Sharing the Wealth

Most of Kenya rejoiced last week when Kofi Annan announced that a political agreement had been reached between Raila Odinga, who until recently insisted he was the rightful winner of last year’s presidential election, and Mwai Kibaki, who was pronounced the winner of the election and inaugurated as President.  Celebratory parading replaced violent rioting; the colors orange and navy, associated with the respective presidential candidates and their parties, reappeared after a conspicuous absence; headlines in the daily newspapers earnestly suggested that Mr Annan should be nominated for a Nobel Prize for Peace.  There have been very few dissenting voices.

The negotiated agreement calls for the creation of the post of Prime Minister.  Generally, it is said that the President will remain the Head of State, while the Prime Minister will be the leader of domestic government business.  For now, however, this is all speculative as the Constitution does not allow for a Prime Minister.  The agreement may have been signed by both Mr Odinga and Mr Kibaki, but it does not become law until the Constitution is appropriately amended by Parliament.  The necessary bill has been tabled, and is currently being discussed.

Kenya has had exactly one Prime Minister; the post was held from June to December of 1963 by Jomo Kenyatta, one of the lions of African history and politics.  As Prime Minister, Mr Kenyatta was the head of the domestic government, but it was the colonial Governor who remained the Head of State.  This interim arrangement, considered a time for Kenya to ease into independence, was supposed to last until 1965.  Understandably, however, Kenya became impatient; a Constitution was hastily drafted and independence was unilaterally declared.  The post of Prime Minister was abolished and Mr Kenyatta automatically became the first President of independent Kenya, a position which, ironically, he modeled closely on the former Governor.  To this day, Kenya celebrates two versions of independence day, one on June 1, the date Kenya claimed control over its domestic affairs, and another on December 12, the date the Constitution was adopted and international independence was announced.  The Constitution has been amended 38 times since its introduction in 1963; almost all of the amendments have served to strengthen the position of the presidency, now considerably more powerful than the colonial Governor ever was.  Though it is now being fussed over considerably, in more normal modern times the Constitution is not a document which is given much thought by the politicians of Kenya.  The President’s word is the supreme law of the land.

The agreement signed last week by Mr Odinga and Mr Kibaki states that the Prime Minister will be the “supervisor” of domestic government business.  In the popular conception, this has been taken to mean that the President’s role has been limited to international relations as the Head of State.  However, the agreement has given domestic powers to a Prime Minister without actually stating that they have been stripped from the President.  A very dangerous redundancy of authority has been created, and it has already become a source of contention between the two sides as the bill is being discussed in Parliament.

The headline of one of today’s cover stories asks if Kenya is moving in “Reverse Gear?”  The President has explained that though the Prime Minster may be the supervisor of government business, the Prime Minister himself will be supervised by the Vice President who will of course be supervised by the President.  It was assumed that Mr Annan’s negotiations were meant to create happy equals, or at least near equals, of Mr Odinga and Mr Kibaki, but in the President’s view, the Prime Minister is not even the equal of the Vice President.  The Prime Minister, of course, disagrees.

The immediate shortterm squabbling is to be expected, but Mr Odinga and Mr Kibaki will resolve their stalemate.  Unfortunately, the solution is not likely to satisfy anyone seeking change or even compromise.  There simply isn’t enough political will or even national interest to sustain a longterm opposition.  The spoils are so great that most politicians are pretty quickly subsumed into the political establishment.  Members of Parliament in Kenya are among the best paid in the world; they claim that their disgusting salaries are necessary to make them incorruptible.  It is simply not in anyone’s selfish interest to continue bickering.  Soon they will agree to shut up and get to the business of collecting their pay checks, in peace.

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