of the opposition in parliament, the Deputy President should then take over the Leadership of Government  Business in parliament. This should be replicated with the Deputy Governor at the counties.

Secondly, the Senate must be made the upper House.

Thirdly, cabinet secretaries should be ex officio members of parliament, and must attend sittings of parliament at least once every week and whenever required to answer questions on the floor of the House.

Fourthly, we must resolve the mechanisim of attainment of 2/3rdgender principal.

Having said this, the next question is: Do we have the constitutional moment to prosecute these reforms?

Let us put this question in context. Constitutional implementation is still underway, and gradually, we see gains building up. For example, in the first elections in 2013, no woman governor was elected. Yet in 2017, Kitui, Bomet and Kirinyaga elected women governors. Similarly, in 2013, we had no female elected senator. This changed in 2017  when Uasin Gishu, Isiolo and Nakuru elected female senators. Moreover, no educational requirement being mandatory, the majority of members of the county assemblies were persons of limited education. Engineers, doctors, teachers and other highly-educated professionals contested election in 2017.

The trends support the expectation of progressive entrenchment of constitutional standards, values and principles in every implementation cycle. Thus, have we reached that moment when we may say that we have sufficiently tested the full scope of the dispensation, or do we still need time?

That is a decision that Kenyans will have to make.