By Kap Kirwok
08 June 2013
Consider these statements by President Kenyatta speaking in May 2013 on the matter of the MP’s push for higher pay.
“I urge our MPs to focus on serving the people instead of pushing for higher salaries for themselves.”
“This continuing paralysis is not in the national interest …. I therefore urge Parliament to engage the Salaries and Remuneration Commission in a constructive manner with a view to resolving this matter.”
Urge, appeal, ask, and dialogue. These seem to be his new operative words. The conciliatory tone is unmistakable. He is trying – perhaps too hard – to be reasonable. Recently he was again quoted as assuring the legislators that “…once the economy hits a double digit growth figure; their salaries can be increased several times over.” He is literally begging them. He reminds one of President Barack Obama and the Republican Congress in the United States.
Now contrast this with the then candidate Uhuru Kenyatta in February 2013 (You can watch him here on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9DSNtuvnteM)
‘…Tumeelewana? Msituletee. Nyinyi wanasiasa msituletee. Msituharibie mji huu.’ Roughly translated: ‘Do we understand each other? No crap. You politicians; don’t bring your crap here. Do not spoil this city for us.’
This was candidate Uhuru Kenyatta whipping his TNA troops into line during the campaigns. He did not just ‘read the riot act’ or ‘order Mike Mbuvi Sonko and Rachel Shebesh to back Waititu’ as the press then reported, he had them stand up, one after the other, for a dressing down. It was an extraordinary display of leadership. The tone and body language was firm, uncompromising, and tough and, yes, even uncomfortably bossy for some. But it produced immediate results. After the dressing down Mike Sonko said: “Because our leader has spoken, who am I to refuse to oblige? I respect him very much and I agree that here in Nairobi, we have one women’s representative, one governor and one senator.”
In February, Uhuru Kenyatta the candidate and commander of his party troops brooked no nonsense. In May, Uhuru Kenyatta, the President and commander of the Kenyan state, seems keen to compromise. Why? You could argue that the stakes in February were higher than they are now: he had the presidency to loose. I would disagree. What does he have to loose now? If he took on the MPs combatively – say hold rallies in all counties to mobilise public opinion to oppose their push for higher salaries – he would have the whole country behind him. On this matter, the public mood, regardless of party affiliation, is overwhelmingly against the MPs. I would argue that the stakes are higher now than in February. By letting the MPs get away with open defiance this early in his presidency, he would have allowed them to set the terms of the power relationship between the legislature and the executive. The result would be a lame-duck presidency; a self-inflicted disability. That would be a pity.
In dealing with the defiance by MPs, the President may want to consider playing hardball. If he chooses to do so, he could turn to the epic battle between the late Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Margate Thatcher, and the trade unions for an excellent case study in firm leadership.
When Mrs Thatcher took over power in 1979, government regulations, inflexible labour markets and the excessive power and influence of the trade unions had become a huge drag on the economy. Wages were becoming unsustainable. She was determined to change this. The trade unions were equally determined to hold onto their power. This set the stage for a protracted and costly fight. One of the largest and most powerful unions, the National Union of Mine Workers led by Arthur Scargill, downed their tools and demanded negotiations. But fresh from an earlier victory in the Falklands War, Mrs Thatcher stood her ground, refusing to concede even an inch. The strike lasted for a record one year, resulting in the loss of 29 million working days. In the end, Mr Scargill and his miners capitulated. The Iron lady had triumphed.
She was a firm believer in the Russian proverb that says you cannot make an omlette without breaking eggs.
The open defiance by our MPs is but the ugly tip of the bigger problem of impunity which must be tackled urgently. For years now, breaking the law and getting away with it is a way of life for the power elite –including the presidency. Gradually, however, we have seen it cease to be the exclusive preserve of the elite. Impunity must be tackled urgently or else we shall soon be staring anarchy in the face. I am not advocating that the President becomes a dictator; but on this matter he must consider breaking some ‘eggs’ to make the omlette that the public demands – a sustainable wage bill.