Reform for Kenya

Dr Richard Leakey, leader of the opposition Safina party, proposes changes to his country’s Constitution.

KENYA’S EIGHTH GENERAL election has just been concluded and the only word that can describe them would be shambolic. Poor planning, inadequate resources, incompetence, interference from the politically well-connected, and the poor weather conditions in the country all contributed to an election that has no legitimacy whatsoever. The winners cannot take positions on the basis of having any mandate and the accusations of vote rigging abound with little chance of there being any hope of judicial redress. Kenya, in desperate need of a new beginning and the chance to repair its battered image has been dealt a further blow by these elections. The big question now is how and where do we go from here?

One of the main problems in Kenya relates to the inadequate national Constitution that simply fails to provide the basis upon which free and fair elections can be assured. The Kenya Constitution was written in the early 1960s at a time when it was assumed that government would be of the people and by the people; government by officials who would always be reasonable. This constitution was later amended to suit the needs of an official one-party state and when in 1992 multi-party politics was again permitted, the incumbent political government has enormous powers and opportunities to influence and even manipulate the electoral contest.

Between the 1992 multi-party elections and the just concluded 1997 polls, the ruling Kenyan African National Union party (Kanu), which has been in power for over 30 years, has had complete control of the electronic media and quite considerable influence over most of the print media. During the past five years, Kanu has had the use of the civil service and provincial administration to promote itself, to raise funds and to block other political parties from any activities. The suppression of democracy was the order of the day and it was only in the last six weeks before polling day that the rules changed.In view of this, I believe it to be quite unreasonable for anyone to have thought that Kenya’s eighth general election would be either free or fair.

Pre-election violence was another factor and there is good evidence that in some parts of Kenya, the forces of law and order did not prevent deliberate intimidation of potential opposition support, presumably on the instruction of the authorities. Such things have happened elsewhere in Africa and perhaps we should not be surprised that they are now a part of the Kenyan experience.

Ten days before the polls, I was out in the country campaigning at a politicaly rally where I had been asked to say a few words in support of our Safina party candidate. I was standing on the roof of a vehicle, looking over a crowd of some 5,000 supporters who were enthusiastic in their response to my comments. Suddenly, several trucks drove to the venue and about 100 youths got out, armed with clubs, rocks and swords. They set upon the crowd in an atttempt to break up the meeting. At least 10 people were injured, one critically. When I asked the person in charge of the police unit to tell me who the perpetrators were, his reply was that the attack had been by youths hired by the government or the Kanu party which controls the government. This was not a unique incident; most opposition rallies were similarly interrupted across the length and breadth of Kenya.

Observers of the Kenya elections have pondered the question of Kenya’s opposition parties fielding a total of 14 presidential candidates and it is obvious that if the incumbent President Moi is to be beaten, the field needs to be narrowed. In my opinion, this issue has direct bearing on the inadequacy of the electoral law and procedure. In a multi-party democracy where the system of government is based on the concept of a presidential rather than a parliamentary executive, the elections should be conducted in two phases with an opportunity for a primary followed by a run-off between the top two contenders. Such obvious needs in constitutional reform underscore the importance of a comprehensive redrafting of Kenya’s Constitution. Many political figures across the spectrum of political opinion recognise the centrality of this and I hope that, whatever the outcome of the ections, there will be concurrence over this.

In the post-mortem phase of Kenya’s most recent attempt at democratisation, it is important to keep a perspective on where we have come from. The post-colonial era was dominated by the cold war and this certainly encouraged authoritarianism. Patronage and corruption have become major factors in public life and to move into a system of open government where democratic procedures dominate will take several attempts.

The eighth general election in Kenya was a far cry from what was hoped for and perhaps the best outcome will be that mistakes will represent lessons learned. Nationalism must be an inspiration that will overcome individualism and tribalism. To achieve this, constitutional reforms that will provide for certain basics are a priority and it is my hope that the new government will recognise that change is inevitable. Even without a popular mandate and electoral legitimacy, constructive leadership can move Kenya towards a better tomorrow.