How Jubilee coalition is fast losing the plot

President Mwai Kibaki cuts the tape at Museum Hill to officially open the Nairobi-Thika superhighway in 2012. President Uhuru Kenyatta should borrow a leaf from President Kibaki’s first term of office: Focus on one thing and build others on it. FILE PHOTO | PHOEBE OKALL |

What you need to know:

  • Uhuru’s government, unlike Kibaki’s, seems to lack focus while his lieutenants are reading from different script.
  • You cannot focus on many competing political projects. They lead to problems.

Way back in 2004, there were internal problems within the government of President Mwai Kibaki.

Stories followed about how some members of the “kitchen cabinet” were putting pressure on him to punish those who were allied to Raila Odinga’s group.

This is the group that was opposed to how President Kibaki had shared power with others in the government.

The “kitchen cabinet” wanted to tame Mr Odinga in order to show who was in charge. The “kitchen cabinet” conducted analysis of public officers sympathetic and friendly to the Raila group. They wanted the President to sack them.

While doing this, the story goes, they did not bother to understand President Kibaki’s mind. Unaware that the President was not bothered about “small little things”, they visited him to present their case.

They began by narrating how their opponents were not good. They said their opponents were tarnishing the image of the country whenever they travelled abroad.

They wanted some of the ambassadors in critical missions to be sacked because they were not helpful. By being unhelpful they meant that the ambassadors were aligned to the Raila group. They particularly wanted one ambassador to be sacked.

The President allegedly listened to them attentively without interruption. When they were finished, he began to ask a few questions. He asked, “Is this person you are talking about a Kenyan?” They said: “Yes”.

He followed this with another question: “And does this person go to work everyday to do his job?” They again said “yes”. He remained silent thereafter. There was total silence in the room. He said nothing.

They all noticed that they had been driven into a corner for demanding the sacking of someone who is “a Kenyan and doing his work everyday”.

They were naive because they did not know what President Kibaki stood for in his first term of office.

Feeling extremely uneasy, they begged to leave. They left without the President saying anything about the matter. That was the end of the issue of sacking the ambassador and many others who were allied to Mr Odinga.

In the meantime, the economy recovered. Growth jumped from near zero to about four per cent. The government had already revived the dairy industry. Agricultural recovery programme began in earnest. Every Cabinet minister had something to show as an achievement.

There is no single department that did not post good results within the first two years. Everyone showed quick wins. Even the police, who did not want to hear about human and women’s rights, began to incorporate human rights training and values in their programmes.

President Kibaki’s approach to politics and government at the time revealed three things that led to achievement of these results. One was focus. In his first two years of office, President Kibaki was focused on the economy. He did not lose the plot on this. He was also focused on improving governance. But he abandoned this idea half way.

The second thing was his lack of interest in “small little things”. He did not see why “grown ups” would waste time discussing and designing strategies to remove someone from a public office yet the person was a Kenyan and doing his job well. He called them pumbavu.

The government of President Kibaki in the early days worked as one team. To a large extent, there was unity within the whole government.

There were no major divisions and differences between ministries or even Cabinet ministers.

Even though his government comprised different political elements that formed an alliance to win the 2002 election, all the members of the government operated as one team.

LOSING THE PLOT

The script of President Kibaki’s first term shows why President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Jubilee administration appears to be losing the plot. There are signs that things are not on the track that the Jubilee government laid down at the beginning.

Rising insecurity, whether resulting from terrorists or the result of inter-communal conflicts, remains a major concern. Widespread corruption especially in big procurements is a problem that has derailed some of the Jubilee’s flagship projects. It has been soaking everyone everywhere.

Tribalism remains a challenge affecting virtually all key decisions everywhere including at the county government level. Appointments to public office, which remain the basis by which people talk about tribalism, have created a new problem for the government.

Balancing between meritocracy and including everyone has bred discontent among politicians who feel either their regions were not well served or that the President appointed their rivals.

There are still others who think that the appointments were not based on merit. They think some of those appointed lack skills or have conflict of interest and, therefore, are likely not to help in the places where they are appointed. Some of those appointed have a history of eating anything they find on their way. They will probably graze down some of the parastatals.

Why are things this way?

There are several factors contributing to this state of affairs. First is the lack of focus on strategic things. It is difficult to identify what one can call President Uhuru’s “focus”. Attention keeps shifting from one end to another.

Appointments to the parastatals serve as a good example here. Looking at the list of appointments, it is not clear what was the main focus of the President.

It is not clear whether the government was making the appointments to transform the parastatals or bring everyone along or reward politicians.

You cannot focus on many competing political projects. They lead to problems. He should borrow a leaf from President Kibaki’s first term of office: Focus on one thing and build others on it.

Although mega projects and service delivery began as the main focus of the Jubilee government, corruption has drawn “focus” away from some of these.

Corruption scandals continue to dog implementation of these projects. If the eyes of the government had remained focused on success of these programmes, corruption would have been identified quite early. But it grew fast and became part of the programmes because the government rolled eyes away to other things.

The second problem is competing interests within the government. The government works as if there are several parts doing different things that are conflicting.

For instance, someone must have sold the advice that the President can direct, without consequences, that those recruited to the police and had the recruitment challenged in court, can proceed for training.

This advice must have come from someone who did not care about the consequences. Probably this person wanted the President to look bad. Others must have fought to rescind this directive. They wanted the President to look good.

On this plus other mishaps that have taken place, one can tell that there are people who see things differently within the Jubilee administration.

There are some who are focused on “small little things”. They react to anything no matter how small it is. Also there are competing interests.

It is these competing interests that make it difficult to address insecurity. There is no teamwork on how different groups are addressing insecurity; they are all reading from different pages.

On issues such as the fight against corruption, it is as if the President has been left on his own. Not everyone is speaking from the same page with him. Agents of corruption have lined up analysts, lawyers, and politicians to speak about how the process of producing the list was flawed.

No one is speaking about how much was lost or could have been lost. But if the President puts focus on the fight and commits to it, everyone will follow. To succeed, however, he must bring down allies who are involved in corruption.

Prof Karuti Kanyinga teaches at the Institute for Development Studies (IDS), University of Nairobi, [email protected]

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