The changed Kenya Kenyatta left behind


If Jomo Kenyatta were to wake up today, he would probably not recognise the country he left behind 40 years ago, given the tremendous changes that have taken place in that period.

A review of these changes shows that most were driven by periods of crises, mainly engendered by politicians seeking inclusion into the establishment.

One-party state

In 1982, the then ruling party Kenya National African Union (Kanu), amended the law to formally make Kenya a one-party State. Although the law had not been amended, Kenya had remained a single-party State since 1969 after Jaramogi Oginga Odinga’s Kenya People’s Union (KPU) was proscribed.

But with the amendment of the Constitution, Kanu became the only party that could participate in political activity. The reconfiguration of Kenya had begun.

In 1988, Kanu sought to purge itself of elements it felt were either subversive or not supportive enough of the government. In the elections held that year, it introduced a system known as the Mlolongo (queue-voting) system.

The party decreed that Kanu nominations would be held through a system where voters would queue behind the candidate they supported (or representative) and be counted. If a candidate polled more than 70 per cent of the vote, they would be declared the winner. If none of the competitors achieved this threshold, then they would proceed to the secret ballot.

Of course, the system was widely abused, leading to wide discontent, especially because Kanu was the only party. That means those who were thrown out of the party remained in the political cold.

By the early 90s, agitation for reform were at fever pitch. Multi-party activists demanded the liberalisation of the political space to allow Kenyans of all persuasions to participate in politics.

Back to multiparty

This forced Kanu back to the drawing board and in December 1991, the one-party system was abolished ushering in political pluralism. Politicians went into a frenzy registering parties to participate in the coming election.

After almost three decades of single-party rule, Kenya held its second multi-party elections in 1992. The poll was marked by violence instigated by politicians. Although Kanu retained power, the opposition made a comeback into Parliament.

The next big reconfiguration came in 2007, when the opposition rejected the outcome of the election, leading to one of the worst political violence in Kenya’s history.

The crisis ended only when a Grand Coalition Government was negotiated between the two main candidates, President Mwai Kibaki and his closest challenger Raila Odinga.

In the arrangement, Kibaki retained the presidency while Raila Odinga became prime minister.

While the political “marriage” between the two was a troubled one, it gave Kenya a new constitution, another major configuration of Kenya’s political arena.

2010 Constitution

The 2010 Constitution brought huge changes to Kenya’s governance system. The biggest change the Constitution enabled is devolution of power and resources to 47 counties, the new units of governance led by elected governors and county assemblies.

Devolution is a game changer in the country’s development.

Parliament was reconfigured into two — National Assembly and the Senate. National Assembly remained as the seat of the representatives of Kenyans through constituencies, while senators supervise and protect devolution.

The Executive and Parliament were separated. The president now chooses his cabinet from outside Parliament, and is represented in the House by the Leader of Majority. The Constitution restricts the president to a maximum of 22 ministries.

In another radical shift, key appointments, outlined in the Constitution, must be vetted by both Houses of Parliament and other bodies depending on the position. In some cases, like that of Chief Justice, the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) interviews, selects and hands over the appointees name to the president for formal appointment.

Indeed, the 2010 Constitution has substantially removed the discretionary powers of the president, which are now shared with other constitutional bodies.

Certainly, the new dispensation in Kenya is a far cry from the configuration that was left behind by Mzee Jomo Kenyatta 40 years ago.

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