A Modest Proposal
On Sunday (22 Octo 2017), as I drove back to Nairobi from Mt Elgon, I had had plenty of time to reflect on our current political situation. How do we get out of this situation, safely?
Here is a modest (if naïve) proposal.
Assumption: Both Uhuru and Raila care about how they wish to be remembered and wish to leave a good legacy
Truism: Once a person, especially one who believes he/she has a name or reputation to protect, commits to a certain course of action, it is quite difficult for that person to change because of fear of losing face.
Both Uhuru and Raila have publicly committed to hard positions with regard the current political crisis. Both have made certain ‘promises’ to their very many supporters. Both appear dug in in their positions. The country is divided.
Is there a face-saving win-win way out of this crisis? I believe there is.
Let us take Raila at his word that his lifelong struggle (which includes 9 painful years in detention) has been about a better country for all Kenyans and not a selfish power pursuit. Let us, further, take him at his word that he wants a Kenya that is governed under the best democratic traditions; a country whose leaders are fully accountable to the people.
His contribution to the Second Liberation, which brought multi-party democracy and later a new (2010) Constitution, is known and accepted, but can he achieve his lifelong dream of a more democratic and accountable governance without being president of Kenya?
I believe he can, at least partially. In any case, even as President, making desired transformative change is not easy precisely because the products of democracy are often suboptimal, being the result of compromise.
What if then Raila is persuaded to see that a protracted political crisis is unlikely to propel him to the presidency, and that even if it did, the country will be so divided that he cannot achieve the transformative change he desires?
What if, instead, he is offered a chance to lead a transformative, non-violent change process outside of the presidency?
If so, how?
First, what if Uhuru, realising that his presidency after the October 26th election will struggle to earn legitimacy across a divided country, acknowledges that there is a constitutional and institutional problem that needs to be fixed to avoid future crises? And what if, in a moment of inspired mental clarity, decides that none other than Raila is the person to lead that effort?
A legal mechanism (commission or whatever) would need to be created and Raila charged with leading a nation-wide consultative dialogue to obtain views on ways to improve the 2010 Constitution. Among the changes sought could include ways to reduce the attraction of, and therefore the damaging competition for the Presidency. (Devolution clearly has not succeeded in diluting the power of this office). Other changes could include ways to improve performance and reduce corruption at the Counties through greater accountability, as well as way to look afresh at governance structures and size of government. The process could then lead to a referendum on changes to be made to the constitution. These would be effective from the 2022 election. The new product would in fact constitute a Third Liberation.
By ‘requesting’ Raila to lead this process, Uhuru will be raising his stature as a statesman and cementing his legacy as a visionary leader that saw beyond the immediate allure of power. Similarly, by accepting to lead and drive this important exercise, Raila will help lay a durable foundation for democratic and accountable governance in Kenya, and therefore achieve his lifelong dream. He would retire, proud to have played a key role in two liberations: The Second and Third.
This would be a win-win proposition for both Uhuru and Raila. It would be a win for Kenya as we would have transformed a crisis into an opportunity.
But will they seize this moment?