The good and the utterly bad in Okoa plan

Ms Adhiambo Opondo (left) gives Cord co-principal Moses Wetangula a booklet, as Cord leader Raila Odinga (centre) looks on at Bomas of Kenya in Nairobi on April 23, 2015 after the launch of 'Okoa Kenya' Bill. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL |

What you need to know:

  • They rarely discuss how to grow the economy or improve the quantity of public resources.
  • The 2013 election deepened the divisions for some and unified new others. Holding a referendum while preparing for a general election in the next year is like pouring fuel to smouldering logs. Cord does not seem to see this.
  • Cord has omitted amendments that would cure Kenya’s problems in electoral politics and political development in general.

Commentators and analysts have been making proposals on how to address problems relating to politics and development in Kenya.

Kenya’s history of development and politics and the post-2007 election violence has shaped how some of these issues are debated.

These debates demonstrate how politics and development are intertwined. Politics and development are one and the same. Politics in this case concerns who is getting what public resources and how.

Kenyans are generally concerned about who gets what share of the “national cake”. They are concerned about who gets what share of public resources.
Many politicians and even commentators make proposals on sharing of the “national cake” without making suggestions on how to address the challenges experienced in baking of the cake.

They rarely discuss how to grow the economy or improve the quantity of public resources.

All the same, the proposals on sharing of the cake found their way into the Constitution of Kenya, 2010. The Constitution introduced devolution and equalisation fund. This fund is a “catch up” fund for those who have not had a bite of the cake. These are significant in terms of addressing development problems.

The Constitution also provides for independent institutions. It provides for the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), with responsibilities to manage elections. It also provides for institutionalisation of political parties.

But both implementation of devolution and practice of electoral politics have progressed with challenges. There have been concerns about delays by the national government in releasing funds to the county governments and in releasing the equalisation fund.

With regard to electoral politics, the IEBC has not corrected the electoral environment. There are concerns that the Registrar of Political Parties has failed to help change political parties into strong institutions.

Not all Cord proposals are sound

Okoa Kenya, an initiative of the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (Cord), among others, has proposed amendments to the Constitution that are meant to address these challenges. Some of these proposals are good. Others are utterly bad.

Some of the proposals are drafted to draw support of various constituencies. The bad ones are a disaster. If implemented they will be a disaster to strike at an election time.


Some of the good proposals concern development. These include enabling communities where natural resources are extracted to access share of profits of these resources. They also include the proposal to increase funds allocated to the county governments from 15 per cent to 45 per cent of the national revenue. This is where the good ones relating to development end.

There are proposals that look good but will undermine devolution that Okoa Kenya, under Cord, seeks to protect. They have proposed to entrench the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) and Ward Development Fund (WDF).

Noble as these funds are “sacraments” to give to supporters and loyalists. MPs use CDF in a mysterious manner to build political capital. MCAs have copied this too.

These funds that Cord and Okoa seeks to introduce will create more conflicts over development at the county level. Ironically, Cord is introducing a new constitutional threat to devolution.

Cord is seeking to firm up the foundation for devolution but is at the same time shaking this same foundation by weakening it through parallel funds. These are proposals aimed at enticing MPs and MCAs to support the initiative.

And they will fully support them oblivious of the fact that they will shake the foundation of devolution including the very foundation on which MCAs thrive. They will be the main source of chaos in planning for development at the county level irrespective of whether there is the County Integrated Development Plans (CIDPs) or not.

Cord’s electoral proposals will lead to conflict and undermine development

One good proposal with regard to elections is the need to maintain one single voters’ register. This will eliminate the existence of multiple registers. It will eliminate the possibility of using a register to manipulate any of the six elections.

Other proposals are taking Kenya back to the 1990s. Cord’s proposal on appointment of commissioners to the electoral body will entrench politicisation and ethnicisation of the IEBC.

First political parties will nominate members on the basis of the party’s numerical strength in Parliament. The parties will appoint seven commissioners. Implicit here is that there will be a commissioner from the main ethnic regions.

Two, commissioners in IEBC are meant to make policies. They are not supposed to execute but to oversee execution. The secretariat implements these policies.


To depoliticise the commission, Cord should have proposed appointment of at most five commissioners through a competitive recruitment process. The country will then have a lean policy-oriented commission. The current proposal creates a large and highly ethnicised commission.

The referendum and the election date will undermine development

The possibility of a referendum is a scary proposal. Kenya is a very polarised country. The Jubilee administration has not made any significant progress in promoting national cohesion. We are as divided as we were in the period before the post-2007 election violence.

The 2013 election deepened the divisions for some and unified new others. Holding a referendum while preparing for a general election in the next year is like pouring fuel to smouldering logs. Cord does not seem to see this.

Even more worrying is the proposal by Cord’s member party, the Orange Democratic Movement Party (ODM), to hold separate elections for presidential in August, and other elections in November after every five years.

This is not good for development. The figure below demonstrates what has been happening to economic growth and agriculture every election year since 1992.

The dotted lines show agricultural growth while the un-dotted lines show economic growth. Economic growth dropped to negative 0.3 per cent in 1991-92 period when Kenya conducted the first election after the re-introduction of multi-party democracy.

Agriculture declined sharply during the period. This trend continued into the second round of multi-party elections in 1997. The decline in economic growth and agriculture was relatively less in 2002. The political competition during this period was not as intense as other periods. The opposition had formed a formidable alliance.

But the post-2007 election violence saw significant drops, almost similar to the 1990s. The election was too close to call and competition was intense.
This trend is similar in all other sectors of the economy except the manufacturing sector.

Hotels and industry is in fact the most negatively affected during an election year. Holding a referendum followed by an election will certainly affect growth for a period of not less than two years.

Avoiding a referendum is a better alternative. And this can be achieved if the assemblies and Parliament debated, amended, and passed what is possible.


Cord has omitted amendments that would cure Kenya’s problems in electoral politics and political development in general.

The proposals have not touched where it matters most: The number of elected leaders in the National Assembly, the gender rule for the National Assembly, and the need to correct the electoral system.

The 349 members of the National Assembly is such a big number that members cannot have substantive debates on several pieces of legislation. Many complain they can’t catch the eye of the Speaker. They can participate yet the role of the National Assembly remains representation, legislation, and oversight.

To effectively play these roles, Cord should have sought to reduce the number of MPs to at least 210 MPs that we had before the new constitution.

To meet the gender quota, Cord should have proposed an additional number of MPs elected by political parties using the list system of proportional representation. This would lead to 273 MPs. This is relatively a small crowd compared to the public rally taking place in the National Assembly.

Still the country can go back to the maximum of 210 parliamentary constituency seats obtaining before the new constitution. These can be filled using the proportional representation method. This would require voting for political parties rather than individual MPs.

The 210 seats would then be allocated on basis of the total number of votes that each party gets. The number of votes for each party translates into seats in the National Assembly.

If the latter is adopted, then the political parties will be required to submit a list of 210 candidates. The list should contain men and women, one after another or a zebra list, ranked from number one to 210 on basis of how the seats won will be distributed.

The party will be required to submit a list that represents all communities and regions of the country using criteria by IEBC but debated and adopted by the country.

This will cure many political problems. It will lead to a relatively smaller assembly comprising people from all corners of the country and from all socio- economic backgrounds.

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


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