Let's take advantage of truce to address what holds us back

Maina Kiai by Maina Kiai
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The March handshake — or hand-cheque as a Zimbabwean friend called it — has generated all manner of reactions. Perhaps because of the secrecy preceding it, some consider it a betrayal by Raila Odinga, who has historically symbolised desire for real reforms in Kenya.

The William Ruto wing of Jubilee also sees the handshake as a betrayal if it leads to changes in the status quo that could impede his plans to reign. As the reigning master of intrigues, the status quo — legally, institutionally and personnel-wise — favours Mr Ruto.

Any changes that would increase democratic space, lead to a more transparent and fairer election management body, and repair the cracks in governance that support corruption and a strong presidency, are a threat to him.

Of course there is no guarantee that the handshake will lead to the changes that Kenyans desire, as expressed by the fearlessness of the half million attendees at Raila’s swearing-in as People’s President amidst the real possibility of killings by security forces.

It is possible that had the state not forcefully threatened and intimidated us, the crowds could have topped three million. The sense of foreboding about the process is reflected in the “hand-cheque” moniker, suggesting that it could be a personal arrangement between Messrs Raila and Kenyatta under the cover of national interest.

The ‘business as usual’ approach by Kenyatta, for instance, in signing a repressive anti-human rights Cybercrime law, does not give confidence that the handshake has made any difference to him.

And the fact that he has not taken any action on the massive new NYS looting diminishes hopes that change is forthcoming.  

If we think these politicians will willingly lift us from the disaster we are in, then perhaps it is true that we deserve our pathetic leaders! It really is up to those of us desirous of real transformation to take advantage of this process, or the space it has provided, to keep pushing for real transformation. Or we will be saddled with a bankrupt, violent, unstable and fearful Kenya for the foreseeable future.

So here is what we need to do to take advantage of the current rapprochement before they leave us with petty crumbs.

We must first diagnose the problems that keep us at the brink of disaster. These include: massive corruption and looting; divisive, unfair, and dangerous presidential elections carried out by a corrupt and un-credible election management body; a tribally driven governance system; disrespect for the rule of law where impunity reigns; insecurity and conflicts due to a corrupt, unaccountable and politicised police force; and shocking inequalities between the rich and the poor, with the poor treated with contempt.

We hoped that the Constitution would set the stage to resolve some of these issues, but that faltered largely because those in charge of its implementation openly despise it and see it as an encumbrance — which it should be — to their preferred style of big-man rule.

Yet devolution has been a roaring success, warts and all, and we should strengthen devolution as the focal point for the transformation we want.    We could give counties the power to tax residents and collect revenue in their jurisdictions, rather than leave that with the National Government. Counties would then keep 30 per cent of the taxes collected, devolve 30 per cent to the ward level, and transmit 40 per cent to the National Government to pay for national costs such as the military, foreign relations, constitutional commissions, and for an Equalisation Fund for those counties with a smaller taxation and revenue base.  

This tax reform would mean that Mombasa benefits from the port, Nyeri from the Aberdares and Mt Kenya National Parks, Kisumu from Lake Victoria, for example. It would mean counties handle development, roads, policing, education, and health, and because they are closer to the residents, it would be easier to hold officials accountable.

We can even stop them on the road, and get them at their homes without having to wait for them to come from Nairobi.

Devolving policing to counties would dent the current police extortion, corruption, brutality and impunity. Police would be our neighbors and friends and we would not need to go to Nairobi to hold them accountable for the killings of children in Kisumu or Mombasa!

And to reduce tribalism in politics, we should change the electoral system. With strengthened devolution there is no need for constituency-based MPs, and we should adopt a proportional representation system, where parties make lists and get seats according to how they perform across Kenya, meaning that they must represent the country’s diversity.

But we must not forget outstanding matters that hold us back. We must look back at the elections in 2013 and 2017 to get electoral justice so we know how and who tampers with elections.

And we must also deal with historical injustices, from land issues to human rights violations, including reparations for poll violence by the state. Only then can we start to generate trust and a new Kenya. 

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