05.02.2008 Kenya

A Tribal Senate to save Kenya

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I can tell from responses to my articles that we are all angry at what is going on in Kenya. The anger does not limit itself to disputed presidential poll results; it touches on the ongoing violence, destruction of property, tribal harassment and a looming economic melt down. The alarming aspect of our anger is the fixation on short term solution whose long term implications on business and confidence in government will be difficult to rejuvenate.

While acknowledging the fact that civil servants are faced with one of the toughest moment in their profession; it is imperative that they give proper advice to political leadership. Moving people of one ethnic community from one region to another will only serve to polarize Kenya further. It will adversely affect small and medium sized enterprises which in most cases are run by entrepreneurs who settle in different parts of the country. Law enforcement as opposed to 'back-to-your-roots' strategy ought to be priority by those who hold instruments of power.

Looking back to the Kenya of yester – years, I see a country that put more energy in building a high velocity train without seeking to put in place a suitable rail system. A test run of this (high velocity train) was done in 2002/2003 on old rail network – unfortunately our engineers (read legislators) went to sleep shortly thereafter. Kenyans ought not to abandon the ambition to build a strong, dynamic, and prosperous nation where each one is treated fairly and offered equal opportunity. The crisis bedeviling our country is a wake up call that we must put in place a rail system that can handle a high velocity train. In other words, if we do not seize this opportunity to build institutions that the democratic process can ride on, we shall keep experiencing clashes every other time we have elections.

Engineers and scientists in general analyze the behavior of chemical elements under different conditions to determine whether they are suitable for a given purpose. For example, metals that melt easily when subjected to heat may not be suitable for car brake pads. Even cooks in the kitchen are aware that unless a boiling pot gets an escape nozzle for steam, a cooking pot can explode. Kenyans have exhibited the fact that human beings are no different from chemical elements that 'behave' differently under varied conditions. The political elites use tribalism to gain or cling to power, the middle class whip up passions of the lower class to protect their 'god fathers' in the political class. The poor on the other hand vent their anger on those who are seen to be unfairly enjoying 'national resources.' Politics and electioneering thus offers a condition that brings out the brute elements from each one of us. And now we know it, we must design a system that can handle this predictable behavior in us!

So as not to oversimplify a situation that is clearly very complicated; I propose that as Kenyans seek peace and justice, a deliberate effort should be put in place to reform our constitution. We need a new constitution that will serve as a new railway track that can support our envisioned high velocity train through checks and balances to power. A constitution that recognizes tribal diversity while offering a fair operating field; that focuses on limiting discretionary power at all levels in government.

If tribalism is a factor as many commentators allege, then perhaps Kenya should review the existing parliamentary system to include a special house of tribal chiefs (senate) and or an electoral college that will involve one tribe one vote, to cushion effects of popular votes. Kenyans can as well learn from soccer. Soccer rules and an impartial referee ensure that competition churns out entertainment rather than chaos. Democracy is not an alien concept in Africa; let us simply build our institutions to make it serve everyone, not just a few elites.

James Shikwati, Director Inter Region Economic Network [email protected]

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