Kenya’s politics happens within a framework of a democratic republic where the president is both the head of state, government, and multi-party system according to the new constitution amended in 2010. Kenya has shown remarkable stability since independence in 1963, despite the transformations in its political system. The passage of a new constitution in 2010 ushered in a new political governance system that introduced devolution, a bicameral legislative house, and a constitutionally tenured judiciary and electoral body.
Devolution emerges to be the most popular system among many citizens in the country. The main aim of devolution was to bring government closer to the people by devolving political and economic resources to Kenya’s forty-seven county governments. Development projects at the county level, such as roads and health centers, are now easily accessible, especially in remote areas like Turkana and some parts of Northern and Northeastern Kenya.
However, the issue of “devolution” of corruption continues to be a significant barrier to good leadership. People do not access water and proper housing as expected, and free primary and secondary education is characterized by corruption and hidden costs. There has been a recurrence of corruption cases at the national level ranging from mishandling of public funds to artificial inflation of large public funds, like the standard gauge-railway commonly known as SGR. Therefore, the country’s fight against corruption enjoys political will at the highest level of governance.
Self-centered politicians try to influence the legislative process and other vital institutions such as Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission, parliamentary committees, and Land Commission. The present government has declined to start implementing the progressive Public Benefits Organizations Act due to its critical view of the NGO sector. This act would allow for an effective administration of the vast civil society sector. Instead, the same legislation from the previous autocratic government is still practiced and used to interfere with and sabotage NGOs. Veto powers are not applied openly.
County-level institutions usually carry out their roles even when there are active partisan players in local administration. Indeed, in most cases belonging to the same ethnic group as the head of the state, some political actors have secured positions in government institutions that enable them to influence operations. Such political actors include; the governor, factions within legislatures, permanent secretaries, and political elites at the national government.
Political parties are built around patronage and political loyalties rather than principles, and they continue to serve the interests of the strongmen. Political party formations are based on the ethnic-regional alliances raised by leaders. Political leaders use political parties to fulfill their ethnic interests instead of aggregating people’s interests both socially and economically. However, these parties are only relevant and vibrant around election time when leaders want to consolidate their political interests. Generally, the party system stays unstable.
Politics have been unpredictable since the president and opposition leader reached a truce in an event known as “the handshake” on March 18. The handshake sent a blow to the ruling party’s foundation (Jubilee Coalition) and the opposing party (NASA) as each party’s opposition to the other had served an important role in keeping them united. They shook hands to create an opportunity to set in motion a process to identify the changes that will unite Kenyans, deepen constitutionalism and strengthen the rule of law.
2021 Kenyan Constitutional Referendum
The constitutional amendments are based on the works of the task force “Building Bridges Initiative (BBI)” and a steering committee “implementation of the building bridges to a united Kenya task force report,” which were published in the Kenya Gazette by President Uhuru Kenyatta.
One million signatures were required to back the draft bill, and the secretariat responsible for navigating the bill collected 1.5 million signatures. The signature collection was just the first step of the proposal, as the signatures had to be verified and sent to 47 county assemblies for approval. 30 of the 47 counties approved, and 24 were needed to trigger the task force. The task force proposes to revive the pre-2020 direct link between the legislature and the cabinet. Other amendments include:
- Introducing 70 new electoral constituencies, which will get the legislature to 360 members. Other changes to the legislature will be an affirmative action formula that will solve the two-thirds’ gender rule in the 2010 constitution.
- Creating an independent judiciary ombudsman, who will be investigating and prosecuting complaints against judicial officers.
- Creating some state measures to protect the economy, including property rights protection, supporting private-sector businesses, and protecting science and technology in production.
- National ethos inclusivity and shared prosperity
The most notable proposed amendment is the change in the executive structure by re-introducing the Prime Minister of Kenya, two Deputy Prime Ministers, and a leader of the official opposition. The referendum will be held in June or July 2021 before the general election in August 2022.
Kenya is set to conduct a general election in August 2022, and there will be changes for all positions, including members of parliament, senators, and the presidency. President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto recently disagree on some issues like when to start campaigns for the next elections and whether to have a referendum before the elections. The ruling party is being torn apart, as many members are openly supporting candidates from other parties.
While democratic elections are generally promising, Kenya has had a pattern of post-election violence. During the 1992, 1997, 2007, and 2017 general elections, the country experience violence caused by ethnic lines, especially the two dominant groups (Kikuyu and Kalenjin). This pattern creates tension, especially after political intolerance and violence in a few counties during the campaigns over the Building Bridges Initiative early this year.
Kenya’s newest coalition, the One Kenya Alliance that brings together three opposition parties, has already been formed and was announced on March 25, 2021. The public is not surprised because historically, Kenyan politicians form parties and coalitions just before anticipated elections. For instance, in 2017, the (National Super Alliance) was formed ahead of the disputed election held in August that year.
Political alignments in Kenya continue to be strongly influenced by ethnicity. General elections are highly disputed, as the electoral bodies have not withstood the leaders’ strong political pressure. All elections experienced different chaos subjecting the country to violence and pro-longed political polarization.
The Beautiful landscape of Kenya