Three questions about a polarised Kenya

Three questions about a polarised Kenya

With Kenya facing its worst political crisis in a decade and the country poised to vote in its second presidential election in three months, what needs to happen to ensure change?

Edward Kisiangani, professor of political history at Nairobi’s Kenyatta University, takes a look at some essential questions.

He says that since Kenya became independent in 1963, political and economic power has been concentrated in the hands of the Kikuyus, the largest of the country’s 44 ethnic groups.

This prompts an urgent need for reform to ensure a fairer sharing of power and resources, says Kisiangani.

With the nation yet again locked in a tense struggle for power, pitting a Kikuyu president, Uhuru Kenyatta, against veteran opposition challenger Raila Odinga, a Luo, many are wondering what future lies ahead, he notes.

– How much is Kenyan society divided? –

“There have been such divisions since independence but this is unprecedented … We are more divided than we have ever been before. It’s about the crisis of sharing political power, it has never been very smooth,” said Kisiangani.

He said that Kenyans believed that the only way members of their community could access power and resources was through political power — which heightened levels of ethnicity and tribalism.

“Those who have wielded power in the past have tended to concentrate that power in their own communities and use it to benefit their own communities rather than the entire country. Because that feeling persists, people think the only solution to the problems of their community is to struggle to get power.

“This feeling — that there is no hope without political power — is really unhealthy,”

– How can this crisis be solved? –

Kisiangani proposes measures to restore confidence, such as making it a criminal offence to hire family and friends for government jobs, and make it impossible to use elections to “dominate or threaten others”.

“There are many many Kikuyus who don’t think that the country is on the right path, just like they are many, many Luos who think the same. A lot of Kenyan communities think we must renegotiate how we share resources and power and how we can navigate through our social problems without hurting each other,” he said.

“We need to make sure that everybody is included in the nationalistic discourse so that people feel a sense of belonging.”

– What needs to change? –

Kisiangani feels the presidency needs to be structurally reformed to hand power back to the people.

“When President Uhuru Kenyatta was declared the winner (in August), he said: ‘We have a wonderful constitution, those who are not happy with it, go and appeal to the court.’ He was only looking at it in one way: that the court will rule in his favour. But when the court did not, he took it as if the judiciary was against him, against his community, (so) we are not out of the woods…

“It doesn’t matter if we hold the election on Thursday or not, it doesn’t matter whether the next president comes from a different community, we have structural problems,” he said.

Kisiangani suggested legal measures to weaken the presidency and strengthen institutions.

“A way of doing it is to create a federal constitution which will empower more the governors and will increase the allocation of resources, budget to the counties. We could have a referendum in the next one year and make sure that the problems we have do not reoccur.”

And, while easier said than done, he argues issues of corruption and discrimination need to be properly policed.

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